What we make out of Crazy Rich Asians is what we’ll get out of it
Crazy Rich Asians has become our Rorschach test. It comes at an incredible time when the Great Asian Awakening has finally, permanently awakened. Some Asians are pissed, some are ecstatic and whatever feelings you have are likely based on how you feel about Asian-America.
For me, Crazy Rich Asians was my frustration and pain of constant rejections from a white-dominated publishing industry that wouldn’t accept Asian-based stories they felt were too “unsafe”. “Your writing is wonderful, but why can’t you write something more like Crazy Rich Asians?” My novels were light, funny, rom coms too, but I made a point to surround them with real issues our communities frequently discuss, issues that white America felt uncomfortable addressing or maybe flat-out had no interest.
In my Rorschach test, stories like Crazy Rich Asians or Celeste Ng’s ‘Everything I Never Told You’ represented a creative Jim Crow. If anyone wanted to create stories about deeper Asian issues, they would have to self-fund or find a small budget producer and find their works buried in Amazon, small playhouses or Netflix. This was initially my most biased reason I disliked Crazy Rich Asians. But being angry at it was like being mad at a white board and ink.
It’s unlikely Kevin Kwan ever intended to divide or be the voice of Asian communities in Westernized societies. He isn’t Asian Jesus nor is he a CIA puppet to drum up sinophobia. He’s simply a writer. The danger is not him nor his creation, but what Asians will ultimately do with his creation’s success. Part of the problem is that Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t surround itself with the social justice themes that Black Panther did.
“When our diverse voices are strong, you are strong.”
When Asians purchase a ticket to Crazy Rich Asians it’s a lottery ticket hoping a good box office hit will inspire Hollywood to take chances on more diverse Asian narratives. I, for one, am cynical on this because the bestseller success of the Crazy Rich Asians novel didn’t inspire big publishing companies to take on more assorted voices. What we got was, “this type of story sells, stick with this kind of story.”
However, there’re a lot of positives happening already with the hype of Crazy Rich Asians the movie. For one, it’s fantastic to see an all-Asian cast with a leading all- Asian romance. I know I’m personally happy seeing Asians dating Asians on the big screen. These things matter. I’m also very inspired by the immense amount of social media chatter that puts Asian-American representation as the forefront topic.
Topics like how Hollywood wanted to put a white actress to play the lead in Crazy Rich Asians instead of an Asian one. More Asian representations means more roles for the many talented and underappreciated Asian-American actors and actresses out there.
What we make of the Crazy Rich Asian Rorschach test is important. I don’t trust white America to win battles for us. If some of us don’t financially support Crazy Rich Asians out of spite, we take away our future power to have representation in the mainstream. I’m not crazy about the story, the goofy safe romcom genre is not my thing, but I will buy a ticket and see the movie for this reason alone. We’ve got to start somewhere even if it means dumping $12 into a movie with Ken Jeong.
However, for the other end of the spectrum, the ones who are super excited to see Crazy Rich Asians and will drag their friends to watch it, please also take this opportunity to drag your friends to support other Asian creative works too. This is important. Financially support our community’s many indie movies, plays, novels.
Let mainstream America know that Asian voices sell and not just the few Asian voices that white America approves. Asians are not a monolithic group. When our diverse voices are strong, you are strong. Hollywood has given us an inkblot test, and instead of a butterfly, we can tell them we see a rising Godzilla.