I have been obsessed with the Lizzie Bennet Video Diaries (as you have noticed from previous blogs). Having read Pride and Prejudice, watched the movie adaptation with Kiera Knighley, and read the reinterpretations (Mr. Darcy’s Diary) of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, I was primarily quite intrigued by this video diary series. I heard of the Lizzie Bennett video blogs through the rave reviews from Ms.Magazine for its mentions of important subjects such as the Violence Against Women Act. So I was curious and decided to take a little work break, and watch the videos. But when I started with the first video of the diary series, I was immediately hooked!
Besides portraying Lizzie Bennet (played by Ashley Clemens) as an amazing 21st century out-spoken badass chick and Mr. Darcy (Daniel Vincent Gordh) as a totally handsome, misunderstood, yet good-hearted successful CEO of a multimedia company, Pemberley Digital, the video diaries incorporates incredible supporting yet outgoing characters portrayed by Asian Americans, specifically Bing Lee (played by Christopher Sean), Jane’s love interest, and Charlotte Lu (portrayed by Julia Cho), Lizzie’s best friend…and Caroline Lee, Bing’s sister (even though she is a total backstabber!).
This video diary series smartly depicted Jane Austen’s characters to be extremely relatable to today’s audience. Like many of us millenials, Lizzie Bennet and Charlotte Lu are struggling grad students with an uncertain future in a bad economy, whose families are facing financial difficulties, strongly emphasizing today’s dwindling middle class in America. In particular, Charlotte’s family used to live in a house, but now they live in a 2-bedroom apartment in order to pay for Charlotte and her sister’s higher education fees.
When Lizzie initially turns down Mr.Collins’s offer to work for his venture capitalist company appropriately entitled Collins & Collins, Charlotte immediately jumps to take the opportunity instead. Lizzie and she have an argument over this where Charlotte then reveals her family’s economic struggles where her sister is about to go college and Charlotte has to drop out of graduate school and take the job at Collins & Collins. Once she starts work at Collins & Collins, Charlotte is put in charge of many projects in the background (this aspect is seen too with Lizzie’s diaries where Charlotte is the video editor) while Mr. Collins constantly goes up to Winnipeg to visit his fiancée even though he is the CEO causing Charlotte to almost miss Thanksgiving. Hence, reviving the idea that Asian American women work hard and just do what they’re told (But thanks to Lizzie Bennet’s genius and sneaky tactics…Charlotte was not only get home but get a huge promotion and be recognized for her amazing hard work).
Simultaneously, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries illustrate the variation of Asian Americans in showing families at different income levels. Whereas Charlotte and her family are at the middle-low income level struggling in debt, Bing Lee’s family are at the upper high class (maybe close to the 1 percent) where as emphasized by Lizzie, live in a huge mansion with multiple shower heads in one bathroom.
Bing Lee, at first, does represent the Asian American stereotype in that his family expects him to succeed academically and become a medical doctor. However, as the video diaries progress, Bing ends up going against the popular stereotype (and his family) by dropping out of medical school and moves to New York with Jane Bennett (yay for happy inter-racial relationships!) and pursues a career that supposedly puts smiles on children’s faces. What I do LOVE about Bing’s character, though, is this is one of the few times in a romantic comedy/young adult video, an Asian American is the hot-shot jock that girls swoon over and aspire to be with (the other time where this happened to my memory is when Paolo Montalban plays Prince Charming in the Whitney Houston 1997 remake of Cinderella). Often times, Asian American guys play the nerd or the creepy/emo guy in these mediums whereas the hot shot jock is often played by a White guy (sometimes African American). In Lizzie Bennett, he’s not only smart/successful….he’s dashing and devastatingly good looking! It is truly awesome to visualize Jane Austen ‘s handsome charismatic character being portrayed by an Asian American. (Not to say the Charles Bingley portrayed by Simon Woods in the Kiera Knightley version was not as handsome and charming). He’s not only handsome, but he is caring, warm, and doting as we see when Jane gets sick when she stays over at Bing’s house and he goes and finds her favorite movie.
Overall, I loved how this diary series brings Pride and Prejudice to a more modern perspective filled with young women pursuing professional careers and aiming to the top of their fields instead of seeking prospective husbands no matter how hard Mrs. Bennet tries (they do get the guy in the end…but they decide to start slow in their relationships not get married right away!). And more importantly, strong female friendships/relationships where Charlotte and Lizzie actively experience ups and downs and be each other’s support person through thick and thin despite the odds and defend each other (whereas the Charlotte in the original Pride and Prejudice has a more subtle role). In other words, hats off to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries!