Rent a Boyfriend: Interview with Gloria Chao

This post is an extension of my 15 thoughts on Gloria Chao’s new book Rent A Boyfriend which has been officially released today! If you’re a fan of fake dating, Asian-centric romantic comedies, and young adults in college surviving their sitcom-worthy embarrassing parents, give it a read!

I had the opportunity to ask Gloria Chao some questions about this book. Check out what she has to say!

1.  What inspired you to write this particular book?

RENT A BOYFRIEND is inspired by a real practice that happens in some Asian countries where women sometimes feel so pressured to bring home an acceptable significant other that they turn to hiring a fake boyfriend from the classifieds or a company. I understand this kind of pressure and wanted to write a book that fictionalized this practice and brought it to America. I drew a lot from my own experiences feeling pressured to walk a certain path in life and being set up by my mother.

2.  How familiar are you with the Palo Alto setting? Why did you choose that city as the main setting for the story?

I chose Palo Alto because I wanted a location with a large Asian American population to justify the existence of the boyfriend rental company, Rent for Your ’Rents, which caters to an Asian American clientele. I’m familiar with Palo Alto, so that felt like a natural choice, but of course the fictional community in the book is inspired by many different Asian American communities around the country with which I’ve had lots of personal experience. 

3.  Which character(s) do you relate to the most?

I relate to both Chloe and Drew in different ways. Chloe’s anxiety and her desire to please her parents while somehow walking the path of her choosing are taken from my experience. Drew’s voice, however, is closer to my own. And his backstory of his parents cutting him off for pursuing art is informed by my career switch from dentist to writer. 

4.  You’ve used Chicago as a partial setting for Our Wayward Fate and this novel. Have you ever considered setting an entire story in Chicago?

What a perfect question! I’m currently working on a story that is completely set in my hometown of Chicago! I hope I can share more about this project in the future! I love Chicago so much, and I hope that comes across when I write about it!

5.  What would you say to young adults who are struggling to have a healthy relationship with their parents? (Especially Asian-American young adults)

You are not alone. And it is definitely not easy. There aren’t really any right or wrong answers, only gray and more gray. I’m realizing that the only thing I can control is what I do and how I communicate, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Hang in there!

6.  A lot of adults are still reading YA. What would you say to Asian-American adults who are reading this book while raising the next generation?

I don’t have kids so I don’t have any advice from experience, but I guess the least we can hope to do is not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation.

7.  Do you think there could be a possible sequel to this particular book? 

I am open to anything! But I personally think I would write a spin-off before I wrote a sequel. There are plenty of other possible Rent for Your ‘Rents stories to explore!

8.  How do you think Chloe and Drew would handle living in our current complicated year? What would they do in quarantine?

Like a lot of us, I think they would be taking it one day at a time. In quarantine, I think there would be plenty of couch-snuggling, watching feel-good movies, and playing board games like Takenoko, Splendor, or Ticket to Ride! 

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao: 15 Thoughts While Reading

Thank you to Hear Our Voices and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this wonderful YA rom-com and including me on this Blog Tour!

Synopsis

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 320 pages

Links:

About the Author

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fateand Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.

Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of SeventeenBustle, Barnes & NoblesPopSugarPaste Magazine, and more. American Panda received four starred trade reviews, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie Next Pick, was a YALSA Teen’s Top 10 Pick, and on the Amelia Bloomer List.

