Model Minority sets the main character in a gritty, difficult situation. Sixteen year-old Kayla (Nichole Bloom) has artistic talent and dreams of being an artist. Her half Japanese ethnicity makes people expect her to be a “model” citizen: smart, well-behaved, and on time with her homework.
Model Minority, from 2012, is streaming on Prime Video. It caught my eye for a number of reasons. It was written and directed by Lily Mariye. Lily Mariye was on ER for 15 seasons and has an impressive acting resume. She also has a long list of directing credits, with Model Minority being her first full length feature.
I just finished a book called So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Affiliate Link). This book contains an entire chapter on the racism of the model minority stereotype. It was a new concept for me, one I’d never heard of or thought about. It’s referred to in this film in several ways, most obviously by the lead character Kayla’s grandmother (Takayo Fischer), who tells Kayla, “Japanese people don’t go to jail.”
Further, I recently read a long article about how the need in Hollywood to make every film have a happy ending does a disservice to real people and real life. The two recently discovered ideas came together in this film.
If you’re tired of happy endings, I recommend this well done film.
But let me back up and tell you more about the story. Kayla had a younger sister named Amberlyn (Courtney Mun). The two of them basically took care of themselves. Mom (Jessica Tuck) was addicted to opioids. Dad (Chris Tashima) had a dirty job for too little pay. What semblance of order this family had fell apart when the parents announced they were divorcing.
Mom sent Amberlyn to fetch her “medication” from the local dealer, Dionte (Marc Anthony Samuel). Kayla didn’t like her little sister being around this, so she took over the job.
That put Kayla in the path of Treyshawn (Delon de Metz) who carefully seduced her. He encouraged her to ditch school. She fell behind in her art class, taught by Mrs. Ambrose (Helen Slater) and blew off a chance as a summer intern in an art program.
When the police picked up Treyshawn, Kayla was in the car. She was sent to juvie. Treyshawn ratted out everyone, including Kayla, and got out while Kayla sat in jail.
We learn about Amberlyn’s life and choices, too, as well as what Treyshawn did after he go out of jail.
Kayla and Amberlyn lived in a working class neighborhood with a grandmother nearby who welcomed them to her neat home. But social pressure, lack of money, and the need for love and acceptance drove them toward bad choices and dangerous situations. This was anything but a typical Hollywood movie. I thought it was realistic and very well done.
Take a peek at the trailer.
Did you see this when it first was released? What was your opinion of it?