FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“Crazy Rich Asians:” A Triumph of Representation, Almost

The new film Crazy Rich Asians is a triumph of representation in Hollywood. It’s the first film in a quarter century to have an all-Asian cast.

Crazy Rich Asians is wonderful, on so many levels. It’s a charming and fun movie with a great cast. For the characters, Chinese culture is not foreign, as Chinese culture is often portrayed in movies aimed at white audiences.

The value of having an all-Asian cast shouldn’t be understated.

The film shows diversity in personalities, showing that there’s not just one way to be Asian, just as there’s not only one way to be any ethnicity. The characters are all Asian, but they’re going through universal human problems that everyone can relate to.

Often Hollywood chooses a white person as the hero or protagonist in the story, and then casts a token person of color or two in a supporting role. For example, the main characters of Harry Potter are all white, but he has a black classmate, crushes on a Chinese girl, and asks an Indian girl to the Yule Ball.

For white audiences, this feels normal and right. If you’re white, you feel like the protagonist in your own life. The people around you may include people of color, but like everyone else who’s not you, they’re supporting characters.

It seems like Hollywood only casts more than a token number of people of color if there’s a plot-driven reason. Hidden Figures, Selma, and other films about anti-black racism need black actors to play black characters fighting racism.

The same is be true of sexual minorities. And here’s where I think that Crazy Rich Asians makes a misstep.

If you’re writing a film about a gay character coming out, then you need a gay character. If it’s simply a story about an action hero, well…. Why would an action hero need to be gay? So they aren’t. The action hero is straight.

Otherwise, minority characters play stereotypes: the Latina maid, the Chinese kung fu master, or the nerdy smart Asian kid.

And, coming to my point… the flamboyant, hilarious gay best friend.

In Crazy Rich Asians, a character named Oliver plays this role. He’s funny, he’s flaming, and he provides the main character with fashion help when she needs it.

Just like there’s more than one way to be Asian, there’s more than one way to be gay. Not all gay men lisp, obsess over fashion, and overuse the word “fabulous.” Not all gay women wear flannel and drive Subarus.

When we’re protagonists in films, it’s because the plot centers on something straight people recognize as gay: coming out, conversion therapy, or same-sex romance.

But just like Chinese people don’t exist for white people’s entertainment, gay and bisexual people don’t exist for straight people’s entertainment.

The character of Oliver is hilarious and entertaining. But it feels to me like a gay version of minstrelsy. Our identities shouldn’t be someone else’s comic relief.

Lack of representation in Hollywood drives home the point that straight, white people are truly human, undergoing the whole range of human experiences and emotions, and the rest of us are two-dimensional stereotypes.

We play supporting parts in a straight, white world. We’re tokens. We’re not fully human.

Movies and TV reflect our world, but they also shape how we see it. For people of color and LGBT people, the world of Hollywood doesn’t reflect our real world experiences — but it does shape how others in the real world perceive us.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail