Monday, November 28, 2016

'Edge of Seventeen:' Let Hailee Steinfeld be Hailee Steinfeld

Hailee Steinfeld and Hayden Szeto in 'The Edge of Seventeen.'

BY MOST ACCOUNTS, The Edge of Seventeen is a pretty good movie. It "takes teenage movies to a higher place," says the NY Times.

Hailee Steinfeld, one of her generation's best young actresses, gives life to angst-ridden Nadine Byrd, a social outcast at her high school, someone many of us can relate to.

Edge of Seventeen, released last week, belongs in the same category of other teen classics Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. 

However, the producers missed an opportunity to make it a great movie. One little twist would have put it in a category of its own and given it a certain gravitas that it lacks right now. 

That slight change? Imagine what could be done if Nadine's absent father ,Tom, was Asian/American. The central character would be a hapa, half-Asian and half-white, what Filipina/American Hailee is in real life. Just that simple twist would have given Nadine's social isolation another nuance besides just feeling unloved. That character could have been done without changing a line, although it would have made it even better if there was a line or two about being of mixed race.
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It also would have added another layer of complexity to Nadine's relationship with the guy who really likes her, Erwin, played by promising newcomer Hayden Szeto. Unlike the other Asian character of note in teen movies, the infamous Long Duk Dong featured in Sixteen Candles, Erwin is a handsome, polite Korean/American classmate who is not your stereotypical nerd. He is also the only other character who isn't white. Despite Nadine's self-deprecating and negative view of her personal life, Erwin is infatuated with her and she, well, she doesn't see him in that light. 

A line or two about the sensitive issue of AAPI girls' and AAPI boys' relationships would have hit a nerve with a lot of Asian/Americans.

Canadian Szeto has been named People Magazine’s 2016 New Romantic Lead in in its One to Watch issue.


It is up to bankable stars like Steinfeld - and we include Vanessa Hudgens, Keanu Reeves, in this category - to look for opportunities, or create opportunities, to play the mixed race people that they are in real life. 

We already know they can play white people, or at best, racially ambiguous characters and that's how they created their fan base. However, at this stage in their careers they can afford a little risk since they have more than a little influence. Why not ask the writers and directors to play characters that are more true to their hapa-selves? More than likely, it would make the story richer and the plot would not have to be altered much, if at all.

The audiences need to see them for what they are so they can see that their screen idols can also include Asian/Americans. In our drive to have the movies reflect the reality of the United States, the racial presence they can have onscreen is even more critical in these racially sensitive days when there are people who think that America should be home to only to pigment-challenged people.

Hailee, only 19, portrays Nadine as a real teenager, not a 30-something playing a teenager. It is her best role since she was nominated for an Oscar in True Grit. There's some buzz about another nomination for her role in The Edge of Seventeen.


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