What Crazy Rich Asians Means To Me

Crazy Rich Asians

When I first read Crazy Rich Asians in 2013, I found it super amusing and thought the story would make a good movie. I even imagined Crystal Liu and Joe Cheng in the roles of Rachel Chu and Nick Young. Of course Hollywood being what it was at the time, I quickly dismissed that thought. The book was wildly successful with over a million copies sold in more than 20 languages and as time passed and there were some rumblings that it might be developed into a film but I didn't expect it to actually happen. At one point there was news that they want to change the central female character in Crazy Rich Asians into a white woman which would've undermined the film’s central narrative not to mention it was ludicrous.

Thanks to the persistence and dedication of author Kevin Kwan and the production team, the Crazy Rich Asians film was finally made and released last month where it has since gone on to become the most successful Hollywood studio romantic comedy in nearly a decade at the North American box office and it also just surpassed Oceans 8 to become the highest grossing film for Warner Bros. for the entire year. This success validates the fact that diversity and different types of stories matter. The lack of Asian representation in film has been an ongoing problem in Hollywood. It's not surprising that a recent study revealed that Asians are the least represented racial group in the media. As the first studio movie in over 20 years to feature an all Asian cast, the last one was The Joy Luck  Club in 1993, there was an intense amount of scrutiny and expectation on Crazy Rich Asians to perform. Had it failed it might've just present another opportunity for Hollywood to continue to dismiss Asians, Asian society and culture. #GoldOpen happened and Crazy Rich Asians became a breakthrough in more ways than one and it’s proving that audiences want to see diverse stories.

Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Rich Asians Movie

I was unexpectedly invested and emotional when it comes to this film. I identify as an American born Chinese instead of an Asian American. Yes there is a difference and it is a deliberate choice in establishing my Chinese cultural identity over being American (besides that's nothing to be proud of these days). I was born in New York and lived in Taiwan during my childhood. My first language was Mandarin which was replaced by Cantonese which was spoken in our household. Chinese culture was ingrained into me and it was just a way of life. I grew up with a steady diet of Hong Kong music and TVB dramas which my Mom was obsessed with it. To be honest I was kind of obsessed as well. Those people looked like me and I could identify with them. I watched American television and films too but they never had the same appeal. There would be flashes of Asians here and there but they certainly didn't represent me. And here now in Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu is a professionally ambitious ABC who lives in New York City.  She might just be too American to be Asian and too Asian to be American. That's me too.

Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Rich Asians Movie

I know who I'm and I'm proud of of it. I'm not whitewashed nor have I ever wished to be white like some of my Asian American friends. It's sad to have to turn your back on who you are but I can see why it happens. I experienced plenty of racism growing up and when feeling marginalized and ostracized, you can choose to reject your identity or make it a point of pride and strength. I never wished to not be Asian and made me more invested in my Asian identity and culture. My life is a convergence of cultures but to this day, I still don't feel like I really belong anywhere. It certainly doesn't help that I regularly get comments/questions like "Wow your English is really good" “Where are you from?”... “Where are you really from?”And people will keep pressing because there's no way that someone who looks like me could be from New York. And conversely when I go shopping in Chinatown or eat at Chinese restaurants, the Chinese staff would look down on me if I speak English instead of Chinese like how could you not even know how to speak Chinese. I've definitely noticed that I'm  treated a lot better when I just fully converse in Chinese in these situations.

Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Rich Asians Movie

Because there have been so few, whenever  there is a new portrayal of an Asian character in film or on television, there are is anticipation - will it be racist? will it be stereotypical? will it be authentic? will it be positive? There was a lot was riding on Crazy Rich Asians. My Taiwanese immigrant husband and I felt it was important to support Crazy Rich Asians because this could be our only chance at any type of media representation and that we need to help drive the change. Crazy Rich Asians isn't perfect by any means but the film manages to bridge mainstream Asian culture with the diaspora and portray Asians in a positive and non-stereotypical way on film.  There are definitely problems with some of the casting which still revolves around the Hollywood belief that Asians are interchangeable. They're not and we don't look alike. Each Asian group actually has it's own unique culture and history which informs it's identity. To think that they are easily interchangeable is reductive and insulting. And Asians hate to hear their own language butchered. Constance Wu's Mandarin was atrociously bad by the way (not a fan of her). I just hope this means that there will be more movies with Asian casts and they will won't be considered different anymore. The momentum that was built here needs to be sustained.

Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Rich Asians Movie

As Asians we shouldn't need a movie to validate to our culture or our presence but representation does matter and it is powerful to see people that look like you on the big screen when it's something that you're just not used to.  Even though a film about Asia's 1% doesn't' necessarily represent all Asian experiences, most Asians could find something to relate to. For me it was the cultural nuances.  The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians does indeed mark a watershed moment as there was this belief that our social value and that of the entire Asian American community hinged upon the reception of this film.  And that’s just how complicated it is to be an Asian in the Western world.

Footnote: My husband who isn't much for rom coms enjoyed the movie so much that he started reading the book afterwards. It's the cutest thing! For as much love I have for Crazy Rich Asians, I can't say the same about To All The Boys I Loved Before. It absolutely cannot and should not be held in the same regard as Crazy Rich Asians. It is part of the problem, not the solution, in continuing to perpetuate the myth that Asian men are inferior to white men.  Also how can a movie with just one main POC character be considered as equally groundbreaking or as diverse as a movie with an entire cast of POC characters?

19 comments

  1. Amazing post!
    Have a nice end of the week!
    Gil Zetbase

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  2. Hear hear, my friend:) Thank you for this wonderful and well-written post, Rowena. Although I didn't have the same experience as you (not born in Canada but came here at a young age), I feel the same way as you do in regards to experiences of an Asian here in North America. I remember this girl in high school who came just a year before our family here in TO, and refused to speak our native language because she wanted to be "Canadian" so badly. You can be a Canadian without abandoning your cultural heritage, and the same for Americans who have a richer heritage of immigration IMO.
    I have yet to see this film coz I want to read the book first, but am certainly looking forward to it:)
    PS LOL on the To All The Boys comment. People are telling me to watch it but I have resisted:P

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  3. Loved reading this! I too saw the film and really enjoyed it. Also, I am from Flushing, Queens (my mother still lives there) and so have a particular connection with Chinese culture:)
    Looking forward to seeing you back in our store!
    -Stefanie @ LaserAway

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  4. I couldn't agree more with you on the footnote - I thought the movie was 'cute' but definitely not comparable to CRA!

    What you said about how we identify ourselves resonates with me in a big deal. For me, a big part of my life here was about my efforts to assimilate and learn, but I've become to focus on who I am and how I see myself as well. I find myself neither this nor that but I am completely fine with it, and maybe that's what this movie is about.

    Oh, I forgot to talk to you about this last time - when we went to the movie, there were two non-Asian ladies seated next to us and they are so absorbed in the movie and teared up seeing the wedding scene, not to mention the theater was full with more of non-Asian people. I think this is one of those movies that makes me read the books later. It's on my reading list. :)

    Thanks for this wonderfully written article. Wish you a great weekend! <3

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  5. It's nice to read a post like this from you Rowena. I agree, and have obviously dealt with a lot of racism growing up, being a multi-racial person, which I am very proud of but there is still stigma and mircoagression surrounding/toward biracial and multiracial people. I am glad that they were able to get an all Asian cast for this film. As for Hollywood, there is still a long way to go with racial issues, especially for people of colour, namely African, Asian, latina, black, etc. and stereotypes that surround them. My mum has English-Filipino Chinese heritage and has gotten the English speaking comment often from caucasion people. In all, we should be proud of our heritage no matter where you are in the world. Have a great weekend.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this Rowena. I read the book and loved it so much, I am yet to see the film myself but it is definitely one I am going to watch (I don't even go to movies anymore!). The success of this film doesn't surprise me one bit. I knew it was going to exceed expectations, regardless of whether it was going to be great or not. The support behind it was phenomenal, especially in Australia. I do hope this will open more doors for diversity.

