I went to see Crazy Rich Asians on Sunday. No matter what, I was going to actually put the effort in to get off my butt, put on pants, leave my house, ride the stuffy subway on a humid August day, buy a damn movie ticket, and go see this movie, even if I was a bit “meh” on the novel on which it is based.
I missed Allegiance when it was on Broadway and Miss Saigon (which, I mean, yay Asians on Broadway but anything based on Madame Butterfly ain’t happening with me, yo). But let’s be real, a studio-made popcorn summer film has a FAR bigger reach and implications than a Broadway show. So I fucking made the effort.
Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio film starring an all-Asian cast in twenty-five years. TWENTY FIVE YEARS. I was seven years old when The Joy Luck Club came out. Or course, a lot’s been made about Crazy Rich Asians being a big deal in terms of representation for Asian-Americans–and Asian-Americans and other Asians living outside of Asia specifically, because obvi, Asians living in Asia are like, “What representation problem?”
Then there’s also been criticism that Crazy Rich Asians isn’t representative enough of Asians because it doesn’t show the diversity of Singapore (the setting) or the diversity of Asian cultures.
Of course it doesn’t. Asia is a large continent and region, with so many ethnic groups and languages and cultures. One movie or TV show is not going to cover all of Asia, no matter what American restaurants think with their “Asian style salad.”
(Seriously. What’s an “Asian style” salad? And why does it have mandarin oranges in it?)
But having a Hollywood-made, all-Asian cast rom com showing Asians who:
-can speak perfect English
-aren’t fleeing a war
-aren’t samurais, geishas, prostitutes, gurus, or martial artists
-aren’t math geniuses, tech geniuses, or science geeks
…but a movie with an Asian cast playing characters who are of all shades–funny, conniving, smart, snobby–just living, loving, marrying, living regular–if very heightened and wealthy–modern lives is a big deal. And it should be supported and Crazy Rich Asians is a needed icebreaker so more Asian-acted, Asian-written, Asian-directed, and Asian-produced movies can be made and released here in the western hemisphere.
Plus, Crazy Rich Asians was funnnn. I teared up twice during the movie and it almost made me believe in real life romance and love again. (I never lose belief in fictional romance and love, but real life…)
I’ve always wanted more diversity in movies, TV, and books–because for a dreamy quiet kid, those mediums helped shape my imagination, my knowledge of the world around me, my unconscious biases. And I’ve never really seen myself reflected in media–but luckily, I’ve grown up in a biracial family in a super diverse city with a diversity of friends and co-workers.
I’ve also been able to see plenty of Asian representation in the Japanese dramas my mom likes to watch–Long Vacation was a big one, because she watched that a lot when I was about 11 or 12–where it was a modern day love story between two Japanese people, in Japanese, in Japan. And not long ago, when Netflix expanded to Japan, Mom and I glommed through Atelier, a drama about a lingerie designer.
But there’s something different about watching a miniseries filmed in Japan with a Japanese cast speaking Japanese meant for a Japanese audience and watching something starring Asian-Americans speaking English (and whatever Asian language they may or may not speak) in a movie or TV show meant for an American audience. Because I’m American and my primary language is English and I suck at math and I’ve been asked “where I’m from” and “do you speak English?” plenty of times in my life and apparently replying “Queens” in my undeniably perfect American English is not an adequate answer for some people.
All of this adds up to needing more Asians in movies, books, and TV.
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard: Jenny Han’s YA romance To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been made into a Netflix film! I watched it last night and it was adorable. Thank you to Netflix for casting actual Asians to play the half-Korean Covey sisters!