Representation matters and seeing the movie Crazy Rich Asians echoes this belief strongly. I’m celebrating with Asian Americans in this big moment and hopeful of things to come.
There are some spoilers from the movie in this post!
Growing up as an Asian American, I had a prideful attraction to celebrities who were Asian like me, Lucy Liu and Michelle Kwan to name the very few. Without a lot of Asian representation, I looked up to the actresses of my generation, but I wonder how my life could have been impacted had I seen people like me on the screen more often.
I talked about what growing up with immigrant parents was like in this post. Growing up in a suburb where I was one of maybe five Asians in my grade when I started school, I naturally came to be more “Americanized,” something I’m sure many Asian Americans would recognize. Yet, it’s so strange to stop and think about the ways I’m keenly aware when an Asian person enters a scene of a TV show or movie. It’s a subconscious habit of connecting with someone because they looked like me and thinking that maybe they knew what it was like growing up suspended between cultures. They found success while trying to fit into the expectations of being American and Asian.
Representation matters because maybe if I had seen Asian representation in mainstream media, I would have realized it wasn’t a matter of being more American and less Asian. I wouldn’t have felt that pulling away from my Asian culture would help me feel like I fit in and make me more liked by my peers. I wouldn’t have been embarrassed when my mom spoke to me in Chinese in public or when I brought dumplings to school for lunch. I would have been more proud to be American AND Asian.
Representation matters. It’s why Asians have rallied behind the TV show Fresh Off the Boat, and actress Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color in a leading role in the Star Wars movies. The new movie Crazy Rich Asians is significant because it is the first Hollywood Studio film in over 25 years to feature an Asian American’s story. (The previous movie was The Joy Luck Club.) When you think about Hollywood movies with Asian actors, you’ll likely think of ones with martial arts (i.e. Rush Hour) or Asian characters as sidekicks or stereotypes. Those movies and roles hold their space, but one of the reasons why Crazy Rich Asians is so important is because there are Asians in the lead roles and Asian characters outside of the typical stereotypes. Plus, it’s a full Asian cast, including great cameos; did you LOVE musician Kina Grannis‘ song during the wedding?
Representation in mainstream media trickles down in ways we might not realize. Can you imagine what Asian American kids might think when they see Asians as the leads of a Hollywood movie? While celebrities seem a world away, we, kids and adults, look up to them because we view celebrities as successful and view movies as projections of a possible reality. It’s much easier to dream when we can envision it clearly. It also gives an opportunity for Asian stories to be heard and for others to learn about the culture and recognize the similarities in our stories. Humanity is much more connected than we think. When we get to know people who are different from us, there’s no limit to the success we can make together.
Aside from the cultural and representation significance, Crazy Rich Asians is an entertaining movie and a fun romantic comedy. Sure, it’s not as good as the books and it wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I loved seeing the characters come to life. (#TeamAstrid) I got choked up a few times, maybe because of the sappy scenes or maybe because the movie showed Asian culture and in a way, I felt seen. I love all the cultural features in the movie, from playing mahjong and making dumplings to the traditions of family first and revering elders, and it means a lot to me for others to experience these things I’ve grown up knowing. This movie is not a representation of every Asian American’s story (I am not and don’t know any billionaires, ha!), but it’s a step to build other Asian Americans up. Culture aside, the movie has its funny moments and the fashion!
I’m so proud of director Jon M. Chu and the cast for this movie. We celebrate victories wherever we can because the significance can be fleeting, but I hope it doesn’t take another 25 years before a big success like this. I hope this success means increased recognition for Asian Americans in the arts.
Thank you to all of you who understand, support, and advocate this movie and representation.
If you can’t get enough, check out these articles:
- Why Jon M. Chu wanted Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ in the movie and how it happened
- Ken Jeong’s interview about his role and what this movie means for Hollywood
- Kelly Marie Tran speaks out
- Why an Asian American heartthrob on screen matters
- Crazy Rich Asians‘ mahjong scene explained in depth