Last Saturday (as of the week of writing this post), I saw both Crazy Rich Asians and BlacKkKlansman, and overall, it was a good movie-viewing day. Now that I’ve viewed the film, I have my batch of opinions, but before you here what I, resident black person, thought of this film meant to uplift and raise the profile of the Asian diaspora in film, let’s hear what Asian writers had to say. Their opinions range from overtly loving to rightfully critical and everywhere in between. And, in point of view, everyone has something valuable to add to the conversation surrounding this film.
Here are some awesome articles from around the interwebs:
“‘Crazy Rich Asians’ isn’t just a breakthrough for Asian representation onscreen; it’s also [director Jon M.]Chu’s secret tribute to his own family. The movie is sprinkled with montages of mahjong matches and dumpling assembly–rituatls in his immigrant household in Palo Alto–and its soundtrack is dominated by Chinese-language songs to which his parents know all the words. Plus the script’s central conflict–America’s propensity to prize the individual, versus Asia’s expectation to put family first and others first–mirrors his own lifelong internal debate as an Asian-American.”–Ashley Lee, “‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Is a Testament to the Importance of Diversity in Casting” (Backstage)
“On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see the Chinese diaspora portrayed as something other than a monolith. But as if to overcompensate for the stereotypical images of Chinese immigrants–either as dirty, poor, huddled masses or hard-working, middle-class, model minorities–Crazy Rich Asians seemingly yearns for this new label to become a desirable and transcendent alternative. What’s missing is exactly how these rich Asians came to be. This information matters because generational wealth is often the result of an unequal society: Who is allowed to own land and property determines the power dynamics. Who gets to be in this new narrative of Asians, and who’s still being ignored?” —Mimi Wong, “What Does Seeing Asians As ‘Crazy Rich’ Achieve?” (Refinery 29)
“…[D]espite the movie’s title, Asian isn’t a monolith identity–something that’s easier to understand from the vantage point of a cosmopolitan place like Singapore, which serves as a nexus for many Asian experiences. But Hollywood has tended to treat it as one category. ‘Obviously, Korean is different than Chinese, which is different from Vietnamese culture, but the way the [American] culture has treated us is a point that we can probably find some common ground on,’ [Crazy Rich Asians star Constance] Wu says. She’s frustrated by people who don’t seem to understand the differences, especially in the limited number of period and independent films featuring Asian actors. ‘They think that having an Asian in their movie is the same thing as having an Asian-American, and it’s just not,’ she says.”–Karen K. Ho, “Crazy Rich Asians Is Going to Change Hollywood. It’s About Time” (TIME)
“I was so jarred by those scary Indian guards! What a way to show the brown people in your film. Like, we’re terrifying, knife-wielding…I kind of hate saying this because obviously the film has a lot of issues with class, but there are many rich South Asian people…You really could have just gone to India, grabbed one and just plopped them in the movie. There are plenty in Singapore, too.”–Annie Ma, Kari Sonde, Kanyarkrit Vongkiatkajorn (featured) and Julia B. Chan, “‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Can’t Be Everything–But It’s Still a Win” (Mother Jones)
“For the average American moviegoer (that is to say, a white moviegoer), Crazy Rich Asians is a featherlight romp, no heavier or more meaningful than your average Mission: Impossible or Hotel Transylvania. For me, though it felt lke a test–of my Asianness, of my Americanness, of my commitment to the cause of combining them both and insisting that other people witness the results.” –Angie Han, “‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and the immense pressure to feel seen” (Mashable)
Now, if you’re still here, here are some of my opinions on the film. I guess you can consider this a review of sorts.
First, I just want to say it’s sad that this film, which is for intents and purposes a regular rom-com, has so much baggage attached to it. It’s Hollywood’s fault as an industry. If they had opened the floodgates to all viewpoints from the beginning and didn’t prop up the white viewpoint as the default, we wouldn’t be in this position. But here we are. Because of this, there’s a lot of expectation from Asian CRA fans for others to not badmouth this film, or even criticize it within the realm of normal film criticism. Even though the conversations are a little different for both films, the same “no badmouthing” expectation was there with Black Panther. No one wants to be the person, especially the Asian person, to say “I have issues with this film.”
However, it’s perfectly all right if you have issues with the film. It doesn’t make you a crab in a barrel, and the same can be said if you came away from Black Panther feeling like it was mediocre. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. We should be able to talk about film without dissing other people’s opinions. When applicable, we should at least try to understand their point of view.
This leads me to my overall feeling on CRA. I think it’s a fine film. It does follow the standard rom-com formula, so it’s not like it’s innovative in that sense, but ironically, that’s also how it’s different. It’s a standard rom-com that has Asian actors at its center. That’s what’s making this film such a big deal, and with good reason.
