Friday, August 15, 2008

The Sisterhood don't date white American men

Recently I took in a matinee of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. I recognize with that sentence that a few readers may be looking to the sidebar so they can link over to another blog, but BEAR WITH ME!

First of all, I think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was a good first film (the movie franchise not the young adult novels, which I've never read). Seriously, I tear up every time that Carmen confronts her father for his absenteeism (what daughter with an strained relationship with her father wouldn't tear up?!). The film follows four friends, all very different in type and temperment, but they support each other through good and bad. And the first film dealt with some very serious issues like blended families, suicide, leukemia, and yes, conflicted young love. Plus there's these magic pants, but that's really the side note to the strong girl bonding.

The second film flash forwards about 3 years to the summer after these four friends have completed their first year in college. And what surprised me when I left the theater was this realization: none of the male love interests was a white American guy. In fact, one of the plotlines had nothing to do with romantic love and focused, instead, on making peace with one's family.

Of course one of the girls is Carmen, who was apparently conceived by the young adult author Anne Brasheres as a half-Puerto Rican, half-white character. She is the only visible girl of color, although ethnicity does factor into the series through Lena, a Greek American. And Lena, her heart broken by Kostos, her Santorini boyfriend, begins to date a male model at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) who looks like he's black or mixed-race. Carmen's love interest is a white British actor who is her co-star in The Winter's Tale (she plays Perdita), and reprising his role as Brian McBrian from the first film is Leonardo Nam, the Korean American actor, who is also Tibby's love interest. And even Kostos, Lena's love from the first film, is Greek rather than Greek American.

Which means that there are no white American men in the romantic role in this sequel. I'm not saying that this is monumental. I mean, lets face it--the white British actor guy hardly disrupts notions of white male European beauty (although during the film I kept thinking he was a dead ringer for a teenage Keanu Reeves, so maybe this guy is mixed-race Asian like Keanu). But what does feel heartening is that the whole issue of interracial romance is not made mention. In other words, none of these characters has to agonize about dating across the color line. They simply do it. And none of their friends or family bats an eye. In fact, Carmen's Latina mother has remarried a white American man (so I guess there's one that makes it into the film as a romantic love interest). But it only confirms that interracial love seems to be the norm of this film.

Again, I don't mean to overstate this or to say that it is revolutionary. But I do have to say that given the dearth of Asian American men in films, and particularly as love interests, I was very pleased to see that Leonardo Nam had a prominent role in the film (and the guy is HOT! He takes his shirt off in one scene and sports a pretty nice set of abs...I mean, if you are into that sort of thing...), and that his romantic partner was white (because, Asian American men are very rarely depicted as romantically paired with non-Asian women).

Much more to say about interracial pairs, on screen and in real life, but I figure this is one way to start the conversation. Because, as I noted above, I was really pleased that this film, which is geared for tweens/teens/young adults (and for women in their late 30s who need an afternoon diversion) made interracial romance seem like no big thing.


Anonymous said...

I loved that about this movie. It's so rare to see interacial couples as just a normal everyday occurance in a movie or tv show. I'm Asian/White and my husband is Latino/White so I enjoyed seeing these relationships - not to mention that the male model and Brian are HOT; they were pretty damn nice to watch too. :)

Genepool said...

I have actually noticed this more and more. I watched the TV show Heroes and two of the main characters in season one were an interracial couple (black man, white woman) with a mixed race boy of about 9 years old. Not once was race mentioned or made a point of focus in those characters relationship. Great! Plot-lines centered around this sort of thing, to me, are mostly a tired gimmick any more. Something networks use for advertisement purposes and ratings draw and a means for them to demonstrate how they are "in touch" with the pulse of the community. Whatever.

Granted, I am not a terribly sentimental person. I get annoyed when I feel a show is preaching to me rather than merely telling me a story. If race plays a direct part in the characters story then so be it, but lets face it, people in general are caring less and less about interracial relationships. I think downplaying that aspect is the smarter thing in most cases.

Simply not mentioning race in these shows and portraying those types of relationships as if they're perfectly natural and not worth mentioning does more good toward conditioning people than constantly drawing attention to the fact or making people feel as though its being thrown in their face. Just my opinion of course...
Am I making sense?

Jennifer said...

I agree--we see too few interracial couples on tv and in films--and it was really refreshing to also see that these interracial pairs were not stereotyped. Actually, I suppose the most *stereotypical* scenes revolved around the Greek American family (and perhaps this is also from what I remember from the first film, where the Greek Santorini grandparents are portrayed as this old World pair holding onto grudges that seem antiquated and out of touch with the 21st century).

I hate being preached at too (never could figure out what motivates people to go door to door selling stuff, from vacuum cleaners to their own brand of religious zealotry). And I do think its the subtle cultural shifts that often can be the most profound. A lesbian science fiction writer (I forget her name now--she was being interviewed on Fresh Air years ago) was asked what the most profound change was that she had witnessed in terms of gay rights. And she said it was the New York Times wedding page accepting gay and lesbian couples and publishing their unions every Sunday.

Similarly, I think the time for films like GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER are over. And as a society we need to get over ourselves and just accept that interracial romance is just simply no big thing so lets just see it reflected in reality.

OF course, this does beg the question: Are tv and films really representative of reality?

I think I feel another blog post coming on!

Cipher said...

i agree that leonardo nam is TEH HOTNESS LOL