Why Crazy Rich Asians provides a step forward in Asian identity.
As a Chinese person, when I first saw the trailer and title for Crazy Rich Asians I have to say I was skeptical. It honestly just looked like another silly rom-com with a bunch of stereotypical portrayals of Asians. I then told myself, “You know what, Chris, just give this movie a try. When was the last time you watched a rom-com in theatres? More importantly, when was the last time you watched a movie with an all Asian cast?” It was during the last stretches of my summer break before school started that I went to the theatres, sat down in one of the most full seatings I have been to for a movie, popcorn in my lap and sipping on my beverage, and ready to watch the movie play out .
I went into this movie with low expectations not knowing what to expect, but when the movie finished I sat in my seat and just felt a range of emotions. I felt happy from the comedic elements of the movie, in awe from the artistic shots (can we talk about the wedding scene though!?), but most importantly – I felt proud. I felt proud to see Asian identity on the Hollywood screen that did not just depict us through typical stereotypes, such as the “crazy kung-fu fighters”, the villains, the extremely nerdy, effeminate, and asexual, or even just the fact of having white people taking roles and imitating Asians.
What some may not realize is that much of Hollywood’s history includes “whitewashing” their films, but has definitely come under scrutiny for this. It was the first time for me to watch a movie that had an all Asian cast and to see Asians acting in non-stereotypical scenarios. I clearly remember just smiling during certain scenes of the movie realizing that I am watching a scene play out where the actors are doing what other normal non-Asians, specifically White people, in most movies do. It was a breath of fresh air, yet I have to admit thinking back, sad that it was something I had to “get used” during the film.
Crazy Rich Asians opened up a space for Asians to represent a more authentic identity, especially with the director Jon M. Chu having that direct association with the culture.
Now I cannot say that this movie was stereotype free as there are some depictions of stereotypes (Asians as being rich), the overall element of having Asian representation in a Hollywood blockbuster film is what needs to be recognized. For a group that has so often been marginalized or removed from the film industry, Crazy Rich Asians brings about a monumental change. Much like how Black Panther brought powerful Black representations to the big screen, Crazy Rich Asians works to destabilize the practice of casting and portraying whiteness as normal for success in Hollywood.
As we grow up we consume a massive amount of media. What we see on screen can easily become internalized and what is projected to us becomes the norm. A movie like Crazy Rich Asians can show others, especially the youth growing up, that the identity of being non-white is not something to be ashamed of.
I can only hope that we produce more films of multiple and diverse identities and let them be a part of the Hollywood scene. If I felt proud and happy to see my culture on the big screen, I can only imagine what a younger child growing up will feel seeing more representations of their identity through media – not hidden or casted aside, but brought to the limelight.
Whiteness as the norm has seeped its way into the filming industry. Diversity matters and we must acknowledge that.
If you haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians yet, go. If you feel like you “won’t get it” that should be the least of your worries, because it’s important to see diversity on screen. We have to actively watch things that are “different” so we don’t think what is “normal” is a white director directing another white film.