Links: Author Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

15 Thoughts I Had While Reading

  1. I love Chloe’s “mooncake points” aka her way of measuring her parents’ approval of either her boyfriend or herself.
  2. I low-key love that Chloe sort of has this “dual identity,” a version of herself when she’s at home (Jing-Jing), but wants to be her authentic self (Chloe). Drew has a similar dual identity, acting as “Andrew” when he’s being a fake boyfriend and wanting to just be himself when he’s off the clock. Bonus: This book shows scenes in Chloe and Drew’s POVs, though the story centers more on Chloe and her relationship with her family.
  3. I seriously wish that Chloe’s dad could’ve been more open and honest about how he regards Drew. He seemed very supportive of the relationship.
  4. Fun Fact: There’s a more famous Chloe Wang. You might know her better as Chloe Bennet aka Daisy from Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Before she became an actress, she was a pop star and one song came to mind as the chemistry between Chloe and Drew began to develop.
  5. The guy that Chloe’s parents want her to marry is a serious douche canoe and the excuses Chloe’s mother makes for him are a sorry sight to read. Double standards abound within Chloe’s family and their Chinese community. Mr. All-Wrong-For-Chloe is a shining turd example of the patriarchy! (Insert patriarchy jingle from Buffering Podcast here.)
  6. A lot of emphasis is put on one’s reputation within a community. I basically wanted to blast Taylor Swift’s “I Did Something Bad” during one particular scene centering on Chloe!
  7. I seriously imagine Drew having an Instagram account devoted to his art. He could make some serious merch from the little cartoon sheep, similar to this Instagram account.
  8. The word “verisimilitude” came to mind while reading through Chloe and Drew’s relationship. The word means “something having the appearance of truth.” It summarizes their fake dating perfectly!
  9. I had to unpack my bias about the value of a college education because I wasn’t sure why Drew didn’t go to somewhere like the Art Institute and Chloe had to set aside her own biases.
  10. I had a feeling that Gloria Chao really leaned into her previous career (she used to be a dentist) when she wrote the scene that centered on Chloe’s dad.
  11. I don’t understand why studying economics is frowned upon in these strict Chinese families. I’m speaking as a Filipino, but economics leads to a career in business, which is equally as lucrative as law or medicine.
  12. Given that Chloe’s dating a guy named Drew and that I’m a Taylor Swift fan, this song inevitably came to mind.
  13. Mahjong is featured in this book. I was instantly reminded of the famous scene from Crazy Rich Asians (which incidentally is a movie-exclusive scene). Even though I’m Filipino, I have very vague childhood memories of the various aunts in my very expansive extended family playing mahjong for money, though I never played it myself.
  14. Can this book have a sequel? No spoilers, but stuff they showed towards the end opens up the possibility of a majorly awesome sequel that centers more on Drew.
  15. I like the way that Gloria Chao included Chicago as a secondary setting, both in this book and in Our Wayward Fate. As she considers that city home, Chicago is her equivalent of Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice or Brigadoon. I look forward to seeing an entire story set in Chicago someday.

If you want to know more, check out my review of this book on Goodreads and get this book! It’s such a fun read and perfect for early holiday season rom com feels without buying into the Hallmark bandwagon.

Marcia Lane-McGee’s Buffy Story

Buffy shirt courtesy of jordandenenyc on Instagram

It started with a conversation on Instagram. I found Marcia Lane-McGee through fellow Catholics on Instagram. I follow her podcast Plaid Skirts and Basic Black. But being the opinionated woman that I am, I couldn’t resist commenting on this post:

I commented: “More like Kyo Ren is emo TRASH! But yeah. I named my anxiety Loki.”

Then meg_corr_20 commented: I absolutely love a Byronic hero, which prompted Marcia to reply “There’s just something about them, girl! It started with Angel for me.”

If you know me, you know which vampire from Buffy I stan, so I replied: “Angel is lame! His hair goes straight up and he’s bloody stupid! If you can guess who I’m quoting, you know MY type!”

One slide into her DMs later, and it out that Marcia and I have a lot in common. We both love superheroes, Taylor Swift, and Buffy. And don’t worry. She’s a total Spike fan, too. She even said “Spike had my heart by the time they stopped the apocalypse.”

So for this special Halloween “Throwback Thursday” blog post, I asked Marcia some questions regarding Buffy and being Catholic.

