Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stephanie's innocence and "Asianness"

As the only significant female (and adopted) character in “Better Luck Tomorrow”, Stephanie is an especially interesting source of discussion. She is the cheerleader with a solid academic record (3 honors classes and a 3.8 GPA), who dates the rich-kid Steve and is Ben’s secret object of affection. Though Stephanie associates closely with Ben and Steve and certainly knows the other main characters, she remains relatively oblivious to their dealings. Her struggles do not extend to ruthless overachieving, a cocaine habit, and violent crimes, as Ben and his Asian American friends experience (perhaps a result of the pressure-cooker environment in which they perceive themselves to live).

If we look at these themes, it is easy to discount her as comparably worry-free. Some have even commented that her being adopted by non-Asian parents is the cause; Stephanie has not been subject to the same expectations and omnipresence of Asian parents. Upon looking closer at Stephanie’s character, however, it is apparent that she has her own very legitimate problems that simply don’t get camera time. The mention of her seeing a therapist is an indicator that her life includes difficulties. Her story is just a different one for a different movie.

Regarding Stephanie’s potentially being “less Asian”, I think it’s important to look at BLT as a whole. Any of these characters could really be of a different color—none of them dwell specifically on the struggles associated with Asian American life. One could say that their actions are a function of their backgrounds—I do agree that the overachieving aspects are often more associated with Asian Americans than other minority groups—but it doesn’t say anything about Stephanie and why her character is the way she is. Though non-Asian parents raised Stephanie, it doesn’t necessarily make her a well-assimilated member of American high school culture. It is clear that she is attempting to define herself, but aren’t all high school students trying to do the same? At the same time, she says that she is confused about her identity as a daughter, which might apply for anyone in the same position, regardless of race.

In the same way Ben, Virgil, Darik, Han and Steve’s fates are not absolutely tied to their being Asian (they could just as well be white and find themselves in a gang together, making the same choices), there is not a specific mold that Stephanie must fit in order to be truly “Asian”. The adoption does not make her any more or less Asian, she just happens not to go down the same paths as the other characters.

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