‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Star Lana Condor on Bringing More Diversity to Movies
With temperatures in the mid-80s outside Arclight Culver City on Thursday night, the cast of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” were fighting some unfortunate sweat marks while on the red carpet.
“Who brought a fan? What was I thinking, wearing all black!” joked Susan Johnson, the director of Netflix’s latest rom-com.
Based on the 2014 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a meek high school student whose life gets turned upside-down when she finds out the five love letters she’s written and kept stashed away have inadvertently been mailed out.
Casting Condor as the lead was an easy choice for Johnson, especially as she and author Jenny Han insisted the role be filled by an Asian-American (keeping true to the book). “When you see the film, you’ll know just as quickly as I did,” shared Johnson, “She’s so beautiful, smart, effervescent, and kind. I thought she had a line into Lara Jean’s psyche that no one else did.”
It was important to Jenny Han, author of the YA books To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, that the film adaption would keep one key detail: that the lead character, Lara Jean, was Asian-American. In a new essay for the New York Times about the movie, rom-com, and representation, Han revealed that nearly every production company interested in adapting her best-selling book into a movie asked to whitewash it. “I ended up deciding to work with the only production company that agreed the main character would be played by an Asian actress,” Han wrote. “No one else was willing to do it. Still, I was holding my breath all the way up until shooting began because I was scared they would change their minds. They didn’t.” Lana Condor, who is Vietnamese-American, starred in the adaptation, produced by Awesomeness Films and Overbrook Entertainment, and released on Netflix.
Han’s apprehension isn’t entirely surprising, given novelist Kevin Kwan’s experience with another big Asian-American narrative opening this summer, Crazy Rich Asians. A producer asked Kwan if the lead role — an Asian-American woman who meets her husband’s family in Singapore — could be played by a white woman. (Constance Wu plays the role in the film.) Hollywood — not great, Bob!