A push toward onscreen inclusivity, for reasons both artistic and commercial, can be summed up in two films released in early 2018. Walt Disney’s “Black Panther” featured mostly Black actors and Black characters. Universal’s “Pacific Rim: Uprising” featured a protagonist who just happened to be played by an actor who looked more like John Boyega than Charlie Hunnam.
Both serve the worthwhile end-game of more varied onscreen representation. Randall Park’s directorial debut, “Shortcomings,” is explicitly a character comedy about Asian American characters that isn’t entirely or just about being Asian American.
Penned by Adrian Tomine and based on his 2007 graphic novel, “Shortcomings” focuses on young AAPI protagonists who are flawed, complex, messy and still figuring things out. That’s what the cast liked best about the film, as explained when Justin Min, Sherry Cola and Ally Maki stopped by TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge for a conversation with Sharon Waxman.
“‘Shortcomings’ is so fun,” actress Sherry Cola said, “because it’s truly a slice of life, kind of a simple way to showcase these people that we’ve never seen on the screen. It’s so grounded, and all of the characters are so flawed and crave growth and change. They can [also] be complacent and secure and stuck in their ways. There’s nothing more universal than that. And we just happen to be Asian.”
Cola plays Alice, a queer grad school student who is trying to make her parents happy, yet also, argues Cola, “very unapologetic and loud and reckless in her behavior.”
Justin Min plays Justin, and the actor confirmed that the character is at least loosely inspired by director Randall Park. “He’s a film nerd,” Min said. “He works at a sort of art house theater. The film shows his unraveling, in terms of his job and his relationships.”
Min further stressed the value of presenting Asian characters in such mundane settings. “You’ve seen Asians fight wars, you’ve seen them be crazy rich, but have you seen them at a diner eating a sandwich?”
Actress Ally Maki plays Miko, who is in a relationship with Ben and works at the film festival. Maki describes her as “very passionate.” “She goes on her own awakening, it’s an imperfect, flawed and messy journey,” she continued. “That’s what I enjoyed so much about playing her.”
When asked about last weekend’s mass shooting at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, which claimed the lives of 10 people, Cola called it “heartbreaking” and noted that “We can’t just have a moment of joy when we’re making such slow progress.”
She further argued that the film was at least partially about “fighting for our validation as human beings.” Furthermore, “Hollywood has treated us as foreigners for so long, that we’re just reclaiming our identities and kind of just trying to prove that we belong here.”
“In the past,” elaborated Maki, “a lot of the characters in media have portrayed us as less portrayed us as less than human. [“Shortcomings”] comes out that shows that we are people that have flaws and are messy. “That’s important.”
For the full conversation about “Shortcomings,” click on the video above.
TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE