Crazy Rich Asians: Representation for the Little Red Dot (Guest blog)

I am yet to see Crazy Rich Asians, a movie that has been hailed by celebrities such as Chrissy Teigan for FINALLY shining the limelight on a more diverse pool of talent. Ever since I heard about it, however, I was (and still am!) hugely excited to see the Little Red Dot that I called home for so many years be glittering on the big screen for people all over the world to see. Speaking to Greg Sim, my long time great pal and born and bred Singaporean, however, I realised my thoughts are somewhat redundant on the matter- I have never struggled to see myself physically reflected in characters on the big screen due to my ethnicity. That brings us to something slightly different on this blog- what follows are Greg’s thoughts about the movie and what it meant for his desires for Singapore and Singaporean talent. As an Asian actor himself, Greg’s dreams of finding success in the industry hinge as much on the diversification of the arts as his own drive and talent. Enjoy!

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Two weeks after the highly-buzzed about premiere of Crazy Rich Asians at the U.S. Box Office, which opened to spectacular reviews and astounding results, I found myself standing in line at the local movie theatre’s ticket booth behind an older Caucasian lady. Looking to buy tickets, but clearly having forgotten the name of the movie, this lady simply asked to see “the one with the Asians in it”. Even if it weren’t for the hype surrounding this majorly ground-breaking film for modern Hollywood, I am certain that the lady behind the counter would still have been instantly able to figure out what her customer meant. After all, how many commercial Hollywood films do we see today that feature Asian cast members in principle roles and dominating the ensemble? Partly what makes Crazy Rich Asians so ground-breaking is that it, in many ways, is the first film of its kind.

In fact, the last major Hollywood studio film featuring an all-Asian cast was released almost 25 years ago. In terms of my life, I was born in 1994, and celebrated my birthday about a month before CRA hit the theatre screen. So, the first time I have ever felt represented in a commercial film was only after my 24th birthday. Prior to that, I had never seen someone who looks like me on a big screen in a major Hollywood movie, something most white people will never be able to relate to. Let that sink in…

Having said all of this, I was incredibly fortunate to have been born and raised in Singapore, where obviously us Asians are the majority, and so I never truly focused on not feeling represented in mainstream media- I was represented in almost every face I saw in my everyday life, so didn’t have much cause to worry. The struggle with representation rings more true for many Asian-Americans and Asians who grew up in other parts of the world outside of Asia. Since I moved to America just over a year ago to pursue bigger dreams of being a performer, the conversation of diversity and representation in the arts has taken a much bigger role in my life. Every Asian face I see on screen or on stage, I take notice. I Google their names to find out about their careers, social media stalk them, and memorise their names and faces. Every audition I go to, I worry I won’t get cast because of the colour of my skin- but we won’t dwell on my personal psychological insecurities…let’s move on.

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The haters will negate this movement for more representation, pointing to Hollywood films that feature prominent characters played by actors of Asian descent – Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour films, Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, Maggie Q in Nikita, Ken Jeong in the Hangover films- we have plenty of Asian icons to look up to, right? This may be true, but I would argue that Asians in Hollywood have never been represented as three-dimensional human beings with stories that every audience member sitting in a movie theatre can relate to, and we have instead seen the rise of token Asian characters, primarily defined by their Asian-ness and nothing else.

So, did Crazy Rich Asians do it for me in terms of interesting, three dimensional portrayal of Asian characters? Crazy Rich Asians dives into the lives of the super-rich, the top 1% that hide in their mansions hidden by lush greenery, hang out at exclusive invite-only clubs, and never get on a public transport system – living their lives very much separate from us peasants. Sure, that is far from the everyday human experience. The experiences shared on screen, however, are extremely relatable human experiences. Finally, we see 3D Asian characters with fleshed out backs stories and character traits that do NOT involve fighting bad guys off with their dazzling martial arts skills, dealing politely and submissively towards rude customers from behind an IT-help desk, or trying hard to communicate with other people in broken English and a heavy foreign accent.

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I personally don’t think the film itself is first-rate. I loved the book and rarely find film adaptions of books I’ve read to be on par, but if you want to see beautiful Asians on a big screen in stellar cinematography, go see this movie! Crazy Rich Asians is definitely a step in the right direction for representation in Hollywood. Not only has it surpassed the $100M mark and is continuing to climb, but it has proved to be most successful studio rom-com in nine years, proving the need and want for all types of stories to be told. Surely, in the wake of its success, many have expressed their thoughts about the underrepresentation of all types of Asians. Let’s be real, Asia is a huge ass continent with billions of people who fall into many different categories of nationalities, races, and cultures – and one movie cannot have the burden of representing the biggest continent on our planet. Let’s just hope that this will open the door to all types of stories to be told on the commercial stage, because every one of those stories when told in an empathic and representative manner, will help every one of us understand each other better – especially in the world we live in today.

Written by: Greg Sim

 https://wanderforcolour.wordpress.com/

Greg is a Singaporean national in the USA pursuing the bright lights of Broadway! Follow his blog on the link above to read all about his (truly crazy and sometimes unbelievable) adventures.

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