The Edge Of Seventeen Character You Should Really Pay Attention To

Photo: STX Entertainment
Hailee Steinfeld's latest film venture, The Edge Of Seventeen, has been touted as the next Breakfast Club. The coming-of-age story certainly feels nostalgic: If you ignored the movie's smartphones, emoji usage, and social media fails, the film could be plopped into any decade and feel relevant. However, there is one thing in Edge Of Seventeen that feels thoroughly modern: the love interest is portrayed by an actor of Asian descent. In the Edge Of Seventeen, Nadine (Steinfeld) feels totally lost when her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating Nadine's golden-boy brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Nadine's cup isn't spilling over in the friends department, so she barely notices when the sweet, equally-as-awkward Erwin (Hayden Szeto) attempts to woo her. As the two spend time together, it becomes obvious that the sweet, smart, and totally-compatible Erwin is the guy Nadine should want to be with — rather than, say, Nick, the Petland stock boy with a gross agenda. Erwin, played by a Chinese-Canadian actor, ultimately becomes the film's primary love interest — a rare and important distinction that few Asian actors see in mainstream American film. Actors of Asian descent are grossly underrepresented in Hollywood. A study by the University of Southern California found that out of the 3,932 speaking characters evaluated from 600 popular films made between 2007 and 2013, only 4.4% were Asian. That's why it's particularly frustrating when films like Doctor Strange and the upcoming Ghost In The Shell choose to cast white actors to represent historically Asian characters.
Sadly, even representation has problematic limits: In American cinema, Asian actors are often cast as sidekicks, "wise" older men, and/or comic relief. Consider Edge Of Seventeen's fellow coming-of-age story Sixteen Candles and the (blatantly racist) character Long Duk Dong, portrayed by Gedde Watanabe. The Chinese foreign exchange student is on camera simply to be the butt of the joke. It's especially rare for films with a mostly-white cast to paint an Asian male as a potential love interest. Where films lack, though, TV is picking up the slack — sort of. How To Get Away With Murder features the ever-crushable Oliver, portrayed by Conrad Ricamora, whose romantic, ever-complicated relationship with Connor (Jack Falahee) is half the reason to watch the show. On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca is over the moon for Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), who is Filipino. And, though the part is far more stereotypical, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Korean boyfriend Dong (Ki Hong Lee) does beat out the wealthy white suitor for the main character's heart.
Still, Asian love interests on film are few and far between — which is why it's so refreshing to see Szeto as the guy we root for. Perhaps, one day, Szeto's part won't feel so remarkable — which will be how we know we're making real progress.

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