‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s’ director talks us through its casting struggles and underlines the importance of Asian representation

To All The Boys I've Loved Before's sisters

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s director Susan Johnson has opened up about the struggles of casting Korean-Americans in the Netflix romantic-comedy.

Jenny Han’s adored 2014 young adult romance novel specifically describes its sixteen-year-old protagonist Lara Jean Song Covey as half-Korean, half-Caucasian. 

But during our discussion Johnson talked us through her struggles to cast Korean-Americans in “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

“The tricky part was that [the sisters] are all supposed to be Korean-American. We couldn’t make that happen. So everyone is Asian American, but they are not specific to Korean American.”

“That is something that I wanted to talk about a little bit, because it is virtually impossible. There are just not hundreds upon hundreds of specific Korean-American actors for roles.”

“We tried to be as supportive as we could with the Asian American ideal. But we couldn’t really follow the map so specifically.”

“Once we had Lana [Condor, who plays Lara Jean Song Covey] then it became about not trying to figure out if the girls looked alike, because that can vary in every family anyway. Especially when it is mixed race. “

“Hopefully people will be generous about that, and understand that is still supporting the Asian American community.”

But while Johnson obviously wishes they could have cast Korean-Americans in specific roles, she made sure to insist, “The story of the three girls is not that they are Asian American.”

“I am glad that Jenny was strict about staying true to the ethnicities of the girls in the book. But we didn’t want to make it about the Asian American experience. Because that is not what the book is.”

“For me I could relate to need to support the Asian American community, because they are under-represented, because as a female filmmaker I am under-represented. So I understood that.”

“We don’t bring it up, which I think makes it more relatable to people. So everybody can see themselves in the movie. And that is how it should be.”

“I did a Q&A last week, and most of the young people at the end were like, ‘Thank you for making a high school look like our high school. It was diversity all around. And we never see that in movies.’”

“I was very proud of that moment. And I think that is part of being color blind when you are making a movie.”

Johnson also had a helping hand throughout production when it came to specifically getting some of the details of life as an Asian American right, though, as author Jenny Han would repeatedly give her suggestions, especially when it came to set decoration. 

“I wanted to make sure that we were getting the Asian American side correct. I couldn’t speak to that. So Jenny Han would help us with set dec stuff.”

“She would be like, ‘There has to be a rice cooker on the side in the kitchen at all times.’ And I was like, ‘That’s great. I wouldn’t have thought of that.’ So little things like that, which make a huge difference.”

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is released on Netflix on August 17.

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