  1. For the sake of those who don’t know you, who are you and how do you live out the Catholic faith? Hi! I am Marcia Lane-McGee. I grew up Protestant and when I was 20 years old I went through RCIA and was confirmed at Easter Vigil. I live out my faith in how I love others and through sharing the Gospel as I share my story in my writing, speaking, and in the podcast I cohost.
  2. How did you get into Buffy? My childhood BFF loved the movie from the early 90’s and I was a Sarah Michelle Gellar fan from her time on Swan’s Crossing and later All My Children. I was really excited to see her on TV again!
  3. Which characters did you identify with the most and why? That’s a hard one! I would have to say Anya I’m a straight shooter who knows what she wants. I ask know my worth, don’t take anyone’s crap, and learns to be vulnerable and gain strength from it. I’ll also go down fighting. No question. 
  4. Fave characters: Anya, Spike, Xander, and Andrew. Fave Season: Season Two was phenomenal! I also loved season five. Fave Episode: Becoming (parts one and two) for sure is my number one as a set. “The Body” is a close second. That episode is so chilling and so beautiful and I love it. Fave Villains: Angelus. It broke my heart, but he was such a good villain! I also loved Glory. She was terrifying! 
  5. How do you think being Catholic affects your perspectives on the show? I was already into Buffy before I even thought about becoming Catholic so that wasn’t in my radar. Now that you ask, I may just have to do a rewatch with my Catholic lens! 
  6. What aspects of being Catholic do you see in the show?  I want to say how Buffy usually made the hard choice with the Common Good in mind instead of what she wants. Sending Angel to hell and dying for the world would go on that list. 
  7. What did you think of the BIPOC characters in Buffy and Angel?  Though there wasn’t nearly enough representation, I like how the characterization showed that Black people are not a monolith. 
  8. If Buffy was going to be rebooted, what issues concerning racism do you think should be addressed? I can’t answer that. Buffy should NOT be rebooted! Just like in every generation, a slayer is born, every generation has their own vampire lore. Anne Rice was 90s lore, Buffy was the millenium lore, we got Twilight for the late aughts and early 2010s. Right now we have What We Do In The Shadows. Our vampire lore is both timeless and has a time stamp. I think it should stay that way. Side note: if there was a reboot, Bianca Lawson could still play Kendra. That woman does not age.

Check out Marcia Lane-McGee on her Instagram, Twitter, and her podcast Plaid Skirts and Basic Black!

Why Inigo Montoya Is The Real Hero of “The Princess Bride”

In a traditional storytelling sense, Westley is the hero of The Princess Bride. The story, after all, centers around his love for Princess Buttercup.  However, I, along with many other fans of The Princess Bride, consider Inigo Montoya to be the real hero of the story and here are seven reasons why:

