HomeBad Ass AsiansA Sugar & Spice Holiday puts Asian American narrative first

A Sugar & Spice Holiday puts Asian American narrative first

By Yunkyo Kim, AsAmNews Intern

Growing up in Canada, A Sugar and Spice Holiday lead Jacky Lai said she did not see a lot of Asian representation on screen. The actress, who plays rising architect Suzie Yung in the Lifetime Christmas flick, said she jumped at the opportunity to star in a romantic comedy that shows Asian Americans as everyday people who celebrate American traditions. 

“I love romantic comedies,” Lai said. “But I’ve never seen someone who looks like me on screen before. And I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did [to play a lead in a romantic comedy]. I got so emotional, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m that girl.’”

A Sugar and Spice Holiday is pioneering in many ways than one — it is Lifetime’s first Christmas movie and romantic comedy to center Asian American actors and stories.

Viewers can tune in to the premiere this Sunday evening on the Lifetime. 

In the movie, Suzy returns to Maine, where her family runs a local lobster bar. There, she runs into high school friend Billy Martin (Giroux), who enlists her in a gingerbread house competition to follow in the steps of her late grandmother, a star baker. A Christmas romance ensues.

In addition to casting predominantly Asian American actors, the movie is directed by Jennifer Liao and written by Eirene Donohue, both Asian American women. To the lead actors, decisions within the production made it clear the movie was for an Asian American audience. 

Co-star Tony Giroux, whose mother is Chinese, similarly said it was hard to see Asian representation that wasn’t stereotypical as he grew up as “only Asian kid” in a small town in France. 

Not being able to see himself represented in media caused a “psychological effect” that made Giroux feel like an outcast, he said. 

“Seeing the colors of my family in this film, it means a lot … [to be] able to show diversity as a normality — as opposed to roles that can sometimes fall into stereotypes that I think never show a proper light for Asian Americans,” Giroux said. 

Acting in a romantic comedy is a departure from Lai and Giroux’s previous acting roles, which included mostly sci-fi productions. Lai starred in the Netflix vampire show V-Wars while Giroux holds a recurring role in supernatural drama Motherland: Fort Salem. Still, both actors said they were drawn to A Sugar and Spice Holiday because it was a production with an emphasis on Asian American narratives.  

Sugar & Spice Holiday

When Lai was acting in a scene where she prayed, she said she did it once because it was a movie. She then was told that she should pray three times, in line with Chinese tradition. Lai said she was glad the production valued cultural authenticity. 

Lai is happy to be part of a “momentum” that featured “Asian leads in Western stories,” she said. 

“[In] one of the interviews we did before, the interviewer said, ‘If you close your eyes, [A Sugar and Spice Holiday] would sound like any other movie, but when you open your eyes, there was an Asian cast.’” she said. “That’s so wonderful, and I am just really so grateful to be a part of it, and that this project exists in the time that it did.”

The actors said they also look forward to the holiday movie bringing some timely comfort during a difficult era for many Asian American communities.  

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, harassment and discrimination against Asians increased. Furthermore, many small businesses owned by Asian Americans reported decrease in revenue as well as property damage, meaning negative financial — and cultural — implications for Asian American communities across the nation.

“I say all the time [that] romantic comedy is like my ‘soul medicine’ and if we could be anything like that for people right now, it would be a dream come true,” Lai said.

Yet, the film doesn’t shy away from portraying the lived experiences of Asian Americans head-on. In a particular scene, Suzy’s coworker assumes her family doesn’t celebrate the holiday because of her cultural background.

Lai said she was instructed to act natural in the moment, which was to “allow the people the space” to educate themselves.

The lead actors emphasized that the film is about uniting an audience in the backdrop of a holiday movie.

“I think this film was a reminder that we’re all human beings under the same roof, even though we do have different practices, different skin colors and different heritages, different opinions,” Giroux said. I think we’re all in this together. And I believe that A Sugar and Spice Holiday, you know, is a beautiful message to support that.”

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