I’ve watched the trailer for The Sun is Also a Star, the film based on the book by Nicola Yoon. The film stars Yara Shahidi as Natasha Kinglsey and Charles Melton as Daniel Bae. My opinion: It’s cute?
Check it out for yourself here:
Look, I’m the first to say that I’m not the biggest fan of romantic movies. Maybe I have a cold heart, or maybe I hate people. I’ve also said many times that I am a Vulcan, so there’s that. But romantic films seem to always rely on fantasy rather than the messiness of actual love and relationships. If I see a romantic film, I want to see a film that actually depicts the horrible magic that actual love actually is.
Regardless of my feelings about romantic relationships, The Sun is Also a Star will present us with some interesting conversations about race, representation and colorism. In fact, the discussions are already happening.
Here’s what some folks are upset about: First, there’s the fact that Charles Melton is of Korean, Cherokee and European descent playing a full-blooded Korean-American. This might sound like a new discussion since “blood” is involved, but what it boils down to is old-fashioned Hollywood colorism. Whatever Hollywood deems as more European (i.e. more “accessible” and familiar), they will uplift and uphold.
Second, this argument goes double for Shahidi, who is Black and Iranian and falls into the lighter-skinned category of Black actresses in Hollywood. In The Sun Is Also a Star, Shahidi’s character is Jamaican immigrant. According to a commenter on Variety, Natasha looks nothing like how Shahidi does, giving some shades of the critique surrounding The Hate U Give, in which Amandla Stenberg played a character who was portrayed on the book’s cover as a darker-skinned girl.
According to the Variety commenter:
I love Yara as a young beautiful strong liberated black woman that she’s growing up to be but she’s not fit to play this part. Nicola [Yoon]’s character Natasha is described as thick and dark skinned with a huge textured afro none of which describes Yara. Same way with The Hate U Give. The Black Panther was the first time my entire life I’ve been represented not only as beautiful but strong and desirable and not [caricatures]. I truly felt that we were finally moving somewhere but here we are again with “the monolithic black aesthetic on TV of 3c hair and lighter skin…” Amandla and Yara are both wonderful actresses but there are so many amazing dark skinned women readily available. Despite loving the books, I’m not excited for either one of these movies.Variety
Folks on Twitter weren’t having it either when it came to Shahidi as Natasha.
Here’s what an anonymous person wrote in to the Tumblr page Black Women Confessions:
I am so tired. So frustrated. So annoyed. This is the second time its happened. If it wasn’t a known fact that Hollywood recycles “black” actresses and prefer them mixed. One of my favorite books, “The Sun Is Also A Star,” is being made into a movie and Yara Shahidi is the lead, although the lead is supposed to be a fully black Jamaican girl with dark skin, she got the lead. This after Amandla got the lead in “The Hate You Give.” Taking the spot of another fully black girl with dark skin. I quit!Tumblr
This type of idea has come up before with Crazy Rich Asians, since Henry Golding, the co-lead of the film, is biracial as well. Kenny Leu, star of webseries Munkey in the City and National Geographic’s The Long Road Home, talked about his feelings about colorism as it relates to the Asian presence on screen. He also tied it into the centuries-long conversation African-Americans have had about colorism in media.
“…[S]omething that bummed me out was when they cast Henry Golding in the lead. The reason why is because…something that I’ve noticed a lot is that our faces are kind of getting erased. Almost all of the parts go to Eurasian people. It sucks because we’re being horribly misrepresented, like our features aren’t good enough to be on the big screen. ‘He looks too Asian to ever be all right. It’s just a very Eurocentric way of looking at what beauty means and what it means to be handsome and that kind of stuff…I’m very cautious of our faces getting erased for an ideal that I believe is not true.Exclusive Interview: Five Takeaways From My Conversation with Kenny Leu
I know that this is something that has stemmed back [with black America] for hundreds of years; I’m reading a Malcolm X book, his autobiography, and he talks about that even back in the 1930s. Being lighter-skinned was a thing that made you more accepted by white society. It’s very analogous to what all the other minorities will be going through [in Hollywood]; the whiter you look, the more accepted you are, but only on screen. It’s such a nuanced, yet perverse thing to have happen to us, which subconsciously tells all of us that if you’re ethnic, you’re less than, you’re beautiful, and you don’t deserve [someone relating to you].”
That’s not to say that I think Melton isn’t deserving to play Daniel. I don’t think Shahidi shouldn’t play Natasha; if you’re of the diaspora, whatever diaspora that is, you should have a shot at playing characters that represent you. I have nothing against these two actors at all and I’m happy for their success. However, the colorism conversation is definitely something I think we should think about, especially since Jake Choi, a Korean-American actor, is playing Daniel’s brother Charlie, the villain of the story and a character who hates himself and his culture. Whereas Melton looks as European as he does Korean, Choi’s looks are distinctly Korean. Thereby, someone could wrongly take it to mean that the more European you look, the less self-hating you’ll be and the more accepted and attractive you’ll be considered. If you’re having trouble envisioning what I’m talking about, then consider Shahidi, since we as a media-loving public are more used to the colorism debate when it comes to Black actors. What if Shahidi, who is lighter-skinned and “exotic” (according to Hollywood) was cast against an actress playing her self-hating sister, and that actress happened to have darker-skin and Afrocentric features? It’s colorism at work.
Again, I’m just putting forth the information for you to take apart and internalize as you want. I have nothing against Melton nor Shahidi and am hoping they do well in these roles, since one can hope that these films will open up more opportunities for more actors of color.
Aside from that, there’s another positive in all of this: despite the issues that are coming up with who gets to portray this interracial relationship, we can’t ignore the fact that this is another black/Asian relationship coming to the big screen. Is this becoming a trend in storytelling now? If so, I hope so, and I hope it becomes more than a trend, since there are plenty of interracial families that deserve to see themselves in film.
Again, as I expressed in my article about The Lovebirds, I’m hoping that films like these portray interracial couples as less of a taboo and more like regular, everyday couples. I think there’s still a perverse thrill for some folks to engage in interracial coupling–some people might like the drama of racist parents, dating in secret, etc. Some people even have a messed up idea that one race is better than another race (looking directly at you sites, Beyond Black & White and K-music &Black Women). But that’s not what should be required to get into a relationship. A relationship, regardless of who the person is, should be between two people who love each other. Even if the parents don’t agree, there shouldn’t be any drama between the two people in love. And frankly, parents shouldn’t really care who their son or daughter gets relations with as long as that person treats them well. I know I sound like a Pollyanna, but whatever. If you reach for the stars, you’ll at least fall on the clouds.
Maybe my high standards is part of the reason why I’ve never been in a relationship. Hmmmm….
ANYWAYS, What do you think about this film? Give your opinions below or online @moniqueblognet or @COLORwebmag!