Crazy Rich Asians: Asians In The Limelight

Article by: Sacha B.

From Buzzfeed quizzes, to videos, articles, op-eds, comments, and page-long twitter threads, I can’t seem to escape the frenzy “Crazy Rich Asians” has stirred online and in the media. Scrolling through this influx of content surrounding the film, I am inundated with a range of opinions, reviews, anecdotes, interviews — the list goes on. Yet regardless of the mixed response it has received, there’s no denying the cultural significance of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

The film is the first since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 to feature a predominantly Asian cast. In the twenty-five year gap between the “Joy Luck Club” and “Crazy Rich Asians” the stories of Asians and Asian-Americans were rarely explored in big budget Hollywood films. So for those who grew up represented by Cho Chang from the “Harry Potter” franchise and Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy (to name a few), this film is revolutionary.

With an Asian led cast and crew, the film represents the relationship between Asians and Asian-Americans in a brilliant new light. And judging by all the excitement that surrounded the movie’s release, the importance of representation is undeniable. The representation of minorities in mainstream media is part of the key to erasing negative stereotypes about a given community. For instance, CRA’s portrayal of Nick Young defies media-perpetuated stereotypes of Asian men, who are often depicted as meek and socially awkward. Beyond the character of Nick Young, almost every main character isn’t a simple caricature, but a real, nuanced human being with relatable character traits. Above all, the film implies that Asian stories and voices are valued, and well worth hearing.

Despite the fact that the film broke down multiple barriers, critics still persist, and offer some valid critiques on the subject matter and plot. While some believe the film relies too heavily on common tropes of the rom-com genre, others believe that CRA misrepresented Asia entirely. Many claim that a strong focus on the wealthy of Singapore erased those in Asia who live in extreme poverty, as well as the diversity of the entire continent. Essentially, the subject matter of the film may be emblematic of the classism and racism prevalent in Asia.

Although valid, a lot of the criticism surrounding CRA stems from the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood. It seems unjust to expect a single two-hour film to represent a continent populated by 4.46 billion individuals. Like the book it was adapted from, CRA has a narrow focus, and aims to shed light on “the top 1%” of Singaporean society, rather than the society as a whole. Fortunately, the film’s box office success will likely lead to more opportunities for Asian filmmakers, and allow them to depict the Asian and Asian-American experiences in innovative new ways.

The process of incorporating Asian perspectives into Hollywood’s usually static landscape will likely be slow, and painstaking. However, with the release of Netflix’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and ABC’s “Fresh off the Boat,” I’m nothing but optimistic for what the future of mainstream Asian representation holds.