‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is not our ‘Black Panther’

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(WarnerBros.com)

I know there’s this hope that CRA is going to be our Black Panther. I see a lot of exuberance surrounding it. We did it! We’re finally on screen! We’re represented by actual Asian people! It’s a whole movie of us!

(Instagram/Ronny Chieng)

At the same time, I see a lot of negativity around it. I’ve heard complaints that it perpetuates certain stereotypes about Asians (i.e. we’re all smart and wealthy) and colorism. I’ve heard critiques that it glazes over the history of Chinese in Singapore.

And I want to draw attention to the danger of one story. We absolutely MUST stop this implicit hope in Asian American cinema and media that a single piece of work is going to perfectly represent us all. We also must challenge ourselves to find the beauty in what one story can accomplish.

So here is where I stand:

CRA is not our Black Panther. Whereas Black Panther was an exciting and inspiring vision of what an African country could be like without the violence of colonialsm, Crazy Rich Asians is…about Asians who are crazy rich. That’s it. Most of us aren’t anywhere close to being that wealthy.

We don’t deserve an Asian equivalent of Black Panther yet either. Too many of us don’t even like talking with each other. Too many of us don’t actually care about being “Asian American”. Too many of us have only white friends. We as Asian Americans need to do work to build solidarity with each other before we are ready for an “Asian American film” in the vein of Black Panther.

What CRA can be is at best the film Asian Americans NEED to start exploring Asian America. In fact, it might be the perfect film to do that. Asian Americans are an extremely broad and diverse group. We come in a variety of skin tones, nationalities, education levels, wealth, political leanings, languages, cultures, and familiarity with America. If we can talk about who is not represented in CRA, we would be able to share and hear so many different perspectives.

Here are some topics that we can (and should) dive into using CRA as a starting point:

  • Chinese colonialism in SE Asia
  • European colonialism in SE Asian (and other parts of Asia)
  • Cultural Whitewashing of Asians
  • Light-skinned Asian privilege
  • The significance and representation of dark-skinned Asians
  • Intra-Asian racism
  • Family and status / prestige
  • Family and relationships
  • Tiger parents
  • Chinese privilege in Asia
  • Sexy Asian male lead?
  • Characterization of Asian women
  • Asian American identity (this film mostly takes place across an ocean. Not much of an “Asian American” situation)
  • Model Minority stereotypes
  • Stereotypes about how wealthy Asians are
  • Stereotypes about how educated Asians are

If CRA got Asian Americans talking about colonialism and colorism within the Asian countries that shaped our personal histories, it would be a huge step to Asian American unity.

So can we take a break from shitting on it to take a W?

Can we take a moment from exuberance and talk about its shortcomings?

Can we come together and imagine some ways the next work of this sort could improve on CRA?

Look I even made a chart to help you see both sides.

Ws for WINS as in MULTIPLE

Problematic Areas that are Highlighted*

  • ALL ASIAN CAST
    • CONSTANCE WU
    • AWKWAFINA
    • HENRY GOLDING
    • MICHELLE YEOH
  • Sexy Asian men!
  • An Asian male and an Asian woman on screen! Together! I’m assuming there’s some kind of consensual sex scene!
  • Asian women who aren’t the “prize” for a white male conquering Asia (idk, I’m assuming the female lead has agency)
  • Seriously, can you think of a Hollywood film where it featured all Asian Americans?
  • Perpetuates idea that Asians are upwardly mobile and “all Asians are rich”
  • The family is rich specifically because of colorism and colonialism and the labor of poor Singaporeans
  • A lot of talk about status and chasing it
  • The actors are all light-skinned Asians
  • Am I wrong in saying that a film set in Singapore can’t be that Asian American?

*Yeah, I know the full film hasn’t come out yet. These problematic areas I don’t anticipate being resolved or explained away in the film.

Crazy Rich Asians isn’t our “Asian Black Panther”, but it can be a cultural artifact that is unique to Asian Americans: the film that brings us into the same room, talking about being Asian American in the many different ways we can be Asian American.

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