The long history of the misrepresentation of Asians in Hollywood movies has been wellstudied by media and culture scholars. Portrayals of Asian characters are often riddled with stereotypes – many of which take on a decidedly sexual nature as the Asian women are depicted as hypersexualized or submissive, and the Asian men as asexual and emasculated. By 2018, the representation of Asians and Asian Americans in movies seems to be transforming, particularly in romantic comedy – a genre that has traditionally been characterized by problematic portrayals of racial minorities. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is a major box office success, while Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) and Always be my Maybe (2019) earn praises from audience and critics alike. These movies are often lauded for their representation of Asians and Asian Americans, but with so few existing studies critically analyze their portrayals, it would be hasty to make any assumptions. Within this context, this thesis seeks to examine the construction of Asian sexuality through the characters featured in these three romantic comedies. The focus of the analysis is on the maintenance and challenge of existing Asian sexual stereotypes, to understand the possible evolution of Asian sexuality onscreen and highlight areas that still require future improvements. Given the interconnection between textual and visual materials in a movie, this thesis adopts a multimodal approach, combining Critical Discourse Analysis to study the scripts and Visual Discourse Analysis to examine the images of these three romantic comedies. The results reveal that while not entirely unearned, the praises these movies received for their portrayals of Asian characters seem to have glossed over the more problematic aspects. Traditional Asian sexual stereotypes such as the submissive Asian women or the Dragon Lady continue to exist in the storyline, especially in the depiction of Lara Jean Covey of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). The portrayals of the Asian female characters are generally found to be more stereotypical than those of their male counterparts, with the only significant stereotype being the elevated status of Eurasian males compared to Asian males. This is mostly observed in the portrayal of Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), portrayed by half-White Henry Golding, whose inclusion in the movie might signify Hollywood’s continued favoring of romantic heroes with Caucasian features. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that these romantic comedies are more committed to building new narratives about Asian sexuality than sustaining stereotypes. Asian females are depicted as strong and independent women who take charge their sexuality, while Asian males are masculine and sexually desirable. These movies showcase the beauty in diversity, as the sexual attractiveness of Asian characters are portrayed as far from monolithic. The findings of this thesis point to an evolution in the representation of Asian sexuality taking place – one that demands both celebration and caution. It serves as a reminder that while these movies are ground-breaking, it should not be treated as the final victory in the fight for accurate Asian representation, but rather as the beginning of a new era.

, , , , , , ,
Sommier, M.
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Do, Chi Mai. (2020, June 29). Asian Sexuality and Romantic Comedies: A Love Story? A Critical Analysis of the Construction of Asian Sexuality in Hollywood Romantic Comedies from 2018 to 2019. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from