Chang Can Dunk: Why This Film Is So Important For Asian-American Youth

On February 21, Disney Plus announced the shows and movies they plan to release in March. One of these movies is a coming-of-age sports film, “Chang Can Dunk,” which features a 16-year-old Asian American high school student. The trailer was released on February 22. And there have been mixed messages about the film ever since. 

The movie can take us back to the high school dramas we experienced. Chang, a member of the marching band in his high school, experienced bullying frequently at the hands of the basketball team. Chang decides to refute this, and promises to one of the basketball team members that he can dunk by Homecoming. 

He gets a coach to improve his skills, but he knows it will be a long way to go. 

When Disney Plus’ Facebook page first announced the movie, there were tons of negative reviews. Many were mocking the movie’s title, saying it stereotypes and categorizes Asian Americans as “unable to play basketball.” Some even said that Disney may be canceled because of the title.

Additionally, many people on Twitter are saying that they do not like the trailer. 

However, despite the comments on social media, the director of the movie, Jingyi Shao, aims to examine social hierarchies and family dynamics as an Asian American. 

“In a town where there aren’t a lot of other Asian American families, sometimes you don’t know why people are treating you a certain way,” Shao told Variety. 

Shao also takes inspiration from his youth to create the movie. He was inspired by the early ‘90s, a time when Asian-Americans and other people of color were heavily misrepresented in films as lead character roles. 

“It represents the future, but also is a call back to the early ‘90s, where maybe we didn’t get a chance to be the protagonist,” said Shao. 

Although some perceived the title “Chang Can Dunk” in a negative manner, Shao’s movie aims to address another message. These messages include the internalized oppression which Asian Americans face within the film, education, and sports industries. According to research, 90% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) feel underrepresented in the film industry, with 35% of them noticing that the characters Asian American actors play are based on stereotypes. 

Therefore, by having an Asian American lead actor, Shao, one of the 3.5% of Asian American Hollywood directors, aims to give Asian Americans a voice in different films. 

“Chang’ is an underdog story for someone who maybe doesn’t feel seen, doesn’t feel appreciated, but who wants more respect…” Shao told Variety. 

Shao’s storyline can also resonate with plenty of Asian American youth. Research shows that Asian American boys frequently reported physical harassment. Asian Americans are frequently missing in nationwide data related to school bullying as well. By shining a light on bullying that an Asian American student faced, more Asian American students may feel heard and validated from their experiences. 

“My 16-year-old self could have really used this film,” Shao tells Variety. “He really needed to watch this. At the time, he was struggling to believe in himself and struggling to believe in his dream.”

Moreover, Shao’s story touches on the importance of working against the odds as an Asian American. 

Asian Americans frequently experience discrimination in the sports industry. Only 0.4% of Division I men’s basketball players are Asian. This is mainly because Asian basketball players are stereotyped based on the “model minority” myth, which characterizes Asians as academically intelligent, but weak in sports. 

As a result, “Chang Can Dunk” is about an Asian-American working against this stereotype. And it shows why this stereotype is meant to be broken. 

“This movie is my love letter to basketball and about how it helped me better understand family, friendship and the Asian American/immigrant experience, about growing up and taking responsibility even when the odds are against you, and about learning to believe in yourself and break through not only the barriers set by others but more importantly, the barriers set by YOURSELF” said Shao. 

Despite the mixed messages, Shao’s movie will speak to a lot of Asian Americans who hope to get into the sports or film industry. By hearing a story based on a young Asian American character, Asian American youth will now feel more hope and motivation to achieve their athletic dreams. 

The movie will be released on Friday, March 10, 2023. 

Featured Image is a screenshot from the official trailer via Disney+ YouTube


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