How has Bling Empire Redefined the Asian-American Experience in HollywooD?

Written by: Chloe

Edited by: Megh

Visual by: Solenne

Reality TV has allowed us to take a peek into the outlandishly lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous. From Keeping up with the Kardashians to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, viewers have been able to vicariously experience the fabulous lives of the elite— and we are hooked every single time. Netflix’s latest addition to the genre, ‘Bling Empire’, is no different, but this time offers an unexpected twist on the classic MTV-style entertainment: it’s an all-Asian ensemble. 

The docuseries follows a cast of unbelievably wealthy Asian-Americans who live in Los Angeles: a billionaire heiress to an arms dealers, a socialite wife of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon [and descendent of Chinese royalty], a famed DJ acclaimed as ‘the Calvin Harris of Southeast Asia’, the son of the biggest real estate magnate in Singapore, a self-made business woman that is the embodiment of a rags-to-riches success story, and an outsider model raised in Pennsylvania who stumbled upon the right crowd, among others. At its core, ‘Bling Empire’ offers a wildly entertaining real-life spin on the kinds of affluent Asians that inspired “Crazy Rich Asians.” Viewers get an ostentatious glimpse of their everyday lives– from glamorous galas to spontaneous shopping trips in Paris. 

However, its real value as a TV show lies in the moments of unexpected authenticity – its ability to showcase complex narratives and emotional vulnerability despite its seeming absurdity. There’s something about watching model Kevin embark on a journey of self-discovery to get in touch with his Korean roots after being raised by white parents, hearing about socialite Christine’s infertility issues and its subsequent effects on the relationship with her traditional Chinese in-laws, or witnessing strong-minded businesswoman Kelly struggle to overcome a toxic relationship, that makes the show seem so real. Perhaps the one constant throughout all of their hardships is the friendship they have with one another, creating an especially compelling and shockingly touching eight episodes. 

The show manages to subvert the stereotypes that define the entirety of the Asian community as perfect, 4.0-recieving, Harvard-attending overachievers. The show normalizes seeing Asians through the good and the bad— while they are all extremely successful, they also have tendencies to get into unreasonably petty fights, act immaturely, and simply make mistakes: the exact opposite of what mainstream media and Hollywood has made them out to be. This is a privilege that white people have always enjoyed, the ability to peel down what it means to be human on screen and not be afraid of casting irreversible shame on the entire race. 

Junior Anya was passionate about representation for Asians in Hollywood: “I feel like every time an Asian appears on screen in any given movie, their whole personality archetype is just being Asian. They’re usually there for diversity, but if we’re lucky, they actually have some characteristics beyond being a nerd. It’s so refreshing to see Asians who represent what the majority of the population is actually like (not financially, but personality-wise). They struggle and deal with the same things every person does.” 

As Hollywood is growing and changing, so is the need for more inclusion and diversity. It is important for Asians to know that they don’t have to be boxed into certain stereotypes to be accepted by society. Bling Empire certainly is not the most prestigious nor esteemed representation of Asians, but it is real and authentic— and in this case, that counts for much more.