Christine Hoang, a screenwriter based in Austin, Texas, said she also had distinct memories of watching the film. Hoang, who’s in her 40s, said she conformed to her parents’ pressures for most of her life, going to law school and eventually becoming an entertainment lawyer. Hoang said she had just taken the bar exam when the film debuted. 

“I grew up in the ‘Just Say No’ era with very strict Catholic parents. You go to school and your refugee parents are pushing you to be successful, because otherwise, what are their sacrifices for?” Hoang said. “But when I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, we had choices all this time? I could go on a trip and ride a tiger? … I didn’t know people could take paths other than what was prescribed to you by your parents.”

Hoang said it was eye-opening to see Asian Americans on screen act impulsively and selfishly without calculating their parents’ expectations in their every move — a privilege she felt was only available to white people. While it ultimately took years for her to pursue her true dreams of becoming a screenwriter, Hoang said the film planted a small seed. 

Tony DelaRosa, an Asian American race scholar and the author of “Teaching the Invisible Race,” also noted that there are unmistakably racial elements throughout the film. Not only do the stoner characters themselves subvert the squeaky-clean Asian American trope, Harold, for example, threatens to get his ignorant co-workers fired for exploiting him. And Kumar ends up realizing he does, in fact, want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he has been afraid of conforming to stereotypes. The film also calls out common forms of racism toward Asian Americans, like one scene in which a cop tries to roast the spelling of Kumar’s name. 

With such groundbreaking elements, some believe the film should be touted as a historic example of Asian American representation. But DelaRosa suspects it’s likely that other Asian Americans are hesitant to do so, since the film doesn’t conform to some perhaps internalized “model minority” expectations. The Asian American movement, he said with a laugh, is “definitely not glamorizing a stoner film.” 

But he also underscored that the film isn’t perfect. He said there are scenes that have been criticized as homophobic and others as objectifying women. It’s time, he said, to demand more from films. 

“It was a great starting place to talk about race and definitely not the end,” he said. 

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