Crazy Rich Asians Is Just the Beginning
I’ve said it time and time again, but representation in media really does matter, and I’m hoping that Crazy Rich Asians will start a trend of movies showcasing Asian Americans telling modern stories.
Crazy Rich Asians may not be the movie that all Asians wanted as the first major studio film in 25 years to portray a modern story with an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead, but it’s a good start for better representation in movies and films. Crazy Rich Asians had to pull off an impossible feat – feature an accurate portrayal of Asians and perform well at the box office – just so more stories with Asian leads in modern roles could be told. So while the movie has been a hit and the most successful studio rom-com in 9 years, it is not the be-all and end-all of movies as far as Asian representation in film goes.
For those who don’t know, Crazy Rich Asians is about an Asian American woman, Rachel, who travels to Singapore, where her boyfriend Nick is from, for a wedding and quickly finds out that Nick is part of the “crazy rich” elite of Singapore. Rachel is thrown into Singaporean decadence and excess with a slew of big personalities that are trying to pull her and Nick apart. It’s romantic comedy at its finest. So of course, portrayals of certain characters are thin and not exactly representative. But the movie is called Crazy Rich Asians, emphasis on the Crazy Rich part. So while the portrayals on the crazy rich characters of the movie aren’t exactly realistic or representative of basically anyone, the film does have a lot of good portrayals that made me feel seen and were very representative. Such as:
- It does a good job of portraying what alienation feels like. Rachel is thrown into a world that she’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar with and doesn’t feel at all welcome in Nick’s Singapore. Like Rachel, I often feel caught between my American and Chinese identity, and the movie did a good job articulating Rachel grappling with her outsider status in Nick’s family’s eyes.
- There are a few storylines about identity, especially Rachel’s identity as an Asian American. Being raised in America is different from being raised in Asia, obviously. Rachel, at her core, is American, having spent her entire life in the United States. While she does look Asian on the outside, she doesn’t quite fit into Singapore because of this. Her mom even points out how different Asian Americans are from those raised in Asia and how she just might not understand some of those cultural differences while in Singapore. Rachel is independent and career-driven, which clashes with Eleanor’s (Nick’s mom) own upbringing and duties to her own family. It’s a story about an Asian American that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a movie like this before. We often see Asians playing Asians, but very rarely do we get the chance to see an Asian American playing a regular American person. It was really refreshing to see.
- It shows a portrayal of a single-mother household. Rachel was raised by a single mother, something that’s not so common and even taboo in a lot of parts of Asia. It was really cool to see Rachel’s strong bond with her mother and how she was proud of where she came from.
- It shows how important food is in an Asian household. Food is at the center of everything in most Asian households. The movie not only has amazing shots of food but also shows how important food is to bring people together and to show that you care. The dumpling wrapping scene alone reminded me of my childhood wrapping dumplings with my grandparents.
- It uses multiple languages in a way that makes sense and is realistic. While critics wish more Singlish was spoken in the movie, I think the movie does a good job of incorporating different languages in the film that seems natural since most of the characters are bilingual, at the least. As someone who speaks both Cantonese and English at home, I often incorporate the two together and sentences in my household aren’t all English or Cantonese, they’re both. Like the book, the movie weaves the different languages in regular conversation and not everything is subtitled—it’s just part of everyday speech.
- It shows Asian men are dateable. Asian men in film and TV are often portrayed as effeminate and unsexy. This film pushes against the stereotypes that media has created of Asian men and puts them in the forefront as desirable partners. While every Asian man does not have abs, they are all real people who are more than their stereotypes. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an Asian man as a romantic lead in an American film. Can you?
The cameos and homages that were just for Asian Americans were an added bonus to the movie. When I saw and heard Kina Grannis singing during the wedding scene, I cried. It was amazing to see someone like Kina Grannis, an Asian American musician, in a major motion picture since mainstream entertainment industries have largely shut out Asian American actors, comedians, and musicians. And of course there’s Harry Shum Jr.’s mid-credits appearance for those of us that are fans of the books (he’ll likely be playing Charlie when there’s a sequel). And for those of us who are just plain fans of Harry Shum Jr., it’s equally exciting.
Crazy Rich Asians may not be the movie to represent all Asians, but is hopefully just the start to more representative films that showcase people of color in media.