The movie theater was always my favorite place in the world. Growing up, I would long for the days where I could fill my popcorn bucket up to the brim, settle in the red leather seats, and be transported to another world for two and a half hours. I developed a strong adoration for films like Tangled, Mamma Mia, the original Star Wars trilogy, Mean Girls, and the entirety of the MCU. Now, these films vary in genre and theme, but the one similarity between these movies is that the cast is predominantly white. Whenever I stared at the big screen, I never saw myself looking back at me.
My name is Sophia Delrosario, and I am a 16-year old, first-generation Filipina-American. My culture has shaped me into who I am, whether it be growing up watching teleseryes (soap dramas), eating sinigang (savory/sour stew) and halo-halo (mixed dessert), line dancing, and performing tinikling (a traditional Filipino folk dance with bamboo poles) in elaborate costumes. I embrace my nationality with pride and love, and long for the day where someone that looks like me is portrayed largely in mainstream media. Even Asians in general, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and all other ethnicities and nationalities that fall under the Asian category, aren’t popularized as much as Caucasians.
While I agree that we are coming close to breaking the glass ceiling with the rise of K-Pop and K-Dramas, the 2020 Academy Award for Best Picture going to Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho, and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, it isn’t enough. In fact, the only TV show that comes to mind with the majority of the cast being of Asian descent is Fresh Off the Boat, and that’s it. Asian-Americans are usually reduced to side characters, such as Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy and Tina Cohen-Chang from Glee, and are often subjected to stereotyping. The last TV show I binged was Gilmore Girls. I noticed how Lane Kim was, no surprise, the quirky sidekick that wore glasses, and her mother, Mrs. Kim, was a simple-dressing Christian with extremely strict rules and expected her daughter to marry a Korean doctor. The issue of Asian stereotyping is common throughout Hollywood productions, and it is nowhere near accurate. Every single one of us is different – and we’re not all pale with jet black hair and slim eyes either, a majority of South Asians have a darker skin tone and larger facial features. Not all Asians play piano or some other musical instrument, nor do they get consistent A-pluses, nor do they all work in nail salons and deserve to be ridiculed for their poor English. These generalizations take the diversity and boldness and distinctiveness of each and every Asian, and muddle them into one ideal person, silencing our unique selves.
In addition to Asians being underrepresented in the media and entertainment, there is also the larger, more highlighted issue of Eurocentric beauty standards. For years in history, the preferred look for women centered around traits commonly found in white girls, such as pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and having an above average height and a slimmer figure. It’s unrealistic to strive for a physical appearance that most people cannot obtain, and detrimental to people’s self esteem. People of all cultures, races, and ethnicities, whether you be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or other, should embrace themselves and their beauty fully, regardless of beauty standards. Girls should be able to see representations that look like them on social media platforms like Instagram, where models portray themselves as the perfect girl. They’re the ultimate goal, with expensive articles of clothing, clear skin, a flat stomach, an hourglass figure, and a perfect, happy, sunshine lifestyle. Influencers and models do an incredibly convincing job of conveying the message that average girls need to look this way and live this. However, it’s unreasonable to long for an influencer’s exact lifestyle and appearance. Although being inspired by their clothes and trends is acceptable, it should only be to a certain extent – when it gets to the point that it causes girls to feel overly insecure, that’s where I feel we must draw the line.
My dream is to see a Filipina Disney Princess on the big screen one day. The magic of Disney films inspired me as a child, and even today, to see my dream come true would be like Fairy Godmother waving her wand, and granting my wish. I’d love to see a teenage girl with long, thick, black hair, someone shorter and chubbier, with brown eyes and a stubby nose, dressed in cultural garb and eating an abundance of mangoes. She’d go on an adventure, and a little Filipina girl in the movie theater, like me all those years ago, would look up with wide eyes, filled with inspiration, happiness, and hope. She’d finally see herself staring back at her, and experience the beautiful feeling that she belongs.
Written by Sophia Delrosario.
*Originally published in May 2020