As all of you know by now, "Crazy Rich Asians" is a movie based on a book, and it is indeed very Asian. The non-Asian characters in the movie are bit parts, supporting characters, and almost all of them are employees of the Asian characters (and few get any speaking lines). In the same sort of way that black audiences rejoiced to see "Black Panther," there are a lot of Asians around the world who have whole-heartedly thrown their support behind "Crazy Rich Asians," not that they don't acknowledge the problematic issues/characters in the movie. As one of my friends explained after she watched the film:
After we saw the film (I didn't tell K what we were going to go watch before we got to the theatre) K was completely confused why I had even wanted to watch it.
- It does not relate to Korea
- There were no action, fantasy, or sci-fi elements
- And if he was pressed he might have even mentioned that the main character, Rachel Chu, was not the type of strong female lead I usually like, even if she was a college professor.
So I started talking to him about how "Joy Luck Club" had been the last film, 25 years ago, to come out of Hollywood with an essentially all Asian cast, but no martial arts. And K disagreed, so I had to re-emphasize that I was talking about Hollywood films. Then I realized that I had to explain the stereotypes of Asians in popular American media, when there are Asians in the media at all. "The men wear glasses, they are good at math, they are skinny and don't have a girlfriend" I tried to explain to him. K disagreed, scoffing. "Since when! Good at math?!" He seriously did not notice stereotypes of Asians in American media. To K, clearly, the representation of Asian masculinity (suave, desirable, well built) demonstrated by the actor Henry Golding (who plays the leading man, Nick Young) was normal. Just in case you need (want) a visual reminder, I'm talking about:
Photo source: https://www.star2.com/entertainment/2017/09/18/sarawak-born-henry-golding-defends-crazy-rich-asians-casting/
The stereotypes didn't bother my husband because he didn't even notice they existed. He didn't consume Hollywood media with a specific awareness of "this is mainstream American media, and the only media that would have been in most American homes before this current transnational media age." K didn't watch much media as a child in a nomad/pastoralist family (no electricity, duh), but after he entered middle school (Maqu had the closest middle school, but that was still much too far to go back and forth often so he lived at school), he had access to various types of media, generally the few channels that would come in-- all Chinese state TV. This meant that his entire early media consumption was at least 95% Asian (usually Chinese) made. If it wasn't in Chinese, it was dubbed into Chinese, not subtitled (little is dubbed into Tibetan, Tibetans either follow along on the visuals or learn Chinese, and little media is produced in Tibetan). All the media, all the time, was Asian faces. When he did begin (as things opened up) to see a wider selection of foreign, even Hollywood productions, then the assumption was that America is a country of white people (and some black), so of course there aren't a lot of Asians in the media. K didn't, and others around him didn't feel a frustration with a lack of representation in American media because Hollywood productions were a special treat from a not Asian country. As things have changed (opened up) he has had access to bootlegged DVDs of movies from everywhere at low cost, and around China there are now over 3,000 TV channels.
But for K Asians in media are not limited in their roles to a few stereotypes, nor are they far down the cast list. Asians are represented--in Asian media. For K, for other Tibetans, or for Koreans, Chinese, and Malaysians like Henry Golding there is a wealth of Asian content to pick from. If you want to see Asians represented, you can.
On a related note I wonder if the international success of Hong Kong Film, Japanese anime, or Korean dramas even delayed the inevitable creation of a film like "Crazy Rich Asians"? In today's internet connected world any Canadian or American teenager, the younger version of my former students, has access to all of that Asian media as well. Which of course is not to dismiss the importance of the film to American (and Canadian) viewers. I sincerely hope it signals a turning point in Western media representation of Asians and preconceptions about the commercial viability of Asians in major roles as the film heads for three weeks in a row at the top of the box office, including through the Labor Day long weekend.