UW–Madison’s DelaRosa reflects on ‘Harold and Kumar’ legacy in NBC News article

UW–Madison graduate student Tony DelaRosa was called on by NBC News recently to reflect on the legacy of the 2004 blockbuster hit, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” during its 20th anniversary year.


Released in July 2004, the film is one of the only mainstream movies of its decade to star two Asian American leads, notes the article, which adds: “For some, the movie validated the experiences of stoners, outcasts, and anyone who didn’t fit the narrow, nerdy trope that dominated perceptions of Asian Americans at the time. Others say the comedy widened ideas of what Asian Americans could be.”

DelaRosa, a PhD student in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, Asian American race scholar, and the author of “Teaching the Invisible Race,” notes there are “unmistakably racial elements” throughout the film. He explains that “not only do the stoner characters themselves subvert the squeaky-clean Asian American trope, Harold, for example, threatens to get his ignorant co-workers fired for exploiting him. And Kumar ends up realizing he does, in fact, want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he has been afraid of conforming to stereotypes. The film also calls out common forms of racism toward Asian Americans, like one scene in which a cop tries to roast the spelling of Kumar’s name.”

“With such groundbreaking elements, some believe the film should be touted as a historic example of Asian American representation,” notes the article. “But DelaRosa suspects it’s likely that other Asian Americans are hesitant to do so, since the film doesn’t conform to some perhaps internalized ‘model minority’ expectations.”

The Asian American movement is “definitely not glamorizing a stoner film,” he says with a laugh.

DelaRosa also underscores that the film isn’t perfect. He notes “there are scenes that have been criticized as homophobic and others as objectifying women. It’s time, he said, to demand more from films.”

“It was a great starting place to talk about race and definitely not the end,” he says.

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