Asians in the media have always been few and their portrayal was often immersed in negative stereotypes. Historically, movies with Asian representation have portrayed Asians as weak, corny, nerdy, and/or kung-fu sidekicks. It has been refreshing to see Asian faces as the main characters, lately. There are a few, recent movies available on streaming platforms that I would recommend for families to see lead, Asian representation in a positive light.
Over the Moon (2020, rated PG on Netflix)
We loved this CG animated movie telling the story behind one of the major, Chinese holidays: Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival). It is so original and refreshing to see a movie of this kind, with Chinese culture laced throughout. The story of a young, Chinese girl reluctant to accept her stepmother and stepbrother are the backdrop for her escape to visit the mythical, Moon Goddess. As she travels to the moon, colors and characters come to life in a delightfully, fun way. This movie was actually Oscar-nominated as an animated musical. The entire movie is voiced by an all-star, Asian-American cast. There are themes of grief and mourning that may require some parental explaining for younger kids, but aside from that, I can’t say enough good things about this film. It was such a cute movie with vibrant representation of family life in China.
Abominable (2019, rated PG on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video)
Yi is a teenage girl who meets a Yeti on her rooftop, after the death of her father. Together, they embark on a journey from Shanghai, across China, to take the Yeti home in the Himalayas. The movie shows relatable details of Yi’s mom and grandmother worrying about her in ways that Asian elders typically do. Yi’s grandmother is constantly cooking up a storm (including steamed pork buns!), and it is all very reminiscent of growing up as an Asian kid.
Finding Ohana (2021, rated PG on Netflix)
A brother and sister from New York reluctantly end up speaning their summer at their grandfather’s house in rural Oahu, Hawaii. There they reconnect with their Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander heritage while searching for long lost treasure. The summer becomes an unforgettable journey full of adventure and friendship. The movie is both directed and written by Asian-American women. There is some language, suggestive comments and crude references, so I recommend vetting the film for yourself first, or watching with more mature kids.
Raya (2021, rated PG on Disney+)
Raya is a fierce, female protagonist as opposed to a meek Asian female character. I love that little girls can watch this movie and redefine their image of a “princess”. Raya must bring her father back and save the world, so she seeks out to find the last dragon, Sisu. Sisu’s character is played by Awkwafina, whom I love. The backdrop of the movie is set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, inspired by Southeast Asia culture. This is a part of Asian heritage that is not often featured, so it’s nice to have this story to share with kids. The movie is written by a Vietnamese-American, along with a Malaysian woman.
5. Spelling the Dream (2020, rated G on Netflix)
The documentary revolves around competitive spelling bee, and how they have been dominated by Indian-Americans. An Indian-American competitor has won the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the past 12 years. Follow four hopeful competitors, as you meet their families and look into their cultural upbringing. The students’ ups and downs are chronicled as they make their way to realizing their dream of winning the prestigious competition. These spelling bee winning streaks prove to be a big deal and mean a lot for the Indian-American community. This might be boring for younger kids, or if your child isn’t at an age to appreciate documentaries. But I was a spelling bee champ in New Jersey back in my day, so the Scripps National Spelling Bee has always been interesting to me.