  1. Inigo the only one with an actual character arc. All the characters in The Princess Bride essentially remain the same throughout the story. Westley starts out as a farm boy and ends up a pirate, but he’s determined, devoted, and dashing from beginning to end. Inigo starts off being a mercenary without a sense of direction, driven by revenge. In his first scene, where he appears with Vizzini and Fezzik, Vizzini berates him for being a drunkard and threatens to fire him. We don’t really know much about Inigo until his sword fight with Westley. In this scene, we learn that Inigo insists on using his left hand when sword fighting. Jill Bearup analyzes the meaning behind this iconic scene. Some things she mentions are all part of establishing Inigo’s character arc: He’s impatient, but he’s also a man of honor (not cutting Westley down or killing Westley as soon as he gets to the top). Inigo opens up to Westley, a perfect stranger, and is willing to wait until Westley is ready to fight. Inigo likes a good challenge, but he also likes to win. Most of all, we learn that Inigo only has one goal in mind: to get revenge on the man who killed his father. And when Westley is on the verge of defeating him, Inigo is desperate and devastated, scared to die before fulfilling his goal.
  2. Inigo is smarter than he thinks. He’s smart enough to know that Vizzini isn’t using “inconceivable” in the correct way. Later on, upon hearing that Count Rugen was the man who murdered his father, Inigo tries to formulate a plan. He may not be able to figure out a specific way to storm the castle and find the count, but he’s smart enough to know that he has to find Westley. Once Inigo and Fezzik rescue Westley from the Pit of Despair, Inigo takes him to Miracle Max. And even as Westley formulates a plan to storm the castle, Inigo knows that he still has to find the Count, meet up with Westley and Buttercup after, and figure out a way to escape from the kingdom. For a guy who doesn’t consider himself as smart as Vizzini, Inigo definitely has a mind for strategy.
  3. Inigo is empathetic. When Westley screams under the agony from the life-sucking machine, Inigo is the only one who recognizes Westley’s voice and he’s smart enough to realize why Westley is being tortured and uses Fezzik to help him out. Aside from that, he is not willing to kill Buttercup, even if it’s part of the job. Once Inigo takes Westley to Miracle Max, he advocates for the noble causes of true love and avenging his father. When he realizes that Miracle Max was humiliated by Humperdinck, he argues that reviving Westley will ruin the wedding and humiliate the prince forever, empathizing with Miracle Max’s desire for a potential revenge.
  4. Inigo is determined. His desire for revenge aside, his fight with Count Rugen shows Inigo’s determination. Rugen runs like a coward and then tries to kill Inigo before they even have a chance to fight. In spite of being close to death, Inigo is determined to kill Rugen. And he knows that Rugen is offering false promises, so he won’t let anything the Count says stop him. Being able to fight in spite of his injuries, wanting to do the right thing even though Inigo didn’t see himself as anything special? That’s what makes him a hero.
  5. Inigo proves to be a good leader. Contrasted with Vizzini, Inigo knows the strengths of the people he’s with and he encourages them to lean into their strengths instead of threatening them. Inigo has to do a lot of the legwork once he, Fezzik, and Westley get inside Humperdinck’s castle. I’m not saying that he’s a perfect leader, as he prioritizes his fight with the Count over getting Westley to Buttercup, but he at least knew that Fezzik’s strength would be able to help them both. Later on, when Fezzik arrives with the horses, Inigo praises Fezzik for taking initiative.
  6. The meta-narrative part 1: Keep in mind that the framing device for The Princess Bride is a grandfather telling the story to his grandson. The kid literally asks his grandfather if Inigo kills Humperdinck. He never considers Westley to be someone who would kill Humperdinck. Granted, Westley was assumed to be dead when the grandfather stopped the story in the Pit of Despair, but Inigo was enough of an engaging character to make the kid think that Inigo could kill Humperdinck. It implies that if Westley was actually dead, Inigo had the potential to carry the rest of the story on his own.
  7. The meta-narrative part 2: This story is well-known amongst fans of The Princess Bride as well as Mandy Patinkin fans, but for those who don’t know, Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya, went into this role seeing the six-fingered man as representing the cancer that killed his father. He identified with the loss that Inigo suffered. So when Inigo killed the six-fingered man, Mandy felt as if he also killed the cancer that took his father.

Super Bowl In The Convent: 2020 Vision from Catholic Sisters

Two years ago, a lot of nuns from Twitter decided to provide their own commentary for the Super Bowl. I was way too bored to care about the game last year to really share some of the highlights, but this year has some wonderful tweets! The best part is that lay Catholics like me got to join in on the fun, too.

Favorite commercials:

The nuns loved the New York Life commercial that talked about The Four Loves, with an emphasis on “agape.”

There were other commercials that the sisters loved:

This was created in response to the Scientology commercial. Follow Sr. Danielle Victoria. She’s an amazing, artistic nun!
This one was in regards to the Doritos Commercial with “Old Town Road” and Sam Elliot.

The sisters weren’t as enthusiastic about halftime as everyone else on Twitter….

And just to remind you that these sisters take vows of poverty:


Towards the 2nd half, a lot of nuns were going to sleep, as most nuns have to wake up early the next morning, but there were still some nuns that were going to stay in the end. And some of them started praying.

In summation: Kansas City Chiefs, you’d better make sure you donate to these sisters and thank them for their prayers.

The Mandalorian: The St. Joseph of Star Wars

If any of y’all out there are fans of Star Wars or saw your social media feed flooded with pictures of the Yoda Baby, you have probably heard all the hype about The Mandalorian. Lemme tell you that as someone who considers herself a casual Star Wars fan at best, I can tell you that I am really loving the new show. Every episode always makes me want more.
What you may not realize, however, are the Catholic aspects within The Mandalorian. Star Wars has always had some religious elements, obviously, but The Mandalorian has a lot of surprisingly Catholic elements even within its space western setting. It feels almost fitting that Episode 3 of the series is called “The Sin” because so far, it’s been the episode with the most Catholic themes.

