This holiday season saw new Asian American representation in its holiday rom-coms, a genre that has previously been criticized for a lack of diversity. While Lifetime released its first holiday film centering on a Chinese American family, Netflix added its own contribution with its new series Dash and Lily.
Dash and Lily, based on a book titled Dash & Lily’s Books of Dares, follows a love story between two teenagers in New York. Lily, one of the titular characters, comes from a mixed Japanese American family, and the show takes care not to neglect Lily’s heritage and experiences as an Asian American teen.
Lily is portrayed by Midori Francis, who is also half Japanese. In an interview with the Center for Asian American Media, Francis says that although the character Lily was not Japanese American in the original book, showrunner Joe Tracz intentionally cast an Asian American lead in the role. She added that the show made sure to cast Japanese American actors to portray Lily’s family.
The series highlights aspects of Lily’s Japanese American heritage, featuring mentions of her family making mochi or a scene where they visit a temple on New Year’s Eve.
Francis’ own experiences also had an influence on how the show handled the character’s experiences as an Asian American teenager. In one scene, Lily recites a poem at a slam poetry reading in which she says, “I wish I could’ve stood up to all of the bullies who made me feel too weird, too different – too Asian.”
Francis says she asked Tracz if she could add the “too Asian” line into the scene.
“Every Asian kid who grew up on a playground in America, specifically one where there were mostly White kids – everyone knows that experience,” she said. “I was like, if we’re building this story where Lily was bullied and made to feel different, it would just be extremely dishonest to not include the fact that she’s Asian because that is integral to probably why she was picked on in some sense – or, at least she would feel that way.”
The actress told NJ.com that the scene paralleled her own experience of being bullied when she was younger because of her race.
“You have to start with who you are,” she said about portraying her character. “And there’s only one Midori in the world. . . and so you have to draw upon and get to know what makes you upset, what makes you happy, what turns you on, what turns you off, and then you can start from there.”
Francis acknowledged that being cast in a holiday rom-com as an Asian American actress was “highly unusual.” However, she hopes that her character will help to present more a more positive and accurate representation of Asian American women.
“Lily is just so fleshed out and her interests are clear, her dislikes are clear, her worldview at the age of 17 is very clear,” Francis said, addressing how her role subverts common stereotypes of Asian American women.
“She’s just very much a real person that we get to know and love. So even if she was a shy girl, I think it would have gone beyond that stereotype simply because the writers did the work to make sure she was well-rounded.”
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