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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project Day 9: Running For Grace

Film: Running For Grace

Director: David L. Cunningham

Release: 2018

Where to watch it: Netflix

Why it made the list:

When you think of the 2018 “Asian August” movement, you probably think of “Crazy Rich Asians,” “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and “Searching.” But there is a fourth movie that might have gotten lost in craze, and that is “Running For Grace.” It had a limited release and began streaming on Amazon Prime. Starring Ryan Potter, this film highlights what it means to not belong to a single ethnic group.

My Thoughts:

“Running for Grace” follows a young boy, Jo, who lives in Hilo, Hawaii. He is the hafu (half Japanese and half non-Japanese) son of an immigrant laborer who works in the coffee plantations, owned by a high society white family (the Danielsons). Jo’s mother dies from H1N1 during the 1918 pandemic and no one knew she had a son because she hid him. Hafu’s were rejected from society and thought to bring bad luck. Jo is taken in by Doctor Lawrence (Doc) who is hired by the plantation owner to treat the laborers. Years pass, and Jo is Doc’s medicine runner and apprentice, on his way to become a promising doctor. He falls in love with Danielson’s daughter, Grace, but is rejected by her father to treat her ankle even when he was the only option to help. Danielson then hires an incompetent, alcoholic doctor, Dr. Reyes, to treat the upperclass white community. Other major plot points include: Mr. Danielson arranges for Grace to marry Dr. Reyes in an attempt to save his foreclosed business, Doc persists on adopting Jo even though it isn’t allowed for a white man to adopt a non-white child, and Grace and Jo fall in love and face backlash. The film ends with Jo receiving his official adoption papers and running to stop Grace and Dr. Reyes’ wedding, even beating a drunk Reyes’ car. He presents his papers, and through a clever loophole, he is able to marry Grace. The two of them convert Grace’s house to a hospital where she is a nurse and Jo is the doctor. What a nice ending, tied up with a bow and all.

As you can expect, Dr. Reyes and the Danielson family are extremely racist towards Jo. Furthermore, they accuse Jo and Doc of carrying disease and germs from treating the immigrant laborers. This hit a little too close to home given our current COVID-19 pandemic.

The acting in this film is honestly abysmal, especially from the white, upperclass characters, with the exception of Grace. They acted like cheesy cartoon villains and had terrible accents. I hated who was meant to be hated and rooted for the ones that were meant to be liked. The antagonists of this film were all unlikable and flat, none of them had any redeeming qualities, and in the end, none of them learned anything. No one came to accept Jo, his race or class, or his medical skills. They all left the story just as bitter, snooty, and racist as they began.

After a particularly harsh interaction with Grandmother Danielson, Jo is walking back home with Doc and says “It’s like I don’t even exist.” This is probably the most profound statement in the entire film. In the beginning, we see Jo is rejected from the immigrant laborers. He is beaten and people shrink away from him (even though he is super cute and missing his two front teeth, I mean, how could you not like that face). Later in life, it seems that the laborers have accepted him but not the white community members (this seems to be more about class in my opinion as we don’t really see Jo interact with lower-class white citizens). But what changes for the immigrants to accept Jo? Is it because he is helping treat them? Or is it because, now associated with Doc, he is seen as being more white than Japanese?

”It’s like I don’t even exist....” It’s hard enough growing up and not fitting in because of your height or your interests or because everyone else has labeled you “uncool.” But imagine not being able to fit in for something you can never, ever, change about yourself. You’ll grow taller, you can lose or gain weight, but you can’t change your racial background. You can’t change where you come from and who you really are. If you can’t change those things, how do we ever feel like we can belong? ”Running For Grace” is not the first film to address the struggles of being biracial/multiracial, ones that come to my immediate mind are “Belle” and “The Imitation of Life.” But “Running For Grace” addresses the struggle for biracial Asians.

I had the privilege of meeting Ryan Potter twice in the same weekend. One of these encounters was during my favorite annual San Diego Comic-Con panel, “Super Asian America” where Potter was a panelist. During this panel, he spoke about “Running For Grace” and what it was like growing up as a “hapa.” Living in our modern day society, we would think being biracial is common and normal, but as Potter describes, he still struggled. Potter compared being hapa to sitting on the edge of a fence. You see both sides but aren’t sure which side to go to. He then goes on to say what is important is what you choose to embrace. Some people choose to identify with their Asian side versus their non-Asian background.

There are several half-Asian actors who play both Asian and non-Asian characters. I personally know a lot of people who are half- or quarter-Asian who don’t identify with their Asian heritage at all. That doesn’t mean these people don’t still face the same discrimination and ignorance that full-Asian people do. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where profiling and stereotyping are still very much a thing and still very much seen as being harmless. It’s up to us to educate others to accept everyone, no matter what their racial background is, and to bring an end to racial injustices.

Does it deserve to stay on this list:

I was a big supporter for this film, hyping it up as much as I did the other three movies of “Asian August” back in 2018. Now seeing it for the first time, I hate to say I can see why it got lost in the shuffle. The beautiful scenery, Potter, Dillon, and Ritchie’s performances, and the important message are enough to rectify the other’s B-rated acting and simplified plot. To my knowledge, this is the only film on The APAHM Project list that addresses the idea of people being and living as biracial. I think this is an important group that is lacking representation in media, and I am thankful that “Running For Grace” can make a small contribution to that.

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