One thing that gets established in this episode is the “family” that the Mandalorian is part of. Without going into a lot of info-dumping, it’s established that this particular order has a creed: “This is the Way.” As soon as I heard their creed, I thought “This sounds like something I said at church.” After a quick Google search, I realized that the creed of the Mandalorians is similar to what is said during Easter or during baptisms: “This is our faith. This is the faith of the church.” And, for those who aren’t familiar with Church History, Christianity was originally called “The Way.” 

Speaking of beliefs, I love that the Mandalorians prize adoption, that part of their creed is that “foundlings are the future.” The Mandalorians are a warrior race and based on what little I know, few if any of them don’t have the luxury of having families. And in spite of the fact that Mando was part of a bounty hunter’s guild, the morals of his order take precedent, which means that his new priority is protecting and raising the child and I love that his tribe supports him, even if it means having to relocate. They value the life of the vulnerable. It also reminds me of one of the themes from the Greek tragedy Antigone: that there’s a higher, natural law that takes precedent over whatever codes people have. 

Although I have no clue what’s to come in future episodes (even now after 5 episodes so far), it’s clear to me that Mando has now become like Saint Joseph. For those who don’t know Catholic tradition, Saint Joseph was the foster father of Jesus and there was a time when Saint Joseph had to raise Jesus in hiding. Mando and that adorable Yoda Baby are still on the run, but he’s determined to make a good life for his child. And yes, our dear Mando regards the Yoda Baby as his child. He cares for the child and, even if he isn’t the most perfect parent, wants to keep the child safe.

There’s another way that Mando resembles Saint Joseph. As any Catholic knows, Saint Joseph is only mentioned in the Bible, but he never, you know, actually says anything. Mary has at least three scenes where she says something. But St. Joseph is known more for his actions. One interesting aspect about The Mandalorian is that it’s not very dialogue-heavy. And the Mando hasn’t said anything that would make for a good quote or meme other than “This is the Way,” but that’s the creed of his order. What makes Mando stand out is that he ultimately wants to do the right thing. He may never say it out loud, but his actions speak volumes. 

If you want to know more about religious themes within The Mandalorian series, I highly recommend checking out Fr. Roderick’s youtube channel. You might know him as the Star Wars Priest and he has definitely backed that title up. He’s been examining different aspects about The Mandalorian episode by episode and we definitely agree that there are a lot of parallels between Mando and St. Joseph. Go check him out on Youtube!

I can’t wait to see where this show will go next.

Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant: A Book Review

As the Christmas season begins, Molly, Dominic, and Molly’s pet stuffed wolf Francis are looking forward to all the fun that only the holidays can bring. One of the things that Molly is looking forward to is performing in the Christmas pageant. At first, Molly thinks that she’s going to be cast as Mary.

When Molly’s teacher, Mrs. Rose, announces the cast, Molly is devastated to learn that she got cast as a sheep and that one of Molly’s classmates got cast as Mary instead. When rehearsals start, Molly pitches a fit about her casting.

If this was a grown-up theater production, Molly would’ve been kicked out of performing altogether for her attitude. However, Mrs. Rose tells our little “diva” about Mary’s life as well as her reasons for casting Molly’s classmate in the leading role. Once Molly understands, she goes into a nice Hamilton pose, filled with determination to do her best in her role.

In theater, there is a saying: There are no small roles, only small people. Mrs. Egolf has told me that this story was partially inspired by her oldest child, who is currently doing theater. Mrs. Egolf also did stage managing in the past, although she never acted.

I really liked this story because of how relatable the whole situation was. I think everyone who has ever participated in a play always wished they were the lead. But most plays can’t be carried by just one person. As someone who has been in a few plays, I understood what Molly was feeling. I was never in the leading role of any play or musical, but I always enjoyed the time I had on the stage.

In the theater, the virtue of obedience takes precedent. Even if one isn’t a Christian, there are still rules everyone has to follow: Listen to the stage manager and the director, be nice to your fellow actors and the tech crew, and leave your attitude at the door or at least channel your feelings into your acting.

