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The APAHM Project Days 15-24: The Night Agent

Series: The Night Agent

Created By: Shawn Ryan

Release: 2023

Where to Watch: Netflix

Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020

Why It Made The List:

The Night Agent was Netflix's most watched series of 2023. With over 98 Million views, The Night Agent is Netflix's 6th most-watched English-language television show of all time, beating out Stranger Things Season 3, Bridgerton Season 2, and The Witcher Season 1. The show stars Tongan New Zealander Luciane Buchanan and co-stars Academy-Award nominee Hong Chau.

My Thoughts:

Let's start by stating the obvious and that is that The Night Agent is not a fast watch. Not only are there 10 episodes, but each one is jam-packed with twists and turns, corruption and action. That being said, I am not going to dwell on the summary and plot of this show. But another reason why I won't get into the nitty, gritty details of the series is because the plot of the show has nothing to do with the AAPI experience.

In fact, the actress that made me choose The Night Agent for this year's lineup is not even American. That's right, for the 14th day in a row (and 4th title), none of the main actors or filmmakers have been American. Every year, I struggle the most to find American filmmakers or actors of Pasifika descent to include in the APAHM Project (you can read more about this in my posts about We Are Lady Parts and Whale Rider). However, when searching for Pacific Islander actors, I came across Luciane Buchanan's name. When I looked up her background, I knew that she was someone to look out for in the future. This, coupled with the success of The Night Agent, convinced me to include this title in the lineup.

Much to dismay, but not really my surprise, Buchanan's Rose Larkin, has no racial identity in the show. In some instances, I like when shows do this (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a great example) but since Buchanan has Tongan roots, a group that is not often seen in American media (see previous paragraph and years of struggling to make these movie lists), I thought it would have been a nice touch to mention her culture or background. The producers did ask Luciane if she had any thoughts on who to play Rose's aunt in which Buchanan chose a fellow New Zealander Simone Kessell, who is of Maori descent.

Rose works at a startup specializing in cybersecurity. However, the board fires her and she is bankrupt. She visits her aunt and uncle, who she finds talking in whispers about who they can and can't trust in the White House. Knowing they are under attack, the aunt and uncle command Rose to run and call a phone number. Doing as she's told, Rose calls the Night Agent phone line in the White House and talks to Peter, an FBI agent, who talks her through staying calm. Eventually, Rose and Peter meet as he is tasked to keep her safe. The two use their talents to uncover what Rose's aunt and uncle were working on and find corruption within the White House.

Following the success of The Night Agent, Luciane became the most-searched actor on IMDb for two weeks. She was named one of her alumni's 40 Under 40. Her other roles include Tripitaka in Netflix's The New Legends of Monkey, Sweet Tooth, and Mr. Corman. Her upcoming role as real-life politician Queen Ka'ahumanu in Chief of War, an Apple TV show created by Jason Mamoa. For the role, she speaks ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i which she says is special so that Hawaiian kids can have a show and hear their native language.

Speaking of languages (pun intended), Buchanan and director Cea Mafile'o made a short film called "Lea Tupu'anga/Mother Tongue" that centers around a Tongan speech therapist who fakes it til she makes it to get a job. However, her Tongan isn't great and she must find a way besides talking to communicate with her patients. The screenplay was the recipient of the 2020 "Fresh Shorts" program and the film was one of 17,000 submissions to be accepted at Sundance 2024. Buchanan wrote the script in 2017 based on her own insecurities to speak to her grandmother. One of the goals for the film was to also shatter the judgement around those who cannot speak their native language and having self-acceptance with that. I know I for one am very insecure about my Cantonese. I do not have many, if any, regrets in life, but one is that I never learned how to speak fluent Cantonese. Not because I think it will make me "more Asian" or connected with my heritage. Not so the Aunties can stop judging me or so I can order dim sum without my mommy holding my hand, but so that I can communicate with my grandmother. As I've gotten older, so has my grandmother, and I wish I could just have a conversation with her beyond "was the food good?" and "did you have fun playing mah-jong." To which the answer to both those questions is always yes.

Additionally, Buchanan was an associate producer for The Panthers, a mini series about the Polynesian Panther Party. The show takes place in Auckland 1974, during the time of the dawn raids. The dawn raids were raids against alleged illegal overstayers of Pasifika descent. Inspired by the American Black Panthers of the Civil Rights Movement. the Polynesian Panthers was formed by Polynesian students and street gangsters, led by Will 'Ilolahia. Buchanan's own mother immigrated from Tonga to Aotearoa in the 1970s. I actually wanted to include this show in the APAHM lineup but it is not available outside of New Zealand. The show premiered at TIFF in 2021.

Buchanan was recently honored by Gold House as one of their 2024 A100, which honors the 100 most impactful Asian Pacific leaders in culture and society over the past year. I think it is safe to say that we can expect big things from Buchanan in the future.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hong Chau's performance in this show. You may know Chau from her roles in Downsizing, The Menu, or The Whale, but Chau is on. a different level with her character of Diane Farr. Chau was born to Vietnamese refugees who were living in a camp in Thailand. A Vietnamese church in New Orleans sponsored her family to move to America where Chau studied film studies at Boston University. Chau's father was shot and almost bled to death fleeing Vietnam. They worked as dishwashers and ran a convenient store in Louisiana to support their family. Due to their heavy accents, her parents were ostracized. Chau says "My whole life, I've always felt like I was the more acceptable of my parents, and they were always the people who had to stay in the background, or hide in the broom closet." Ironically, her original major was creative writing, but her parents told her to choose something more practical. So film studies was seen as more practical, I guess! Good thing she changed her major, as Chau has since been nominated for a Golden Globe, Academy Award, BAFTA, Gotham Award, SAG Award, etc, etc, etc.

In Conclusion:

Renewed for a season 2, I do hope that The Night Agent can spotlight Rose's heritage in the future. From the interviews and articles that I read, it seems Buchanan is passionate about her family and her roots. It is encouraging that the showrunner asked her for suggestions for her aunt. Perhaps they can consult Buchanan on how to incorporate some Tongan background in season 2. For a show to have so much popularity and viewership, it would be a shame to not acknowledge or uplift Rose's potential cultural background.

American television had the opportunity to tell more Pasifika stories with this popular show, although I do think maybe this is not the correct show to tell this story in depth. The Night Agent focuses on many topics, but race is never one of them. Although the cast is diverse, no one's racial identity is ever addressed. I am still a firm believer that American media needs to do better to represent groups such as South Asians and Pacific Islanders. But until then, the APAHM Project will continue to include international media to tell these important stories and share these groups' traditions and cultures with American audiences.

Shout Out!

Today's shout out goes to Wai'oli Tea Room in Waikiki, HI! Opened in 1922, the establishment was meant to be a place for the orphans from the Salvation Army Girls Home to work and learn viable skills to be employed. The orphanage eventually closed in the 1970s and the building never had the same purpose until recent years. When Rose and Stepfanie Anderson renamed it Wai'oli Kitchen & Bake Shop, they strived to revitalize this historic location and provide vocational training and life skills for those looking for a fresh start, such as Dida, an ex-prisoner who now works as a baker at the shop. Next time you are in Manoa, stop by for a bite to eat!

If You Liked This, You Might Also Like:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 on Disney +

Citadel on Prime

Mr. & Mrs. Smith on Prime

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