But, I think it’s erroneous for some to act like CRA is a film that supports all Asians out there. For instance, South Asian viewers, for example, might find this film a little problematic in how it showcases the Youngs’ Indian guards. Annoyingly, they’re shown in the same stereotypical, non-speaking style a standard Eurocentric film would show them in. Also, some of the non-speaking valets at Araminta and Colin’s wedding are darker skinned Malay Singaporeans. So how much progress does that account for in the long run? At the most, this film is great for East Asian representation, not Asian representation across the board.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is still great for Hollywood to finally recognize that Asian actors do put butts in seats. But it’s also important to realize where the film fails other segments of the Asian audience. Perhaps if Americans didn’t define “Asian” as simply “East Asian” or “Chinese,” the film wouldn’t have been marketed as the first time in 25 years an Asian cast has graced American movie screens. Technically, that’s not completely true, since The Namesake, starring Kal Penn, and international hit Slumdog Millionaire, starring Dev Patel, do exist. These are films that star Asian actors, but they aren’t East Asian, they’re South Asian. Unfortunately in America, Indian or South Asian people don’t get recognized as “Asian,” even though they are part of the diaspora.
I’m glad for Crazy Rich Asians’ success, and I’m glad more films featuring East Asian casts are now being greenlit. But I hope this success also translates into Hollywood investing in Asian stories across the board, including films featuring South Asian casts. If Crazy Rich Asians is seen as the start of Asian Hollywood shaking the table, the let that momentum also include all Asian experiences.
You’d expect that as an Asian-centric film, I wouldn’t have any commentary on blackness regarding the film. But I do. First, I’m happy to see some black expat faces represented in the film. For so long in Hollywood, American-made tourist postcard films often show white faces as travelers, as if white people are the only people who are interested in going abroad. Since CRA shows white extras, I was ready to feel disgruntled about not seeing any black faces. But lo and behold, I did. During Colin’s bachelor party, party boy Bernard had a bunch of beauty queens, one of which being a black woman wearing the sash “Miss Angola.” And later on at Colin and Araminta’s wedding reception, there was a black woman who was dancing with an Asian man. So seeing black women–natural hair and all–in this film was really cool.
The big thing people have been wringing their hands over is Awkwafina’s accent work as Peik Lin. To put it bluntly, many, black, Asian, and otherwise, feel like Awkwafina delved too often in the realm of affecting a blaccent.
To me, Peik Lin’s accents were so broad and varied that I couldn’t stay offended for too long; most of the time, she just sounded southern, but it was unclear if that was what she was actually going for. If you let those who are really against her portrayal tell it, she was going for full-blaccent and failed 90 percent of the time, landing the Texas southern range. For me, I was just mostly confused, finding relief when she would finally drop the accents and talk as herself.
No matter where you fall on this issue, what I feel is true across the board is that her range of accents were unnecessary and detracted from the character. If she’s from Queens and has a thick Queens accent, I’d have rather heard that than whatever she was trying to pull off in this movie. I get that she’s a rapper and, if I’m feeling extremely generous, I am even willing to believe that she has been influenced by black rappers. However, at some point, I have to put my foot down once someone begins to sound too try-hard. Give me your real voice, Awkwafina. That’d make a lot of us a lot happier.
Reading all of this, you might think I hated the movie. Actually, I liked it a lot. But liking a movie doesn’t mean I can’t look at it critically, and the critical view is that CRA has areas in which it does, indeed, falter. However, a lot of these faulty points are exacerbated by the fact that this is still one the few Asian-led films out there in Hollywood. If there were tons more films out there, CRA wouldn’t be burdened with being tasked with so much that it eventually becomes nothing to everyone in the midst of the various viewpoints.
If there were 40 more CRAs out there, all with their own storylines and casts, then CRA could just be what it is, which is a rom-com that tackles the immigrant experience as it relates to East Asians. If I’m being honest, I kinda wished there was more focus on the immigrant versus national storyline, since, like the rom-com formula dictates, there’s a lot of time spent on hot men’s chests, a fashion montage, and sightseeing. But unfortunately, CRA is on an island by itself now, carrying the albatross of an entire demographic’s hopes, expectations, and scrutiny. It’s not an easy load to bear–not only have I read a lot of people’s opinions on the movie, but I’ve also had several conversations with some of my friends about this movie, and even though the range of opinions is broad, there’s still truth in everyone’s points of view. This film has a lot of weight on its shoulders, but overall, CRA is bearing it well. If the film’s ability to hold the No. 1 box office spot and beat financial expectations is any indication, then I’d say it’s doing tremendously well.