I recommend this book as one families should read around the Advent/Christmas time. I’m very certain that many Catholic schools are going to have their own Nativity play or a Christmas pageant of some sort. This story will remind kids to be humble and understanding.

Happy holidays!

The Magic of Disney with Autism

There’s something about Disney and fairy tales that still appeals to kids today. You might have heard some news stories on your feed about young children with autism having fun with Disney characters at the theme parks.

The most well-known story that’s been circulating around the news feeds is how Snow White comforted a young autistic boy named Jack Jack. Jack Jack and his family frequently go to the theme parks and his mother, Amanda, has documented their trips on her YouTube channel. In her other videos, you can see Jack Jack opening up to many more Disney characters.

Even Cinderella’s stepsisters get in on the fun. Recently, Jack Jack (the same boy who fell in love with Snow White) found a second love in Cinderella’s stepsisters. The most recent video shows him proposing to Drizella and Anastasia. Amanda says that they’re very hilarious and I think Jack Jack likes them for their humor.

Of course, Jack Jack isn’t the only one. Snow White has been shown comforting two other boys with autism who were in the middle of a meltdown. And about a year or so ago, a young girl with autism mistook a bride for Cinderella and got to go to Disney World after the news story went viral. Modern audiences, who often criticize Snow White and Cinderella, will probably wonder why those two princesses appealed to these children with autism.

Personally, I have a theory. Snow White may not be a princess that appeals to the typical feminist, at least not at first. But look at the story: She escapes from a life of abuse and finds a safer place to live with people who genuinely like her. The reason I think she appeals to children with autism is because of how Snow White handles the dwarves. Even though they’re little men, they still act like children with exaggerated personalities. And keep in mind that one of the dwarves, Dopey, is nonverbal. If you want to know more about the appeal of the classic Disney princesses, I recommend reading Faith Moore’s Saving Cinderella.

But Disney doesn’t just appeal to children with autism. There’s a documentary currently on Amazon Prime called Life, Animated, which centers on the life of a young man named Owen whose special interest centers on all things Disney. He’s able to recall scenes from the various Disney animated movies. However, for him, he doesn’t connect to the princesses, but to the “sidekick” characters such as Timon, Iago, Sebastian. The documentary centers on Owen as he starts living on his own, adjusting to the world of adulthood.

It honestly doesn’t surprise me that Disney Princesses and sidekicks appeal to people on the autism spectrum. As Life, Animated stated, they have exaggerated expressions and emotions, but the stories and characters still tie to things in the real world. I’m really looking forward to the Disney + streaming service because it will include some of the classic Disney movies. My biggest hope is that these classic movies can gain a wider audience.

Aladdin (2019): An Arab-American’s Perspective (Guest Post by Sarah Crickard)

Sarah Crickard is a Catholic wife and mother living among Ohio’s beautiful and infinite cornfields. When she is not working with low-income seniors as a caseworker, she enjoys writing fantasy, sewing, running and posting pictures of her food on Instagram. She is fluent in Arabic and sarcasm. Instagram: @SarahCrickard

Much to my loved one’s annoyance, I have had a very public and long-winded problem with the 1992 Disney movie Aladdin for…ever. So much so that when I finally went to Disneyworld at the tender age of 26 I had to get a picture of myself “fighting” with Jasmine, and my husband truly wondered if I might get us kicked out of the park if and when we ran into that particular princess. It was on the “do not play” list among my middle school and high school friends because they all wanted to avoid having to listen to my analysis of the movie’s many flaws for several hours.

Disney announced their live-action remake of Aladdin, scheduled to come out on my birthday in 2019 (Oh, the irony). I don’t have much time to go to the movies, so I waited for the film to become available for purchase, and bought a digital version to watch at home. And watch it I did…last night. So clearly I have to write up my thoughts right now. I’ll begin with my problems with the original, the 90s version. Once we get those out of the way I can get to raving about how much I loved the remake.

