Illustration by Gemma Fa-Kaji
Growing up as an Asian American, the only Asian role models I had to look up to that weren’t a math nerd or a ninja were Mulan and the lovable airhead London Tipton.
Seeing an all Asian cast in an IMAX theater was like entering a whole new world, I thought of all the kids who would have a young Chinese professor to look up to. After the long string of whitewashed movies in 2018 that took roles away from Asian actors, Crazy Rich Asians was a welcome change.
For maybe the first time in my life I saw a movie set in Asia that didn’t star a white protagonist. Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy set in Singapore based off a book by Kevin Kwan.
It follows a Chinese-American woman named Rachel Chu as she attends a wedding for her boyfriend. She meets his entire family for the first time, the Youngs, who turn out to be the richest family in Singapore. She is faced with her boyfriend’s disapproving mother who finds Rachel’s American behavior disdainful.
Not only does Crazy Rich Asians show complex Asian characters in a way that few American movies do, it also accurately portrays the challenges many Asian-Americans deal with.
As many are rejected by American culture for being too Asian, they are at the same time rejected from Asian culture for being too American.
Although Crazy Rich Asians supports Asian representation in film, not everyone sees it as progressive. The movie doesn’t depict the larger underlying issues in Singapore caused by the very characters in this movie.
Singapore natives face racism and exploitation by the rich Chinese that have moved into Singapore. The Young family wasn’t necessarily portrayed in a heroic light, but the filmmakers still didn’t touch on the damage that rich Chinese families have on the natives there.
On the other hand, Chinese privilege in Singapore and growing native poverty is a challenging topic to fit into a romantic comedy.
The acting itself was outstanding. Not only did the lead roles do a fantastic job, but it was refreshing to see that they didn’t choose big name actors, although the pool of big name Asian actors isn’t big to begin with.
Choosing between Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan doesn’t seem like the most difficult decision in the world.
This movie made almost as much money as the Young family makes. It brought in $26 million in the first week and nearly the same amount in the second weekend. Hopefully the success of this movie will show other filmmakers that Asians have a place on the big screen as something more than a side character or exotic set.
There’s nothing worse than watching a movie and being unable to enjoy it because of the unspoken message that Asians are good enough to be in the movie but never enough to star in the movie.
Although flawed, Crazy Rich Asians is a step in the right direction. In addition to this film, we are starting to see a turn in the general trends of racial representation in popular media.
Netflix has released a movie adapted from a book portraying complex Asian characters, To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved. It stars a Vietnamese teenager and has also gained a significant amount of attention.
Maybe now the staff and casting directors of movies like Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, The Wolverine, Karate Kid, and others that took lead roles from Asians to seem more desirable to American audiences will rethink their decisions.