Opinion

Why CRAZY RICH ASIANS Matters To Me As An Asian Australian

A film like Crazy Rich Asians is an awesome start in making the statement that a full Asian cast can make an extremely successful film without the need of whitewashing or white actors period. It hopefully will set the precedence for more diverse Asian content in the West and Europe where we are portrayed with positive stereotypes and not be treated as the perpetual foreigner.

This article was originally posted on YOMYOMF on 4/28/2018

So I am going to be honest with everyone here that I am extremely excited about CRAZY RICH ASIANS, but I guess this is no secret as there is a lot of hype and fanfare all over social media since the trailer dropped on Monday. There has been a lot of celebration in terms of knowing that this film pretty much has an ALL Asian cast, but there has been also criticisms that the film is elitist in how it portrays the extremely wealthy in Singapore and it shows the extremes of “East Asian privilege”in Asia. And really, all of these celebrations and criticisms are valid ones and one thing which we should all take out of this is that it has really opened up the conversation about what media representation means to us as Western Asians and what media representation means to Asians in Asia.

From my own personal observations, I have noticed that there is a major disconnect on what drives the differing Asian diasporas from East to West and despite the fact that Crazy Rich Asians is a “fun” and “comedic” romcom, it also highlights this issue whether intended or unintended. For many of us Asians in the West, and I will specifically use my own personal experiences and journey as an Australian born Asian of Malaysian Chinese descent, I always toyed with my own cultural identity. A huge portion of my life was consumed with internalized racism and self hatred and there were times growing up where I wished that I had blonde hair and blue eyes. I feel this was due to my lack of understanding about how important being “Asian” is to me and how I was always pinned down by white privilege and white supremacy and seldom saw any representations which look like me on the screen and in the public arena. A film like Crazy Rich Asians is an awesome start in making the statement that a full Asian cast can make an extremely successful film without the need of whitewashing or white actors period. It hopefully will set the precedence for more diverse Asian content in the West and Europe where we are portrayed with positive stereotypes and not be treated as the perpetual foreigner.

Another point I wish to make is that the film gave opportunities to many awesome Asian actors from everywhere. For me, I am excited to see Asian Australian actors/personalities like Ronny Chieng, Chris Pang and Remy Hii be cast in this film for obvious reasons, so really the criticisms that this film only serves the interests of “Asian Americans” is inaccurate. Yes it is an Asian American film, but I think its significance runs deeper than it just being an “American” film, hence I state the inaccuracy.  To me knowing that there are actors cast who are not Asian American means a lot and is significant as a “uniting factor”. Also we all should be supportive in terms of pushing our content and our faces to be front and center regardless of where we are from in the diaspora. In addition to this, I want to make a point about Henry Golding and him being cast as the lead of the film. I have met Henry Golding, and when we talked we bonded over our shared heritage of being Malaysian, but what made him different was that he is truly Malaysian in little things he says and how cultured he was, and that to me was an important part which will hopefully make the film successful. Criticisms of Golding not being “Chinese” looking are inaccurate because many Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean Chinese do not have a typical “Chinese” or “East Asian” look.

Relationship wise it is pretty much what I have always wished it to be, which is to show positive representations of AM/AF couplings. This is awesome in itself and the fact that relationships is the primary role in the film, it demonstrates that we can defy the old tired stereotype relationships on screen of Asians with white/European. There is also a range of different type of characters, to the strong masculine leads, the independent Asian female leads as well as a combination of goofy characters and just regular people type characters.

Now I want to use the rest of this post to address some things which I have seen floating around social media which we all need to be aware of and refrain from using. Crazy Rich Asians as I have already stated is a very important film and it really makes a strong statement that we do not need white actors to make a potentially successful film in the West. However, it is not perfect and the film has never asked to have some of these strong labels placed on it. Really we should be excited about it because of what it means to us personally and see it as a rom com with its basis being about relationships. I am against it being called the “Asian Black Panther”, because it is not that. The awesomeness of Black Panther is not a thing for us Asians to hijack and use it as ours. To understand why it is problematic to use this label, one must look at the history and theory behind African American/British/Canadian/Australian etc and Native African oppression, slavery and colonialism all over the world. Black Panther was significant because it presented an extensive and broad understanding of native-Africans versus African-American culture and social issues. I loved Back Panther and it is so unique in terms of the statement it makes and rightfully so. To hijack and use it to represent Asian films in many ways diminishes its importance and its significance particularly in the context of the political statements it makes about colonialism, racism and oppression of the Black community/diaspora everywhere.

Lastly, I want to say that the premise of Crazy Rich Asians is about showing the economic privilege of Singaporean Chinese or those who are wealthy. We need to take it as that and we need to acknowledge that yes elitism and East Asian privilege is on display. But the premise of the book and the film is to show this and to derive entertainment and comedy from it. Colorism and the erasure of non East Asians representation needs to be addressed. But Crazy Rich Asians is not about that, and for now we are very limited in seeing films made which does not negatively stereotype us Asians or films where there is no reliance on a white savior. Crazy Rich Asians hopefully is a start for change and lets support and encourage future projects like this and be mindful and vocal that we need to be representative of all Asians. For now, my message is support this film, encourage your friends, family and networks to check it out because its significance and its importance will now set a benchmark for the future of Western made films. It shows that a full Asian cast can succeed without the input from white characters or the white savior tropes. Enjoy it and celebrate it in what it means to you personally.


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