I just finished watching a Korean drama – all 16 episodes of it.
No one is more shocked by this than I am. I’ve long scoffed at Asian soap operas regardless of their national origin, having watched a handful of episodes while overseas and glimpsing others on Asian TV channels here. They’re so over the top! From their maddeningly slow-burning, tear-drenched romances (always backed by gut-wrenching dirges about mismatched love) to the pristinely clean-shaven men who all look the same, Asian dramas have been anathema to me.
But one Korean drama has revealed to me my arrogance. It’s still got too much romantic angst for my taste – they’re talking about their relationship AGAIN? – and sad songs that I’d rather put on mute. Yet this K-drama really won me over.
Hers isn’t a household name yet, but actress Chantal Thuy’s growing body of artistic work will undoubtedly win her many more fans soon. Among her various projects, she has a recurring role on The CW’s Black Lightning, DC Comics’ first ever TV show centered on an African American superhero.
Chantal plays bartender, bookstore staffer, and comic book geek Grace Choi, a bisexual Asian American woman who has a budding romance with one of the title character’s two daughters, a medical student named Anissa Pierce (played by Nafessa Williams). Grace’s special powers have yet to manifest on the show, but her back story is laid out in the DC Comics source material; she’s half-Amazonian, giving her a common ancestry with Wonder Woman. Thus, in the comics, she possesses superhuman strength, endurance, and self-healing. Hopefully, we’ll see her powers at work on the TV version of Black Lightning this season!
But Chantal doesn’t just portray an extraordinary character. She’s an extraordinary person, which I’ve found as we’ve interacted over the last year. In this Feminist Asian Dad interview, Chantal discusses bisexual and Asian American identities, her family’s refugee experience, what she does for fun, and much more. It’s a truly heartfelt conversation which I know you’ll enjoy! (And it’s been gently edited for length and clarity.)
AUGUST 18, 2018 UPDATE: After watching both Crazy Rich Asians, which was a deeply emotional experience for me, as well as the delightful To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix, the scene I’ve embedded below came to mind. It’s from Supergirl on the CW network, and it features two wonderful actors in a flashback: Izabela Vidovic as a young Kara Danvers/Supergirl and Ivan Mok as bullied schoolmate Kenny Li.
I’ve read some Asian-American women comment over the last few days that it would have been hugely helpful, when they were younger, to see themselves represented by the main characters in romantic comedies like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. In a similar vein, it would have been significant in my own youth to have seen myself represented in a scene like this: