Following Jamaican-born Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi of Black-ish and Grown-ish) and first-generation Korean-American Daniel Bae (Charles Melton of Riverdale) as they fall into an ill-fated whirlwind 24-hour romance in New York (Natasha’s family is set to be deported back to Jamaica just after they meet), The Sun is Also A Star isn’t out for realism; it’s a young adult fairy tale aimed at tugging adolescent heart-strings.
So the substantial amount of negativity this movie has received from critics should be taken with a grain or two of salt. It’s being lambasted by middle-aged white men, but they’re critiquing a film that is, straight up, not made for them. With a 51 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and slags running from “bland” to “inconsequential,” it seems the young adult love story escapes male critics these days. Journalists falling outside of this category, namely female critics and critics of color (and, even more substantially, female critics of color), are overall seeing it differently however, noting the film is “refreshing,” and “engaging.”
So which is it? Well, it’s probably both. Just because white male critics fail to connect with a film, does not make that film inferior. Yes, The Sun’s plot is highly fantasized and implausible, but no more improbable than the storylines of movies based on books by John Green or Nicholas Sparks, whose white protagonists have traditionally fared much better in the eyes of older critics.
The Sun is Also a Star is one of the only mainstream young adult films made to date that features not one, but two people of color in the lead roles. It is the story of immigrants and the story of first-generation Americans, reflecting many of the political and societal issues our country is facing right now. Shahidi is beautiful and Melton is a straight-up hunk. Director Ry Russo-Young is female, and cinematographer Autumn Durald is a female of color, as is screenwriter Tracy Oliver. The author of the book behind the film, Nicola Yoon, is a Jamaican-American female speaking from her own experiences and world views. They ring true even when the story doesn’t.
This kind of diversity in the movie-space is needed, despite what critics may say about it. Box office numbers over the weekend weren’t very impressive, unfortunately. Great reviews are nice, but Hollywood producers care much more about ticket sales. Hopefully more films like this will be made and, yes, perfected, leading to young movie-goers who want to see themselves represented more on the big screen representing in theater seats as well.