8 Films that celebrate diversity without tokenizing

By James Stein Sep 3, 2021
Image by Isabel Sperry
Image by Isabel Sperry

For the past few years, I’ve built up a list of movies I need to, or at least want to, watch. Most of these movies are recommendations from family, friends and ads. With all the films I have watched I have given myself the title of ameteur film reviewer. This summer, I powered through a lot of the movies on my list and came up with a list of some great movies that focus on characters and storylines that are not often shown in the media. From queer characters to racial minorities in lead roles, these eight movies are perfect for those of us who are still respecting quiet nights in instead of going out and partying on the weekends. 


Saving Face (2004)

Looking for a great lesbian romance? Then this is the one for you. It’s comedic, a little heart-wrenching, and stars a Chinese-American couple. In a strict and gossipy Asian immigrant community, Wil must keep her sexuality a secret while trying to appease her mother’s wants to find a husband. Meanwhile, Wil’s mother must also avoid the shame of being a long-time widow who was recently knocked-up by an unknown father. As the two women struggle with their own predicaments and ostracization from their community, they must learn to trust each other and accept their lives as they know it. Available for free on Amazon Prime.


Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Megan Fox, the ultimate early 2000s hot girl, plays the popular high-schooler Jennifer, whose best friend is super nerdy and lowly Needy (Amanda Seyfried) . As the two navigate relationships and sex, Needy realizes that something might be wrong with Jennifer, who has been demonically possessed. What, like devouring the souls of men isn’t normal? While this movie has a lot of white characters, the queer undertones definitely make me label it as a campy lesbian classic. Available for free on Tubi and Amazon Prime. 


Always Be My Maybe (2019)

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of hype about this one already, but Ali Wong and Randall Park absolutely kill it in this romantic comedy. This movie has childhood friendship that blossoms into romance, nostalgia and long-lost love; frankly, I couldn’t ask for more. Plus, every song on the soundtrack is a total bop. I can’t say how often I’ve listened to Randall Park rap, but I can guess that it’ll pop up on my “Spotify Wrapped” at the end of the year. Available on Netflix.


Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

This is a cinematic masterpiece with the lighting and setting, costume designs, and matriarchal roles. This movie is the epitome of the *chef’s kiss* emoji. You know the one. It really should have been nominated for an Oscar, but alas – white people still rule Hollywood. The most affluent family in Singapore must keep up their appearances while Rachel, a New York college grad student, falls in love with their young bachelor son Nick. Rachel is a strong headed young woman, and when she meets Nick’s draconian mother, the power struggle to be the most important woman in Nick’s life leads to ridiculous antics. Available on HBO Max.


Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I’ve always heard so much about this movie, and when I actually watched it, I understood why. Desi stories are rare to see in Western media. This one was British produced, which, ew, British colonialism, but this beautiful love story comes out of the slums and onto the spotlight of an international game show. One can only hope to have this level of romance in their lives. Plus, there’s a traditional Bollywood dance number at the end. It’s perfect. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime with premium subscriptions.


The Half of It (2020)

Another Chinese lesbian love story, but this time focusing on religious trauma. Introvert Ellie Chu runs a side hustle by writing papers for her classmates – and when her classmate Paul asks her to write a love letter to the girl that both of them like, Ellie finds herself needing to come to terms with her sexuality while still keeping it a secret. Paul and Ellie’s friendship is strained by religion and race, and Ellie must make a tough decision when her secret gets out.t’s ridiculously adorable. Available on Netflix.


The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020)

Out of the movies on this list, this is probably the one that I’ve recommended the most. This cast is studded with characters of color, and it isn’t even the central conflict! This is a love story where race doesn’t matter – only the desperate need to hold onto every momento from every relationship. Lucy needs to get rid of all the crap that she’s held onto from her exes. And in doing so, she turns a rundown hotel into an art gallery with a statement – and finds someone new in the meantime. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime with premium subscriptions.


Hustlers (2019)

This film about strippers and embezzlement is based on a true story, and embodies the true #GirlBoss movement. And yes, it is very sexy since it is a movie about strippers, but it’s also a story about struggling as a single mother and overcoming the economic crash of 2008. And if the scantily clad ladies or heartwarming Cinderella story haven’t gotten you by now, just know that Jennifer Lopez was 50 years old when she did this movie and she looked like that. Goals. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime with premium subscriptions.

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