A Tirade Against Crazy Rich Asians And The Issue of Underrepresentation

Warner Bros. Pictures

I haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians, nor do I plan to see it. I know nothing about the movie beyond what’s shown in the trailer. Yet seeing it make the rounds in talk shows and news interviews fills me with annoyance and unease.

The reason is this: Crazy Rich Asians might be a fun movie to watch, but the way its success is framed and promoted is just the latest entry in a long list of fake triumphs achieved at the expense of real issues.

The triumphant part of it has a rather simple logic: the movie has an all-Asian cast. Because Asians are underrepresented in Hollywood, it automatically becomes the hero taking on the arrogant, dominant, and racist villain that is Hollywood, and gets heralded as a triumph of minority representation — a triumph for minorities. Its status is thus elevated — from just another movie about rich people and their shiny things to a cultural moment.

But I don’t think the question is being asked enough — of whether Crazy Rich Asians is deserving of such an honour. As Asians, are we so eager for representation that we will take anything? We’re like children during the Korean War, chasing after American soldiers for scraps of chocolate bars. But American soldiers are not here to hand out chocolate bars, and chocolate bars won’t solve our problems anyway.

What is underrepresentation anyway? If it’s only about race, then why do Asian people in the West choose to ignore literally thousands of Asian films and television series that all cast Asians — exclusively? Because for them, Asian roles on screen must strike a delicate balance, a sweet spot, where not only race but also experience is channeled and expressed. To the mainstream North American society, Asians are frequently seen as passive participators. The same cannot be said for Asians living in Asia, hence the need for not just Asian representation in general but a particular kind of Asian representation — of living life as a native outsider, a stranger in one’s own land, of encountering racism not only from white people, but a lot of times, from other Asians.

Back to the movie. How much of that experience is reflected in the glamorous lives of astronomically rich Asians and their associates? And what does it say about our values when the first movie in decades with an all-Asian cast is about none other than people who are impossibly rich?

I don’t feel good about the way Crazy Rich Asians is being praised in mainstream media. I don’t feel in any way represented by this movie, and the fact that there finally is a film like this does not fill me with pride.