Pop culture had an Asian moment in 2018.
From billboards and magazine covers, to your Spotify and Netflix queue, to the big screen and even bigger stages, everywhere you looked Asians were rocking the media landscape in a way we haven’t seen before.
If there is to be a tipping point for Asian representation, 2018 feels like the year we’ve finally reached it. After many years of being left out of the pop culture conversation, it suddenly seems like we can’t get enough.
Asians were seen and their stories were told. This was a year where mainstream audiences got a glimpse of the creative brilliance Asians were always capable of — and they absolutely loved it. Turning old assumptions and stereotypes on its head, movies that featured diverse casts thrived at the box office, and proved to be both an equitable necessity and a financial opportunity.
In a year where the news wasn’t always pretty and entertainment was turned to for relief, these were the Asian pop culture standouts that brought a smile to our faces at Cold Tea Collective.
10. “Kim’s Convenience” Debuted Internationally
In July, the Canadian family sitcom was released to an international audience for the first time on Netflix. Canadians have been laughing and cringing at Mr. Kim’s antics for the past two years, but now the rest of the world can also enjoy this gem of a show featuring a lovable Korean-Canadian family, including Simu Liu, in Toronto running a corner store.
9. Awkwafina Hosts “Saturday Night Live”
Awkwafina caps off her landmark year as the first female Asian host (one of only two in total) on SNL in 18 years. Hot off of scene-stealing roles in “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians”, she cements her place in pop culture with her turn at the mic at this American late-night institution.
In her opening monologue she shares how Lucy Liu, the first Asian female to ever host SNL, inspired her: “Back in 2000, I came to 30 Rock and waited outside when my idol, Lucy Liu, hosted SNL. I was a kid, and I didn’t have a ticket, so I knew I wasn’t getting in, but I just wanted to be near the building. And I remember how important that episode was for me, and how it totally changed what I thought was possible for an Asian American woman.”
8. Mitski Becomes The Cowboy
If you haven’t yet fallen in love with the brilliant indie rock of Mitski, what are you waiting for? The Japanese-American artist released her fifth studio album, Be The Cowboy, to widespread critical acclaim and it’s her best yet. Don’t just take our word for it, she leads nearly every “Best Albums of 2018” list from all the major players including Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, NPR, The New York Times, Vulture, and Time.
7. John Cho Stars in “Searching”
In “Searching”, John Cho becomes the first Asian-American actor to play lead in a mainstream, contemporary thriller. The film features a mostly Asian cast without all of the racial expectations that often entails such a move. When you cast anybody who isn’t white in a movie, says director Aneesh Chaganty, “there has to be this element explaining what the Asian-American hook is. In our movie, there’s no justifying it. We are trying to not make it an issue. That’s the victory to us.”
6. “Bao” Made Us Hungry and Want to Hug Our Parents
A humanoid baby dumpling has never been more relatable than in this short film. You may have caught “Bao” as the Pixar short at the beginning of “Incredibles 2” but I assure you it’s worth a second viewing. Dealing with issues surrounding overprotective parents and culture clash between different generations, this short contains the kind of cultural specificity that tugs at your heartstrings.
5. Constance Wu and Henry Golding Really Did THAT
The rollout for “Crazy Rich Asians” blessed us with cover after cover of Constance Wu and Henry Golding serving looks to die for. Representation isn’t limited to the screen, it includes media coverage like magazines and the people chosen to grace their covers. And grace them they did. Expect to see much more from Hollywood’s newly crowned leading man and lady.
4. BTS Is on Top of the World
With Love Yourself: Tear, BTS became the first K-pop group ever — and the first foreign-language album in 12 years — to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s no small feat for a non-English speaking band. Already selling out arenas on the North American leg of their tour, you can safely expect to hear far more from them and their adoring fans.
3. Lana Condor Stole Our Hearts
Move over Noah Centineo, Lana Condor stole the show and our hearts in Netflix’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”. Centered around what happens when a shy Korean-American girl has her secret love letters leak out, it stands as the perfect kind of feel-good teen rom-com that will satisfy any John Hughes fan. Better yet, it’s the first mainstream teen romance to feature an Asian-American female as the lead.
2. Sandra Oh Is Our Queen
Pay respect where it’s due. Sandra Oh has long been a pioneer among Asians in Hollywood but this year, she adds a couple more landmark firsts to her long list of accolades. For her role in “Killing Eve”, she was nominated for an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series, the first time an Asian actress has ever been nominated for the award. More recently, she was announced as the co-host of the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards, making history as the first Asian person to ever host a major award show — including the Emmys, Grammys, and Academy Awards.
1. Totally Crazy For “Crazy Rich Asians”
Was there any other choice for No. 1? “Crazy Rich Asians” was the first major Hollywood movie to feature an all Asian cast in 25 years and its monster $237-million box office makes it the highest-grossing rom-com in a decade. The film opened the floodgates for Asian representation in entertainment and proved that audiences want to see diverse casts on screen.
It marks a turning point for Asian visibility in our popular culture where we can start imagining new possibilities beyond the mainstream. Even in criticism of the film, it gave us the opportunity to talk about the kind of representation we want, rather than just the lack of it — a luxury we’ve never had before. This will be a movie — and an upcoming sequel — talked about for years to come and will hopefully become the launch point of far more Asian representation.
There were so many moments it was hard to keep it to just 10. But here are a few we loved that didn’t quite make the list: Manny Jacinto in “The Good Place”, Ali Wong’s second Netflix special, Tan France on “Queer Eye”, Hasan Minhaj in “Patriot Act”, David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious”.
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