Aladdin is set in the imaginary kingdom of Agrabah. If I had a nickel for every time someone stressed to me that it was an imaginary place, as an excuse for the film’s overall cultural insensitivity…I’d have a lot of nickels. The movie opens with “Arabian Nights“, a musical narration of the setting. The song makes it very clear that this is an Arab country, even if it’s an imaginary Arab country. The song also contains gems like “Where they cut off your ear If they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” In Disney’s defense, when the song was poorly received in 1992, they re-released the song without these lyrics, but my family had already purchased the original on VHS and these are the lyrics I, and many, grew up with. 

The song essentially starts off the movie with two points: It’s hot and sandy here because this is the middle east, and the people are barbarians. This, while we are given aerial shots of a very Taj-Mahal-like palace, and women in saris walking the streets. The rest of the movie continues like this with random references to Islam and Arab culture sprinkled throughout in the hopes that no one will notice that what they’re looking at really looks a lot more like India than the Middle East. If Disney set out to make up a fake culture, they utterly failed. What they did end up doing is poorly representing two distinct and rich cultures by mashing them together and portraying them entirely in stereotypes. The 2019 remake also doesn’t seem to distinguish Arab and Indian culture, but I’ll talk about why it’s okay in the remake in a moment.

The issues continue as we meet our two main characters Aladdin and Jasmine. These were supposed to be the Arab prince and princess I could look up to as examples as a young Arab-American girl growing up in a very white mid-west. 

Aladdin, instead, is kind of stupid. He is smart enough to escape the blundering mooks that serve as guards but is immediately bested the moment he faces a semi-competent nemesis in Jafar. In fact, all his victories seem to happen simply because everyone around him got a little stupider while he was there, or because he has a magical servant who can actually snap his fingers and fix it. Aladdin’s arc is simply one of a man who starts off a liar and thief, and then in the last five minutes of the movie learns to tell the truth. This lesson is learned very quickly and without much in the way of consequences. He basically apologizes for lying once and is given a bride (who comes attached to a future kingship). 

Jasmine is even more of a letdown. She’s introduced as some sort of feminist icon, who wants to be free to choose her own future. Her struggle throughout the movie is that she does not want to marry for political gain, but for love. At first pass, this seems good, but if we really think about it, she only reinforces the problems she is facing. She rebels against the notion that she should marry in order to give her kingdom greater security but instead wants to find someone who gives her butterflies. This culminates in her choosing the man who’s been lying to her for the duration of the movie. So she uses her “freedom” to make, arguably, a very silly choice. The 2019 remake addresses both of these characters’ flaws as well as the cultural setting they are living in. 

Aladdin, when we meet him in the 2019 version, is being chased by guards just like in the original. We’re shown immediately that this new Aladdin is able to outrun the guards, not because they are bumbling idiots, but because he’s smart. When he realizes he is going to be caught, he creates a decoy, and promptly escapes in the other direction, leaving the guards puzzling over where he’d gone. Then, he and Jasmine have a discussion about the fact that Abu, Aladdin’s pet monkey, steals indiscriminately, while Aladdin himself only steals what he needs. Jasmine’s bracelet goes missing and she believes Aladdin has lied, although we can see it was really Abu who took it. Aladdin then sets out to return the bracelet and prove he’s not a liar. This, among other things, is a drastic departure from the 1992 Aladdin who really did just steal and lie because he didn’t seem to know any better. Our 2019 Aladdin steals and lies, but he spends the movie grappling with his own greed, eventually choosing the right thing multiple times in the last half of the movie, even when it gets him into worse situations.

Jasmine, too, is much improved. We’re shown that her desire to marry is balanced by a desire to rule. Isolated in the palace, she’s spent her life studying politics and maps. She wants to marry for love, not so that her loving husband can rule her kingdom, but so that she can rule with someone supportive by her side. We are shown that all the men in her life find her annoying. Then Aladdin steps in and believes that she is capable of making good decisions with or without his help. These two character arcs are worlds better than the 1992 version and give us two real people we can struggle and feel with.

