by: Sara Conway ’21 A&E Staff
Since the release of the Netflix film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, all anyone is talking about is Lara Jean Song Covey and Peter Kavinsky (but mostly Peter Kavinsky). Lara Jean, however, is a more important character than one might initially believe.
Based on the bestselling book by Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before tells the story of Lara Jean Song Covey, who has written a series of secret love letters that one day are suddenly sent out. She then struggles to navigate high school and love while avoiding her main crush and simultaneously falling in love with an old one.
Lara Jean is Korean American; all the producers but one wanted to make her white. Han wrote in her op-ed that a producer once said to her, “as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter.” Many would disagree.
Han shot back, “Well, her spirit is Asian American.” She had earlier made clear that her heroine was Asian American; there was no negotiation about that fact.
Asian Americans do not get much representation in media. There has been more recognition of Asian authors who write novels featuring Asian American leads, but this representation is still miniscule compared to the stories revolving around white heroes and heroines.
According to 2016 data, which focused on writers and authors in the United States, Asian writers only made up 4.5 percent compared to the 86 percent of white writers.
It may not seem like a big deal, but to see a main character that looks like you is important. In this case, where the main actress or character is Asian, and is front and center, means viewers may realize how little Asian representation there is in popular media. This fact can make someone feel marginalized and alone.
In her op-ed, Han wrote about her journey to become an author. According to her article, Han started writing when she was young. Yet, it did not occur to her that she could “grow up to be a writer.” Kids are always asked what they want to be when they are older; imagine not believing your dream could be a reality because of your skin color.
Han sold her first novel in 2005, determined to put an author photo on the back of the book, regardless of the fact that many did not do that. She wrote that she “wanted Asian girls to see my face.” Adding to this statement, Han followed up by writing that she, “wanted them to see what is possible.”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before tells a new story and creates new possibilities: possibilities that may have seemed impossible at another point in time. A romantic comedy that finally features an Asian American lead, not the funny sidekick, but the lead.
Lara Jean deals with normal teenage problems: high school mean girls, a sister going off to college, and living in a single parent home. She falls in love many times and gets an ending many want to believe is possible. People can see themselves represented in Lara Jean—some for the first time ever.