As a self-proclaimed fan of romance and legal dramas, the premise of Partner Track had all the ingredients I looked for in a television show.
As a journalist working in a predominantly white field, I was excited to see what the show could portray through the perspective of an Asian American corporate lawyer trying to climb up the partner track at a New York City law firm.
It was easy for me to empathize with the many challenges protagonist Ingrid Yun (Arden Cho) faced at her own workplace, including microaggressions, sexist and racist comments from colleagues, and verbally abusive managers with little regard for their staff’s well-being and work life balance.
But despite the show’s very important message, I was left disappointed the showrunners didn’t use this opportunity to give Ingrid an Asian love interest.
I understand that may seem small considering all the other challenges facing our protagonist. But as Hollywood reckons with a lack of representation on screen and behind the scenes, having an Asian woman deciding between two white men left me wondering why there are so few Asian love stories on my TV.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against dating outside one’s race. But at a time when the Asian community continues to grapple with racism and violence largely fuelled by the pandemic, having a love story between two Asian characters is something that should be celebrated and seen. What’s reflected on screen plays a role in normalizing our existence as Asian people as multifaceted beings. I can’t help but think Partner Track could have delivered much more.
“As Hollywood reckons with a lack of representation on screen and behind the scenes, having an Asian woman deciding between two white men left me wondering why there are so few Asian love stories on my TV.”
It’s true that Hollywood has changed a lot since I grew up in the ‘90s and early 2000s. In the last five years alone, there seems to be more Asian representation on our screens than ever before.
Crazy Rich Asians became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the 2010s. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Summer I Turned Pretty (both based on books by author Jenny Han) became viral teen coming-of-age hits. And most recently, Partner Track became the #2 most watched show on Netflix worldwide.
Given their success, it’s clear there’s tons of appetite for Asian-led stories. But with the exception of Crazy Rich Asians, I can’t help but notice the common trope of pairing Asian women with white love interests. And oftentimes, it’s at the expense of men of colour.
In both To All the Boys and The Summer I Turned Pretty, protagonists Lara Jean Covey and Isabel (Belly) Conklin are portrayed as biracial Asian American women who are grappling with their romantic prospects. Spoiler alert: both end up with white love interests in the end. But throughout the series, we see them considering their futures with men of colour.
Ultimately, we discover these boys don’t stand a chance against the male leads — who happen to be white men— and get their hearts broken. They’re soon forgotten about and become an afterthought in the series.
It should be noted that both To All the Boys and The Summer I Turned Pretty were written by Jenny Han, who made changes to both screen adaptations so characters would be more diverse. Still, she’s faced criticism for not including an Asian male love interest in her stories. When asked about the exclusion, Han told Indiewire, “I understand the frustration and I share that frustration of wanting to see more Asian-American men in media. For this, all I can say is this is the story that I wrote.”
While I love and respect Han for her work, I can’t help but wonder about the impact these kinds of stories can have on young Asian girls watching, especially ones who’ll start to think it’s unattractive to be with anyone who isn’t a white man.
To this day, I have Asian friends who tell me that they would never date an Asian man because they don’t find them attractive. Admittedly, I was like this once too. However, I later learned our perception was shaped by the emasculation of Asian men in media and movies. They’re often desexualized, playing quiet nerds, sidekicks, villains and punchlines. As much as I wanted to see any Asian actors on TV and movies, I realized I too placed these stereotypes amongst the Asian men I knew in my life.
That’s why I can’t help but think what impact it would have had on me in my teens and 20s to see more Asian love stories on screen. It’s why I find great enjoyment in Korean dramas and Hong Kong cinema as an adult, where beautiful Asian people are seen falling in love. They fill the void, when Hollywood films and TV shows continue to pair Asian women with white men. If only shows like Partner Track could take this into consideration, it would have been SO MUCH BETTER.
It should be noted that Partner Track somewhat tries to address some of the issues surrounding Ingrid’s personal and professional life. Her sister describes Ingrid’s boyfriend Nick as “the whitest white boy that ever did white.” And throughout the series, we see the lengths Ingrid is willing to go through to make partner at her law firm, even throwing her best friend and colleague Tyler under the bus when she fails to defend him for calling out anti-Black racism.
“It’s why I find great enjoyment in Korean dramas and Hong Kong cinema as an adult, where beautiful Asian people are seen falling in love. They fill the void, when Hollywood films and TV shows continue to pair Asian women with white men. If only shows like Partner Track could take this into consideration, it would have been SO MUCH BETTER.“
It’s still incredibly rare for a TV show to center the perspective of an Asian American woman, especially as she experiences biases in her workplaces. But I can’t help but feel it misses the mark when it comes to Ingrid’s romantic relationships.
Many fans share the same opinion with me that Ingrid could do much better in her love life. We instead see potential in a character named Zi-Xin “Z” Min (played by Desmond Chiam), an environmental activist whose father comes to Ingrid’s law firm to strike a high-stakes deal.
While Z has a few scenes, I wonder what could have happened if he and Ingrid fell in love instead. He’s sexy, smart and constantly challenges Ingrid on her morals. Their potential future excited me as I watched the show. Exploring their relationship would have been much more interesting to the show’s plot.
But despite Partner Track’s misgivings, I’m still hopeful for its future should the show get renewed for a second season. And apparently, so is Desmond Chiam, who plays Z.
In a recent interview with TODAY, he told viewers to think of Z and Ingrid’s relationship as a long game. “I know a lot of people are chomping at the bit for it to happen, and I think we’re forgetting that this is a series, it’s not a movie,” he said. “We’ve got to have legs.”
C’mon! It’s not too late to make Z and Ingrid happen! I hope the showrunners use this as an opportunity to rectify what it misses the first time around.
Because God knows, it’s about damn time fans have a happy Asian love story on our TV screens.
Samantha Lui is a journalist and radio producer. Her work has appeared on CBC, VICE, NBC Asian America, HuffPost Canada, Refinery29 and FLARE. She previously spent a summer interning at Hong Kong’s english daily newspaper, South China Morning Post. Samantha is passionate about featuring diverse perspectives in her stories, and often writes about pop culture, race and identity. When she’s not thinking about her next story, she likes taking food pictures at all angles, thrifting and editing videos. You can learn more about her at samanthalui.ca
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