When I first watched Netflix’s original film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, my mom was there, and we hesitantly clicked on the trending movie. Obviously no longer in our teenage years, we were sure our enthusiasm wasn’t going to match the hype. However, minutes into the movie, our living room rang with boasting laughter and dramatic gasps, an easygoing warmth emerging as we relaxed more and more into the lighthearted story of Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky.
When I watched it for a second time, my aunt was there, and we sipped beautiful magenta Youthberry white tea together. With every sugary sip, I lost myself a little bit more in the sweetness of Covey’s whimsical, bubblegum pop romance. I soaked up the predictable, but charming love story, secretly wishing for my own Kavinsky.
When I watched it for the third time no one else was there, and I laid cuddled up in my blanket, my eyes watching the screen but my thoughts caught in tangles. I began to wonder why I found myself watching this movie repeatedly when hundreds of other selections were only clicks away. Dejectedly, I realized it wasn’t the trope-filled storyline that kept me coming back. It wasn’t even the cute boy. It was the starry-eyed simplistic depiction of romance with people of color, one that isn’t afforded to people who look like me.
When I chose not to watch it for the fourth time, I thought to myself, “When will Black women have their Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky?”
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is Netflix’s newest romantic comedy that is breaking the internet for not only its playful plot, but for its wonderful Asian representation in a carefree, lighthearted film. Coming out only two days after the critically-acclaimed “Crazy Rich Asians”, the film tells the story of 16-year-old Lara Jean Covey, a mixed-race Korean-American girl, and her not-so-pretend relationship with high school heartthrob Peter Kavinsky.
This movie was the non-cultural exposé for which I didn’t know I was yearning. It is incorrect and dismissive to call the film post-racial; however, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is revolutionary because, as a romantic comedy, it portrays the race of its main character without centering its entirety in combating negative stereotypes and racial hardship.
Too often, movies with predominantly Black casts, or movies that feature Black characters in general, focus only on Black stories that have an element of trauma. We know them as our slavery-themed, civil rights era, Tyler Perry’s Christian guilt storylines. We also, however, know them as our indie Oscar-nominated films that have begun to dominate the box office.
Regretfully, I struggle to name critically- acclaimed Black movies without racial trauma at its core. Films like “Moonlight”, “BlacKkKlansman”, “Sorry to Bother You”, and “Dear White People” need to be produced, and they feature amazing storylines that deserve recognition. But I can only wish the Black movie experience can become more diversified to showcase movies with race-based trauma can exist at the same time and in the spaces as movies that choose not to.
In the same token, if “Get Out” can exist to make Black interracial relationships a plot point for horror and thriller, movies that show lighthearted, romantic, bubblegum pop Black interracial relationships should and can exist, as well.
It is unfair for the success of Black film to ride on the exploitation of trauma. It is also unfair for Black folks to be voided of cinema that lets Black experiences flourish. It’s why action movies like “Black Panther” and comedies like “Girls Trip” are revolutionary; it’s because they show Black characters in dynamic roles that are usually reserved for white characters.
The movement for lighthearted Black representation extends beyond the realm of film. We’ve seen it in photographer Myles Loftin’s multimedia project HOODED, a project to humanize Black men dressed in hoodies; social media movements such as #BlackBoyJoy, #BlackMenSmile and #CarefreeBlackGirl; Quil Lemons’ photo series “Glitterboy”; and numerous other projects focused on presenting alternative depictions of Blackness.
People of color are craving representation that exceeds the limited scope of narratives that have historically been portrayed in film. As a hopeless romantic and a lover of love, I am craving a predictable, trope-filled, cringy romantic comedy with a Black girl unapologetically loving and being loved. It is time that we see Black representation that flourishes just as much as it does in quality as it does in innocence and sweetness. Maybe one day, Black women, too, will have their Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky.