Everything You Need to Read Before Watching Crazy Rich Asians

Saturday, August 4, 2018

P H O T O  B Y  W A R N E R   B R O S   S T U D I O

To preface this little pre-screening syllabus, I am fucking thrilled that Crazy Rich Asians marks the milestone in Asian America that it does, and if I were a philanthropist I would buy out theatres across the country for free screenings so that all the cheap Asian parents feel less guilty about going to the cinema. But what I find most interesting about the moment is the surrounding discourse! From Asian Americans inadvertently crying at the early screenings (I feel you! I cried all the way through 'The King and I' on Broadway!) to Singaporeans reminding us that caricatured representation is not the equivalent of progressive representation to concerns of colorism, we finally have a stage (or screen, hehe) on which to discuss issues of cultures and identity, but also fashion, food, romance, and all the other delicious topics in which we are often denied participation. We have serious conversations about representation, yes, but CRA also gets to be fun and frothy, and that's the point.

Finally, this should go without saying, but please also read the trilogy!

The Stakes Are High for 'Crazy Rich Asians' -- And That's the Point | Rebecca Sun and Rebecca Ford for The Hollywood Reporter 
In April, an unheard-of four months before release, the studio hosted a tastemakers screening at downtown L.A.'s Theatre at Ace Hotel for 1,200 people, most of them Asian-American. Audible sniffles were heard throughout the darkened theater as the romantic comedy played out onscreen.
"When they do screenings, a lot of Asian-American people have this overwhelming urge to cry. And they don't know exactly why," says Awkwafina.
Still, the creatives behind Crazy Rich Asians know that the marketability and near-future prospects of an entire community's body of work likely hinge on their perceived success or failure. "We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there's one example to point to, and that'll be us," says Chu. "To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that's what we asked for." 
'Asians, ew gross': How the 'Crazy Rich Asians' movie could help change stereotypes about Asian men | Allyson Chiu for The Washington Post
In Psychology Today, Louie wrote that these stereotypes will only continue to be perpetuated unless Asian men are cast in leading romantic roles in the mainstream media.
Louie told The Post that if “Crazy Rich Asians” can “generate enough buzz,” the film could allow people to see Asians and Asian Americans not as comedic relief, but in roles that showcase a full range of emotions. He said he hopes to one day see Asian men rise above the ingrained perceptions tied to their race.
Why 'Crazy Rich Asians' Isn't Really A Win For Diverse Representation | Kristen Han
The story of Crazy Rich Asians — and the racialization of “crazy rich” behavior, as if batshit insane extravagance doesn’t happen elsewhere — also does little to combat the Othering of Singapore and Asia. Reading the book was a strange experience; while I knew it was about my home, there was very little in it that I found recognizable, which is why I have little hope that the film will help anyone see Singapore as anything more than “kooky Asia,” stuffed with materialistic, flamboyant billionaires with bedazzled lifestyles.
Kwan, the author, is free to write whatever he likes. The director Chu, too, should be free to make any film he wants. It would be unrealistic — and undesirable — to expect Singaporean writers to write only one way, because Singapore can mean so many things to so many people. But touting Crazy Rich Asians as some sort of progressive win is false, especially in a context when there are already so few nuanced representations of Singapore and Asia in Western media. And when someone as lovely and woke as Constance Wu is saying that this is “a very important story to tell,” we see a divergence in the priorities of Asian-American people of color and Asians in Asia.
Why You Shouldn't Watch the 'Crazy Rich Asians' Movie | Benny Phi
Crazy Rich Asians sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for Asian actors by throwing a progressive illusion over the industry. By lauding a light-skinned Asian cast as progressive and groundbreaking for film, they set a colorist standard for what Asianness looks like on the big screen. As a result, the concerns of dark-skinned Asians are sidestepped by conservative film critics who argue that Jon Chu’s film should have been enough to satisfy their anger; yet, the reality is that it never did.
Related: The Significance of Skin Color in Asian and Asian American Communities | Trina Jones
In their investigations of skin-tone discrimination among Asian Americans,Joanne Rondilla and Paul Spickard also attest to the importance of skin color as an indicator of class in Japan and elsewhere in Asia, observing that “longstanding preferences for light skin, especially in women,” exist in all Asian countries. They note that in “almost every country in Asia, the celebrity class, and especially movie stars, are noticeably lighter and taller, with more angular features, than the general population.”Importantly, while concluding that “colorism in Asia is a class imperative . . . to be light is to be rich, for dark skin comes from working outside in the sun." 
Lainey, For Real:  'China Rich Girlfriend' and Chinese Lit | Elaine Liu for Flare
Of course those stories have value. Of course they are important. Because every culture wants to be understood and respected. Which is why, for so long, our stories have been told so… seriously. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be taken seriously. I feel like that focus on profundity is not unlike what female actors have been pushing up against in film and television recently. It’s the curious case of the Strong Female Character. Does she always have to be “strong”? Can’t she be complicated? Morally compromised? Irrevocably flawed? Similarly, does the Asian story always have to feature an Asian character who finds the answers in a magical piece of jade after a cup of jasmine and ginger tea? Books like Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend celebrate, even revel in, our superficiality. And that is totally OK. If white people can have both Steinbeck and Gossip Girl, why can’t we? 
I also want to talk about this meme (source unknown because I saved it weeks ago), and remind y'all that it is indeed possible to care about multiple things of varying intensity! I have an essay/manifesto on this that's not publishable because it is a little angry but please email me if you want to read it! The end!


With great love,
LC

PS,
A think piece on Crazy Rich Asians, Bao, filial piety, and romantic relationships forthcoming! Hopefully!

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