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"To All The Boys I've Loved Before wasn't just a great movie. It was life-changing."

To All The Boys I've Loved Before was the perfect rom-com. With a heroine as cute as Lara Jean and a love interest as drop-dead handsome as Peter Kavinsky, this flick was bound to be a hit. But for some people, To All The Boys was way more than just a great movie. It was life-changing. 

My friend Valerie is a high school senior who loves theatre, movies and all things romcom. She's also half-Asian, just like Lara Jean Song Covey. I asked her all aboutTATBILB—and she opened up about the impact the movie has had on her life.

Can you briefly explain why To All The Boys... was important to you? 

Valerie: "It was the first time in a movie where I saw a protagonist that looked like me and was a lot like me and I was able to identify with them in a way that I had never been able to identify with a protagonist in a movie before. When [Lara Jean] got her happy ending, it felt like I was getting my own happy ending." 

How did you first hear about To All The Boys... and what was your reaction to seeing half-Asian characters in it? 

Valerie: "I saw the trailer on Netflix and I thought, Oh, that looks like a cute movie, I'll watch it. By the end I was like, that was amazing, and I tried to get all my friends to watch it. I tried to get my sister to watch it especially, because Kitty Covey looks almost exactly like my little sister and the relationship between her and Lara Jean was so similar to ours. The way their family worked was so similar to ours—the way the White dad was trying to cook Asian meals and that sort of thing. It was just so special and I wanted to share it with everyone I knew. I've watched it at least seven times by now."

Before To All the Boys... what other Asian or half-Asian characters did you see in popular media and were they represented in a positive light?

Valerie: "A lot of the time I would barely see any Asian characters, and if I did they would almost always be the nerdy best friend who isn't really a love interest and if they are they're with another Asian person. And there are shows like Fresh Off the Boat which are really cool to watch, but they're still a little bit separate from myself as a half-Asian person. Seeing someone who really looked like me was extra special when I saw TATBILB." 

How was seeing half-Asian characters in a movie different than seeing them in a book? 

Valerie: "In the book, a lot of the time the race of the protagonist isn't that big of a deal. When you're visualizing in a book, you can visualize them however you want, versus in a movie when you see someone on the screen, then you know lots of other people are watching it and that person looks like you. It's more real than reading it in a book." 

How has seeing characters that look like yourself in a movie inspired you?

Valerie: "I hadn't seen many Asian people or half-Asian people in the entertainment industry in general, and seeing that movie do so well, and Crazy Rich Asians  around the same time doing really well, it's like, Wow, I could really be in the entertainment industry. My story and stories like mine deserve to be told, and now I'm actually seeing it. It's saying that my identity is valid and should be seen by other people." 

Why do you think media representation matters?

Valerie: "It matters so that minorities can see themselves as the hero and feel normalized. Being able to identify with a character makes you feel less alone, and seeing someone struggle with something you struggle with makes you feel more valid and accepted. And also for people in the majority to know that they're not always the main characters, they're not always the stars. If they can watch a movie or a TV show with a protagonist that's differently abled, a different race, a different gender, a different sexuality and still enjoy the movie, they'll know they are not so different. Being able to see different cultures is so educational and normalizes all the different people [we] interact with on a daily basis, especially as children. Getting used to seeing more representation in the media will make people more empathetic [toward] people who are different from them." 

Media representation matters, plain and simple. In fact, for Valerie, seeing TATBILB has allowed her to do something new, exciting and very brave. Inspired by the popularity of Lara Jean's story, Valerie wrote an original play of her own. She is set to direct it at her school in the spring and share it with her whole community.

Think about your favorite movies or shows. Do the characters look like you? Why or why not? Do you see people of your sexuality or gender identity on screen? Is your family life represented? Do you get to see and experience the perspectives of others? To more inclusive media representation we say: 

Your story matters.

All GIFs via GIPHY

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by Molly Greenwold | 7/7/2020
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