The other improvement is the wider setting of the movie. In the 1992 version, we see silly things in the background like “Hakim’s discount fertilizer” a cart of manure that Aladdin flings a guard into. Aladdin also comically injures a sword swallower, snake charmer, and a man on a bed of nails. The cultural notes in the background all serve for comedic moments, and there’s no concern given to what snake charmers, sword swallowers, spice merchants, camels, etc. mean to the people in this culture. 

I’ve been to an Arab Bazar in Bethlehem and it was the single most dazzling experience of my life. This is captured in the 2019 version of “Arabian Nights” which has been rewritten as a celebration of the mingling of Eastern cultures in trade centers. Lyrics like “Where you wander among every culture and tongue. It’s chaotic, but hey, it’s home” the song tells us that this a fantasy land before going on “As you wind through the streets at the fabled bazaars with the cardamom-cluttered stalls. You can smell every spice while you haggle the price of the silks and the satin shawls. Oh, the music that plays as you move through a maze in the haze of your pure delight. You are caught in a dance, you are lost in the trance of another Arabian night.” 

I began to cry (and my husband will attest it takes a lot to make me cry) when the movie opened on these lyrics. I turned to him and said “This. This is a celebration of my part of the world.” “Arabian Nights” is still the musical orientation of the movie’s setting, but this time we’re told that Agraba is a place where cultures come together and mix. It’s an imaginary kingdom where the best of India, the Middle East, and the East, in general, can come together in a dazzling display of human creativity. The movie continues as a showcase of this as we see traditional and modern dancing, spectacular costumes, and beautiful architecture. None of the cultural notes are played for comedy. This is why the 2019 version is able to get away with mixing together cultures. It is a celebration of the East and not a sloppy mockery of it.

I grew up feeling very out of place. I knew from a young age that “Arab” was a large part of my identity, even though, at first glance, I don’t necessarily look like a person of color. In the 90s and then even more so starting in 2001, Arab was not a very popular thing to be. I was proud of my heritage, and I never wanted to be anything else. The problem was showing others that. I often interacted with people who felt I should be apologetic for what I was or at least try to be a little more discrete. I grew up in the habit of being a translator for my family members. I became used to the looks of disgust when someone would tell me, a perfectly ordinary American child, something and I would turn to my grandmother and repeat it in Arabic, then relay the response. It was clear to me from a young age that my hair and skin were too dark, my language sounded too angry, and that my beautiful culture made people uncomfortable.

1992’s Aladdin being Disney’s “Arab movie” only reinforced that we were the wrong sort of people. I have always known this to be untrue, but there’s something especially painful about seeing that lie in technicolor on the big screen. The 2019 remake has taken that lie and transformed it into a celebration, and I for one, am here and ready to party. 

Now excuse me while I rock out to the song Speechless for the hundredth time today. 


Gratitude In the Moment

We’ve all heard how important the practice of gratitude is when it comes to our emotional health. It’s easy to feel grateful when everything feels good and we’ve all made an effort to count our blessings at one point or another. But here’s a perspective of gratitude I don’t think you’ve heard before: Choosing to be grateful in the present. Not just think about the food you have or the clothes that you wear, but gratitude for whatever you’re experiencing right here, right now, even when things don’t go according to plan.

I know it’s sounds a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re going through something you don’t want to wish on anyone else. But how often do we think about the past and what we want to change? How often do we think about the uncertainty of the future? There’s so much in this world that’s outside of our control. Gratitude in the moment puts us right in the present.

You could see it as an extension of mindfulness, being more aware of what’s around you. It can be something as small as being grateful for the weather or the smell of a nearby flower or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a city, pay attention to the architecture of the buildings or whatever catches your eye. These are all things to be grateful for.

One other benefit of being grateful in the moment and mindful of our present surroundings is that, ideally, it compels us to put down our phones and actually pay attention. In spite of everything going on in the world, I sincerely believe we are lucky to be alive right now. I’m not saying the world is perfect, but I think being grateful for where we are right now can help us detach from the endless cycle of online debates and news of things that are out of our control.

Being grateful in the moment is a small drop in the bucket in terms of taking care of ourselves emotionally. Try practicing it today and see if it makes any difference. Put aside all regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. Be here now.