Production on the film adaptation of the acclaimed 2012 young adult novel Eleanor and Park will continue despite criticisms of racist Asian tropes, according to Vice.
Rainbow Rowell, the book’s author, tweeted on July 5 that Japanese director Hikari will direct the Eleanor and Park film with media companies PICTURESTART and Plan B. In the same thread, she announced casting starts next week.
“Of all my characters, I always feel most protective of Park and Eleanor. They feel vulnerable to me. Like, their hearts are just right there, exposed,” Rowell tweeted. “[Hikari] is such a compassionate and open-hearted filmmaker. And she’s already so loving and kind to the characters.”
When the book came out in 2012, it received glowing reviews from other authors such as John Green of The Fault in Our Stars who called it a “beautiful, haunting love story” with “observational precision and richness” in The New York Times. Some readers also praised what they perceived as representation, as the novel featured a biracial Korean teenager named Park in the 1980s Midwest.
Nearly a decade later, many of these same readers are calling these depictions racially problematic and insensitive. Some have pointed out that Park is a Korean surname, not a first name, which Rowell, a White woman, has addressed on her website.
“My backstory for Park’s name was that “Park” is his mom’s family name, and that his parents thought it would be nice for him to have both their names,” Rowell wrote. “This is fairly common in American families — to use the mom’s maiden name as the kid’s first or middle name.”
Others also pointed out the movie will be directed by a Japanese director to tell a Korean American story. Internet users also criticized what they saw as the stereotyping of Asian men as feminine and the fetishizing of Asian women as exotic, Vice reported.
“Asian girls are different. White guys think they’re exotic… Everything that makes Asian girls seem exotic makes Asian guys seem like girls,” a passage in the novel read.
Many Asian American YA authors and readers have also been vocal about these observations since the book’s launch.
Cartoonist Wendy Xu of Angry Girl comics wrote in a 2014 review that Rowell’s depiction of Park having Asian features but green eyes was comparable to the exoticism of Edward Cullen in Twilight, except that it pertained to real, non-mythical human beings. The story of his parents’ marriage also perpetuated the trope that White American soldiers “liberate” women from oppressive and war-torn countries.
“Park’s Asian-ness is only brought up in the context that it is different to what Eleanor is used to, that it is EXOTIC and MAGICAL and because of that she likes him,” Xu wrote.
Vice contributor Katie Way expressed dismay that the book and the author were experiencing more success despite fetishization of American Americans.
The progress of the film adaptation despite persistent criticisms of the racism and microagressions present in the story takes away from narratives written by actual Asian Americans, internet users wrote.
“It hurts to see that not only has a White author, catering to young people, has sailed along without reckoning with her racism, her fetishization and her lazy caricatures; she’s been rewarded with even more success,” Way wrote. “It’s hard to blame Asian Americans for focusing on the things that make us feel invisible, even if these debates may muffle the least visible among us.
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