Crazy Rich Asians: Challenging Stereotypes or Perpetuating them?

BY MUZNA AMINA AND LAIBA TARIQ

Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American economics professor, accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore to meet his family, discovering that he comes from a prominent and ‘crazy rich’ family. She embarks on a journey of discovering and experiencing Chinese Singaporean culture through meeting Young’s family. While the film is seen as a step forward in terms of representation in Hollywood, there are concerns that it doesn’t break stereotypes, but rather, reinforces them.


GENDER

Rachel is strong and resilient and never loses her footing despite the challenges she faces from Nick’s family and friends. Eleanor Young is the matriarch. The father of the family is rarely mentioned and Eleanor clearly runs the family. When Astrid splits from her husband following his infidelity, she displays incredible strength and resilience. When Michael says “it’s not just my fault that things didn’t work out”, she responds with, “I just realized it’s not my job to make you feel like a man”. Henry Golding was one of GQ’s men of the year, and was portrayed as good looking and muscular, which is not how Asian men are normally portrayed in Hollywood (stereotypically shown as nerds).


WEALTH

The “crazy rich” trope tries to overcome the stereotype that Asians are poor and uncivilized, such as in the 1940 comedy “Road to Singapore”, set in a fishing village. Crazy Rich Asians seems to reimagine Singapore as a luxury resort, and it is called an orientalist fantasy, and a “ soulless salute to the 1%”. With annual output of approx. $325bn (2017), Singapore ranks with Denmark economically, but it’s population is more diverse. The movie starts with the Young family buying hotels. The film’s signs and symbols belong to capitalism and its new elite. There are the lavish parties, British boarding school accents, couture gowns, and first-class cabins.

RACE & CULTURE

This is the first film in 25 years to have an All-Asian cast. We see role reversal: the few Caucasian roles (beauty queens at a party) are shown briefly, only in the background. The film also makes use of satire, like at one point, a father encourages his children to eat dinner by saying, “Think of all the starving children in America!” Similarly, at the airport, Rachel whispers, “Changi has a butterfly garden. All J.F.K. has is salmonella and despair.” The film also tries to celebrate Asian culture e.g. it shows how street food stalls have Michelin stars, and in another wholesome scene, a family makes dumplings together.


DIVERSITY

The film promises Asian representation, but excludes many who live in Asian countries around the world, especially South and Southeast Asians, other than turbaned South Asian guards, and a Sikh man in the background. “Asia” is used just like many westerners use “Africa”. The film’s map of the continent names only four countries: Singapore, India, China, and Thailand. The all-East Asian cast is also a misrepresentation of Singapore, obscuring Malay, Indian, Eurasian populations who make the country culturally rich.


WESTERN GAZE

Rachel and Eleanor’s confrontation shows the clash between two cultures and ideals, with Rachel winning, and representing the victory of the West, which has given the old and unprogressive East a new life. The characters are seen as “honorary whites”. Their status is linked to their perfect English, black-and-white houses, and their European customs. By representing only a slim portion of the demographic, the film seems to distance itself from the “wrong” kind of Asian. The film flopped in China, seen as a “demonization” of Asian culture. We also see a colonial mentality, as in one scene, Rachel's friend, Peik Lin tells Rachel that when Nick’s ancestors settled in Singapore in the 1800s, the country was nothing but “jungle and pig farmers.”

STEREOTYPES

The role of the female elders in the film is seen as stereotypical: they are serious, reserved, and controlling. Before the 19th century, Orientalists saw Asia as a rich, plentiful place, and the movie represents that oriental fantasy/stereotype. Eleanor as the evil mother who schemes against her daughter-in-law (to be).


BUT on the other hand, the Asians of the film are not nerds, timid, or naive, and the females are stronger than Hollywood shows them to be. Rachel is resilient in the face of her struggles, Astrid represents strength, and Eleanor is the matriarch of the family. Henry Golding does not portray the stereotypical nerdy Asian boy, but rather, he is attractive and charming, unlike how Hollywood's portrayal of Asian men.


The film is not final: it is not the last, nor the best, film portraying Asians. Despite the few mistakes it makes, it is a beautiful film which highlights some many important themes, and opens door for future films with even better and more diverse Asian representation.


BY MUZNA AMINA (24090015) AND LAIBA TARIQ (24090030)

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