    Sxx
    daringcoco.com
    enter my jord watch giveaway

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  7. Hollywood has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, but I'm so excited to see this movie!

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  8. It never occurred to me to see To All The Boys in a similar light than Crazy Rich Asians. One is a historical milestone, the other one a nice Netflix pastime?

    Anne - Linda, Libra, Loca

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  9. Such an interesting post Rowena, I would like to read that book!
    Kisses, Paola.

    Expressyourself

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  10. Oh I loved Crazy Rich Asians.. I hadn't read the book and I understand what you are saying.. I was born in he states but spent a large part of my teenage years in Pakistan.. and we were referred to as ABCD's (American Born Confused Desi's) Since I had spent so much of my childhood in the states when we moved to Pakistan I didn't fit in.. and now that I am back in the states sometimes we feel we still don't fit in.. and on screen we are usually represented as awkward nerds, terrorists or people who hate being brown and want desperately to be white. :(

    http://www.henatayeb.blogspot.com

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  11. After reading your post I would love to read the book and see the movie. Both sound interesting! Have a great week Rowena!

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  12. Absolutely loved this post Rowena! My childhood was similar to yours in that I spent some years in Taiwan where I really learned to love and appreciate the Chinese culture. I agree that the movie wasn't perfect (Constance Wu's mandarin made me cringe), it's such step forward and I'm hoping the progress will only continue. Also agree with you on what you said about All The Boys I Ever Loved, it's why I can't be bothered to watch it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Jenny // Geeky Posh

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  13. I agree with so many of your points here! It certainly wasn't a perfect movie in representing Asians, but actually was much better than I thought. Of course it contained all the rom-com elements, but it also depicted the different types of Asians well (ahem, poor ABCs that are neither here nor there culturally). I also loved how an ABC was able to show how she was NOT selfishly, stereotypically American and understood true filial piety.
    I also loved the diverse cast and applaud how several different Asian ethnicities were cast, though sadly not explicitly depicted. The hunky guys also cast aside any conception of Asian guys!

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  14. Rowena, I admire you even more after this post. Unfortunately, dont know the movie or the book and is a shame, Id like to read the book first to know and get better the point. But I want to tell you a thing, I can't imagine all the problems you could suffer growing up for racism and is so so unfair and bad, I still dont understand why a race consider itself better and another lower. I always told you that I admire Asian culture and like it a lot, I think Asian women are among the most beautiful with unique hair and skin, I try to stalk every their secret about their skincare in fact lol! And you know, I always wanted to have a multi-racial culture as well, somthing to really be proud of, share and spread. Id like to meet you one day also.
    Happy Monday my dearest! xo

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  15. I've been planning to see this film, so it's great to know that you liked it. I still haven't read the book...But it's great that the movie turned out to be pretty close to the way the author imagined the story and the way it was presented in the book and not whitewashed as some other films.

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  16. What an interesting post, so engaging to read and especially as I know you personally. I am about half way through the book and totally enjoying it! I want to see the film but am trying to finish the book first. I hear you about not feeling at home anywhere. I have never felt at home here. I just do not identify with the typical American. I never have, not sure why. Even as kid I use to say I was going to move to Canada. And when I was older I wanted to move to Europe.

    I left New York and moved to Seattle and for the first time I identified with something...I was a New Yorker...hahaha. People in the PNW are very different from New Yorkers. More or less the polar opposite. Passive aggressive, indirect, cold and they only talk about surface things like the weather. Um it rains lets move on. That was one of the reasons I moved back to NY, I didn't like the people. But I remember thinking at the time, wow this must just be a taste of what it is like to move another country and or be an immigrant.

    Allie of
    www.allienyc.com

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  17. Thank you ti show me this interesting Story
    Kisses

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  18. Now I see I have to read this book! Thanks a lot for sharing this post and your words that bring everything to the point.
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena
    www.dressedwithsoul.com

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  19. Love your ideas about this topic. I never heard of this book before, to be honest, but it seems quite interesting haha.

    GoBestShops👗 | Wish.com Review
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