Hailed as a breakthrough for Asian American representation in Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians was the film of 2018. Performing well both critically and commercially, the film’s entirely Asian cast brings hopes (as well as demand) for increased diversity in Hollywood. With awards season in full swing, the film is still generating important conversations on diversity and representation, but whilst praised for its nuanced representation of Asian characters, has not escaped controversy.
It’s tongue in cheek title ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ brings some to question who, exactly, this in referral to. Under the umbrella of “Asian” comes many different ethnicities and nationalities, not all represented in the film – and quite frankly, an enormously impossible feat. However, it does spark discussion over the general perception of Asians and how those of South and Southeast Asian descent are often overlooked.
Similarly, British-Malaysian Henry Goulding’s casting as the film’s male lead and love interest came under scrutiny with accusations of white-washing and continued promotion of Western beauty standards. However, it is still important to recognise those of mixed heritage within the community and not diminish someone’s claim to cultural identity.
Critics of the film were also led to wonder what happened to Singapore’s South and Southeast Asian population, pointing out implications of their fleeting and minor roles as subservient characters to the primary East-Asian cast. At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is a Chinese-American story vs. a wealthy subset of Singapore’s population – can we really expect this to be representative for everyone? But correspondingly, if western colonisers are swapped for Chinese colonisers, is the film really as progressive as it seems?
Director Jon M. Chu and leading actress Constance Wu have both been vocal that Crazy Rich Asians is not representative of every Asian American story and in the same vein, is not representative of every Asian narrative. At its least, Crazy Rich Asians, is a light-hearted romantic comedy bringing to screens a refreshingly different narrative and ethnic lens to western cinema. Although unfair to place the burden of holistic representation on just one film, this only shows the steps future filmmakers need to take to enrichen Hollywood’s cinematic landscapes.