During the lockdown, like many of us, I have found myself making my way through every film on Netflix. After scrolling for hours I settled on “The Sun is Also a Star”, a cute-looking teen romance based on the YA novel by Nicola Yoon.
Ok so first of all, the film completely brushed over the issue of deportation. Once the protagonist Natasha and her family get deported back to Jamaica it’s whitewashed as a minor inconvenience, and she’s able to carry on her life as normal.
Even after being deported at an important stage in her education, Natasha still manages to study Astrology at a university in England – which I guess is meant to be Oxbridge?
Not to say that it’s impossible to get out of a terrible situation and turn it around, but to show this without any kind of obstacle seemed hard to believe!
Now on to Natasha’s family. Her mum and dad are meant to be Jamaican but they were reduced to fake-sounding patois that made me cringe SO HARD.
Aside from that, the most glaringly obvious thing is that the whole family apart from Natasha have dark skin and 4C hair.
Yet Natasha, played by Yara who is mixed Iranian, African-American, and Choctaw, is a good few shades lighter than her mum, dad, and little brother, with loose curly hair.
Looking at Daniel’s Korean family in the film, the casting follows the same pattern. The mum, dad, and brother are played by actors who are Korean, but Charles Melton who plays Daniel is mixed white, Cherokee, and Korean and has a racially ambiguous look.
It could be argued that even as multiracial actors, they still belong to the race that they’re playing. But the problem is that the casting of mixed actors with more eurocentric features and lighter skin can feed into historic issues within Black and Asian communities.
Colourism within black communities prejudices darker skin and favours those, particularly women, with lighter skin and straighter hair. Colourism has affected the casting of many tv shows and films starring black people.
One of the most shocking was the casting (and blacking up) of light-skinned Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. Plus fans of the Fresh Prince of Belair still can’t get over the replacement out of OG Aunt Viv, Jane Hubert, for the much lighter Daphne Maxwell Reid.
In the Korean community, double-eyelid surgery is on the rise and again lighter skin tones are held up as being more beautiful.
Just like Natasha’s family with their dodgy patois, Daniel’s family members are reduced to stereotypes. They are Korean immigrants who own a shop and put a lot of pressure on their ‘golden boy’ son to be a doctor.
The families of the protagonists are the ‘bad guys’ – Natasha’s dad illegally moved the family to the US and Daniel’s parents pressure him into studying medicine, and his brother is racist.
This gives the romantic ‘you, me against the world’ theme throughout the film a slightly sinister undertone.
And please can we talk about when Natasha says that Daniel can touch her hair. I think I actually gasped out loud. Romanticizing a microaggression? Not cool.
Despite this, it is refreshing to see an interracial Asian and Black couple in a blockbuster film. This is something that’s rarely represented in films, shows or in the media.
Do you think they missed the mark on their casting? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments.