Crazy Misunderstood Asians: The fear of misrepresentation

Recently, there has been a spur of excitement within the Asian community. “Crazy Rich Asians,” a book by Kevin Kwan, is currently under production to become a feature film. The book was so popular among readers that it was quickly taken up by filmmakers and naturally, the movie prompted the same elation. With movies like “Black Panther” making headlines for its steps towards representation, it is no surprise that people are asking for more, especially for the minorities who are still lagging behind in the media’s eyes.

According to Eugene Lee Yang, known for his work with Buzzfeed and the “Try Guys,” this movie is historic.

“We’ve waited 25 years since The Joy Luck Club to see a second major Hollywood film feature an all-Asian cast. 25. YEARS,” he tweeted.

The issue many minorities suffer through is that even when they are represented in the media, it only through minor characters coupled with stereotypes, usually used for comedic relief.

“One time, my sister told me to name at least five movies with Asian lead roles where their character wasn’t some crazy martial artist or something of that nature, and I really had to sit there and think. I don’t think I even reached five,” senior Mia Nicole said.

An all-Asian cast is truly exciting, especially since the trailer for “Crazy Rich Asians” painted its characters in a positive light. All over social media, people excitedly commented on how for seemingly the first time, male Asians are being depicted as attractive and desirable rather than a tool for comedic relief. Even the costume design caught several people’s attention. Nadra Nittle, journalist for Racked, wrote about how it “gives ‘Ocean’s 8′ a run for its fashion money.”

However, beneath all the excitement, there is fear. Several Twitter users began comparing the level of representation offered by “Crazy Rich Asians” to the success of “Black Panther,” but many others reject the idea. “Black Panther” became both a milestone and a stepping stone into the world of equal representation for the black community. Is “Crazy Rich Asians” really at that level?

“I’ve noticed a lot of Asian Americans, especially East Asians, commenting about [the film] as being a landmark for representation, and even comparing it to Black Panther. It’s neither, and not all representation is good representation,” Diane Wong, an independent ethnographer tweeted. “’Crazy Rich Asians’ is nothing like ‘Black Panther,’ I wish that East Asians could watch ‘Black Panther’ and show up to support it without having to co-opt the conversation and turn it into a comparison between black people.”

The dangers of misrepresentation are definitely a concern. With minorities already not getting enough representation in the media, any miscommunication of culture might turn itself into a new obstacle for the minority group. Misrepresentation could lead to the formation of new stereotypes, and that would only undermine the work done to get represented in the first place.

“The movie dangerously reinforces the model minority trope, which has severe policy implications at a time when Southeast Asian refugees are being violently deported or fed into the prison-deportation pipeline,” Wong continues in her Twitter thread. “The movie is based in Singapore, and it privileges the narratives of wealth East Asians who build generational wealth off colonialism, colorism, classism, and displacement of Black, indigenous, and South Asian communities. In the movie, the family of the male protagonist are the biggest developers in Asia. In Singapore, South Asian migrant workers are literally the backbone of the city, but are exploited to the extreme and suffer from wage theft.”

While the representation might be exciting for those viewing it from places like the U.S., it may not be the same for those in other countries. The focus of the issue in these areas is the fact that there is not enough representation in general, but the repercussions of other factors might be harmful for other communities.

“Crazy Rich Asians also plays into the ‘saving face’ trope which, like ‘Joy Luck Club,’ is inherently misogynistic and is a key source of censorship, abuse, and violence against women in Asian communities. Personally, watching the trailer triggered me because I’m acutely aware of how much intergenerational trauma and tension stems from material wealth and the value our elders place on possessions as markers of success,” said Wong.

Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge people have on the effects of such things on the world’s communities. Having more regard for the effects mass media and entertainment have on people could be the key to melting fears such as these. Hopefully, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ will not have dangerous repercussions. Asian communities are already rooting for more representation in the future. While this movie might not be as significant of a step as ‘Black Panther,’ it might still contribute to opening doors for Asians in the media.

Leave a Reply