When considering Crazy Rich Asians without any knowledge in the history of race relations, or how racial representations work and why they matter, then Crazy Rich Asians is a typical rom-com with typical rom-com tropes: the matriarch, the sassy best friend, the over-the-top cousin, and a collection of flamboyant characters. There are handsome guys and pretty women in fancy couture and blinding bling. In its core, it’s a silly and fun rom-com, with Tara Mcnamara from Common Sense Media even saying, “This movie will make you fall in love with romantic comedies again. It’s not so much that the “storyline is original as it is well done.”
And yet, this rom-com is revolutionary. Simply put, we just haven’t seen this many Asians with those many accents (Malaysian, American, Singaporean, British, Australian) being that many things ever before – sexy, funny and outrageous – and not doing martial arts, being hyper-sexualized, or just being generally tragic.
The movie tackles very specific experiences of being Asian-American and coming to terms with what that means when you are out of your depth. It’s an experience many Asian-Americans, like myself, know well. Like Rachel in the film, many Asian-Americans have been accused of being a “banana” – yellow on the outside, white on the inside – a word assigned to Asian-Americans who have lost touch with their roots. This aspect of the Asian-American experience – the one of being in between two cultures, always feeling as though you belong to neither – is portrayed with great effect in the film.
There is a moment between Rachel and Nick’s mother, Eleanor, where Eleanor says that no matter what, in the world of Singapore high society, Rachel will always be a foreigner. This resonates with many Asian-Americans, as they are consistently asked to prove their authenticity as Asian or American, depending on where they are in the world and with whom. There’s something powerful about seeing that discomfort and the struggle on screen. Because seeing your existence not just represented, but also acknowledged and understood is deeply moving when you’re only used to seeing shoddy, cheap, and inaccurate representations.
With every single cast member being Asian, Crazy Rich Asians also puts varied experiences of being Asian to send a message that they’re not all the same. The assumption that all Asians are the same creates a lack of representation of the many unique and varied perspectives of Asians, and a lack of representation has only contributed to the systematic racism that has kept minority performers from flourishing.
When the excuse for not casting an Asian-American actor is because there’s not one good enough, when Asian-Americans are hardly cast period, it becomes a cycle that only keeps it from happening. Crazy Rich Asians has shown that Asian-American-centered stories can bring in crowds. And because of that, the hope is that it opens the door for more Asian stories to finally get the attention they deserve from Hollywood.
Daniel Kim, Grade 11
Oakwood High School