Asian American movies are using food to break all the rules
It used to be common for Asian Americans in Hollywood to joke about the "rule of one" -- the unwritten law that historically seemed to limit every ensemble cast to just one Asian actor; all of network TV to just one Asian TV show; every film season to just one Asian movie. But over the past 12 months, we've seen a remarkable string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies created by and starring Asian Americans, beginning with "Crazy Rich Asians," continuing with "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and "Searching" -- and now hitting a new gear with Netflix's delightful new Ali Wong/Randall Park comedy, "Always Be My Maybe."
The luxury of having this run of films come out in such close proximity is that they've shown us the many contrasting ways that Asian American stories can be told. That's not to say there aren't subtle similarities that link our tales together: The persistent tension between duty and aspiration. The simultaneous need to forge identities apart from our parents, and to also win their approval. The deep well of historical and familial sacrifice and loss that can splash melancholy across even the most joyous of present-day moments.
These films have given audiences an immersion into the way these themes weave across all of our diverse Asian American experiences. And they've done so, perhaps unsurprisingly, in part by using one of the most universal and accessible languages of all: food.
Food is what brings many Asian families together and helps us express feelings that can't be said out loud. Food is a repository of tradition and memory, allowing us to confirm our connection to the past and commemorate those who've gone on before us. Food is at the center of the smallest and biggest of celebrations, from reunions and homecomings to weddings and holiday festivities.
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