Crazy Rich Asians helped redefine representation in mainstream cinema. A Hollywood film that has an almost entirely Asian cast is unprecedented. Receiving positive reception from Asian audiences about representation was expected. And, of course, all Asians were represented in this film, right?
Crazy Rich Asians portrays mainly East Asians. The movie — which gets a second life this month on home video — features a heavily Chinese cast yet has been labelled a victory for the entire Asian community.
As a Filipino-Canadian, I noticed there was no one who represented my ethnicity. That fact alone has deterred me from seeing the movie.
There are Filipino actors, but they don’t portray Filipino characters. Nico Santos, a Filipino-American, plays Oliver T’sien, alongside Filipino actress Kris Aquino as the Malay princess, Intan. The film not only lacked a Filipino presence, but also an Indian, Tamil, Thai or Indonesian one – despite being set in Singapore.
What does this mean for Asian actors? Stylecaster.com writer Annie Lim points out the interchangeability of Asian actors.
“Sure, the physical appearance might be similar, and there are times when even Asians aren’t sure what ethnicity other Asians are, but nothing else lines up,” Lim notes.
What do these physical requirements mean for Southeast Asian actors who cannot fit an “East-Asian” look?
Will we never be properly represented? And if we are, will it be in movies with little lasting cultural impact, like Slumdog Millionaire or Life of Pi? Will we ever see these actors taking on a starring role again?
As the Guardian observed, “a key criticism of (Crazy Rich Asians) is that it entirely erases the 15 per cent of those in Singapore who are Malay and the 6.6 per cent who are Indian.”
Even as a young girl, growing up watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, I would attempt to fit myself into Trini, the yellow ranger; or Disney’s Mulan, both Chinese. I’ve always tried to reason that it’s fine; as long as they’re “Asian.” But I can’t completely see myself reflected in them. I am not Chinese. I am not Japanese. I am not Korean. I am Filipino.
By no means am I bashing Crazy Rich Asians. It is, after all, a film that has changed the face of representation in Hollywood. But it is also too much of a burden on this film to represent a victory for all Asians.