• Claire Wu

“Crazy Rich Asians”: A Real Representation Or Just Pure Stereotype?

The Northeastern community spent a crazy, rich Monday night at Afterhours recently for the hit rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians.” Second-year international business major Francesca Mei said she really liked the film, and thought it was a good movie.

Francesca Mei, second year international business major.
“When it first came out, I was kind of skeptical about it. I thought it was just going to be another thing to kind of capitalize on the growing population of Asian Americans,” said Mei. “I felt it really portrayed some interesting things that I feel people didn’t realize beforehand.”

“Crazy Rich Asians” is a movie about an Asian American professor, Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, who travels to meet her boyfriend’s family, the Youngs, and is surprised to discover they are among the richest people in Singapore. Not only is the movie a romantic comedy, it is also a movie about identity and change. The film features Hollywood’s first all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” from 25 years ago. With a worldwide box-office gross of more than $236 million, the film has become a phenomenon. Many Asian Americans are thrilled about being represented on screen.

While most people are saying “Crazy Rich Asians” is a progressive win for Asian Americans, in Asia, particularly in Singapore, many people are saying the movie doesn’t fully represent the culture. Some even questioned why the film omitted Singapore’s ethnic minorities and lower class residents.

Northeastern Singaporean exchange student Kenny Khoo said while the movie really shows the uniqueness of Singapore as it explores around the island throughout the film, the representation of Singapore in the film may mislead those who have never been to the country before.

The second year communications major said the film portrayed the Singaporeans like they are all rich. Khoo also emphasized that the members of the Young family all spoke with a British accent, which is very different from the reality.

“No Chinese person here speaks with a British accent and no, we are not that rich,” said Khoo.

While Singapore is in fact one of the richest cities in the world, like many other countries it faces concerns regarding income inequality among its people. Khoo said the film merely represents a small portion of the Singaporean community, where the majority of the population are either middle class or working class.

Kenny Khoo, second year communications exchange student from Singapore

Khoo also points out how the film only focus on Chinese, the ethnic majority in Singapore. “Singapore also has other races like Indians and Malays, but they are barely shown in the movie,” he said.Though Chinese make up the majority of the population in Singapore, 76 percent in 2018,  Khoo said he thinks that it’s also important to incorporate the ethnic minorities in Singapore to have an actual representation.

Sarah Lai Stirland, a politics and technology innovation writer who grew up with a multicultural background, shared a similar perspective.As a third culture child, Stirland said while she enjoyed the movie herself, she felt disconnected in a sense that it’s too far from what she knew about the Asian society.

“I was surprised it excited Asian Americans,” said Stirland.

Stirland said Asian is a diverse group of people. The film portrayed Asians as a group of people who are obsessed with status and materialism, but “there are so much more than that,” she said. The reality is, she said, is the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase, and most residents have problems just like everyone else.

Stirland also questions whether the movie is just another way of stereotyping rather than representing the Asian community.

“Instead of having Asians having their own movies,” said Stirland, Hollywood should “just have Asians in regular movies and reflect the actual composition of American population.”

She points out Asians usually play minor characters in movies for the purpose of supporting the protagonist who’s from another ethnicity. For the first time in 25 years, “Crazy Rich Asians” not only features an all-Asian cast, it also explores the Asian-American culture in a way no mainstream movies had before. However, she said the film could only represent “one small part of the Asian diaspora in America,” since it’s not what most Asian-Americans experience.

Nathan Blake, an associate teaching professor of media and screen studies at Northeastern University, said even though there are some issues of representation and stereotypes when it comes to films, in many ways films are really good at presenting not only representations, but the way the film positions the ethnicity.

“Part of the issue of representation of almost any non-white group is that there’s kind of a burden of representation,” Blake said.

Blake pointed out the presentations of ethnic groups in films, whether it’s positive or not, could easily become a stereotype. He explained that this is because there are very few depictions of how these groups are represented in films. “Stereotypes are a preconceived notion,” said Blake. “It’s also an issue about Hollywood movies.” With a limited time frame, films moves quickly and wants to get on to the story. Because of that, films usually use short simple signifiers of the characters to help the audiences to see what the characters are like when they are first introduced.

There is no doubt that the movie omitted Singapore’s working class. In terms of the huge population in Singapore that’s not insanely wealthy, they were erased from the story. However, many think expectations for the film are too high, and what’s important is the impact that it may bring.

New York Times reporter Andrew Chow said “Crazy Rich Asians” is a movie about a very specific very specific class. Though it doesn’t tell the story of an average Asian or Asian-American, he said the goal with this movie is that by portraying this subset of people with empathy, and making them more relatable, that it will open the doors for different types of Asians’ stories to be told.

“‘Crazy Rich Asians’ didn’t represent all Asians, it couldn’t have,” said Chow in an interview. “It’s impossible for a movie to represent every type of person for the entire race.

Chow also shared what the author of the original book, Kevin Kwan, said when asked about what kinds of stories he’s interested in telling in their previous interview: “Crazy poor Asians. Or just crazy average Asians. I’ve written three books about the one percent. Now it’s all about exploring this wide spectrum and showing other facets of Asians around the world. I want to show how they can be as cool as the crazy rich Asians, if not more.”

“I do hope that just the face that so many Asian Americans went to see this movie shows that there is going to be an audience for Asian stories that matter the economic focus,” Chow said.

Nonetheless, Chow said the movie carried such high expectations precisely because Asians have so little representation in Hollywood. And since it is the first one in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast, the Asian community wanted it to be perfect. Many wanted to elevate Asians while also show the negative parts of the Asian community.  He also said he thinks that if the audiences just understand it as a big shiny Hollywood rom-com, it looks a lot better. He also said what the Asian community has to pivot towards is looking at how the next wave portray Asian stories.

Despite the controversies circulating, people generally enjoyed the movie.

At the Afterhours event, which was held by the Council forUniversity Programs (CUP), students of multiple ethnicities filled up the space, gasping when Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), the mother of the male lead Nick Young (Henry Golding), disapproves the relationship as she reveals that she did a background check on Rachel (Constance Wu); as well as aww-ing when Nick takes out his mother’s emerald engagement ring instead of the family ring to propose with Rachel.

Almost everyone in the room couldn’t get their eyes off of the screen as they closely focused on how the storyline progresses.

Elaine Mei, an undeclared second-year Northeastern student who watched the film, said she cried through the movie.

She said even though the movie only showed a small portion of rich Asians, the movie carried a lot of underlying themes and messages that only them, Asian Americans, would be able to understand.

Elaine Mei, second year undeclared major
“You can’t expect one movie to come out to encompass all of Asia,” said Mei. “This is a step in the right direction of having more Asian American representation in the media.”

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