The Aftermath of Crazy Rich Asians: Perspectives from the Slant’d Team

 
 The cast of  Crazy Rich Asians , shot by Rozette Rago for the New York Times

The cast of Crazy Rich Asians, shot by Rozette Rago for the New York Times

It’s been two weeks since Crazy Rich Asians hit the big screen and we at Slant’d are still riding the high of this historic movie smashing box office sales. Our team’s text messages, Instagram DM’s, and Slack channel are proof that we can’t get enough of the glowing coverage. And, as storytelling nerds, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the cast’s personal stories about the road to the jade carpet. Their journeys grounded the glitz and glam in shared values and experiences, giving us another reason to celebrate the success of the Asian American community.

In the undercurrent of this buzz lies an intriguing observation: while the focus of week one was all fireworks and waterworks, recent press has brought to light the movie’s darker implications, and has surfaced nuanced perspectives that have left us feeling a bit more introspective than usual.

 

Why CRA is a BFD for Asian Americans

The optimists and the skeptics have both spoken. While we’re not here to defend either side, we are of the opinion that Crazy Rich Asians has had a catalytic impact on the Asian American community. Long before the film hit theaters, Crazy Rich Asians felt like a high stakes bet for everyone involved, including Asian American movie goers. It felt like we, too, had skin in the game because the movie’s arena is so deeply personal. As a result, the movie’s success became intrinsically intertwined with our success as a community — together, we held one long collective breath on opening weekend, praying that the numbers would work out in our favor.

As it turns out, the numbers are phenomenal. Crazy Rich Asians has brought in $76.8 million domestically since its debut, but this never-before-seen demonstration of solidarity piqued our curiosity. Why did it feel so deeply personal for us? Was it fair to place such high pressure on one movie to be the be-all end-all for our community? Is it really even our fault that we felt this way?

In the New York Times article, “Asian Americans need more movies, even mediocre ones”, Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and fellow #badasian) Viet Thanh Nguyen connects the concept of “narrative plentitude” to the burden of representation that has been thrust upon Crazy Rich Asians. He writes:

I, and most other Asian Americans, grew up living in the opposite of ‘narrative plentitude.’ We live in an economy of narrative scarcity, in which we feel deprived and must fight to tell our own stories and fight against the stories that distort or erase us.
— Viet Thanh Nguyen

Because we rarely see ourselves reflected in mainstream narratives, it IS a BFD when one finally makes it. Frustrated from having tired tropes, stereotypes, and one-sided interpretations assigned to our identities, we not-so-secretly hope that maybe this time this movie, TV show, book, or play will finally do our stories justice. But as Nguyen says, this isn’t fair given that we exist in a scarcity of narratives. We can’t expect one story to represent an entire demographic, especially one as diverse and nuanced as the Asian American community.

For the sake of sparking provocative dialogue, we’re excited to surface some topics and questions that we’re currently navigating as a result of Crazy Rich Asians. We hope that they challenge you to assess your relationships with the Asian American community, other people of color, and your own identity — because if there’s anything personal storytelling has taught us, it’s that breakthroughs are born from discomfort.

  Crazy Rich Asians  Illustration by Alex Kim // @akimdesigns

Crazy Rich Asians Illustration by Alex Kim // @akimdesigns

Topic #1: The realization that we’ve been waiting for this movie for far too long

As minorities, we feel a deep hunger to be seen. To witness leading characters who look and speak like us, and to feel like insiders during pivotal moments triggered a realization for many of us: Crazy Rich Asians was a movie we had been wishing for all along. In addition, the fact that “our” movie was enjoyed by both Asians and non-Asians was the validation we needed to spark cultural pride in an identity that many of us pushed away for decades.

I ugly cried through almost the entire second half of this movie. Seeing all Asian faces on screen, the diversity of Asians represented, and realizing that I had subconsciously wished for something like this growing up… this movie gave me ALL. THE. FEELS.
— Tessa Ku, Slant'd Head of Digital

Topic #2: The unspoken sexual prejudice against Asian men

Within the first 20 minutes of Crazy Rich Asians, movie goers were graced with a drool-worthy shot of Pierre Png’s beautifully chiseled abs. I personally almost lost it; it was the first time that I ogled at an Asian man on screen. It made me realize a few things: one, that more Asian men need to be half naked on screen, and two, that it was the first time Asian men were portrayed as sexy, attractive, and desirable.

It also got me thinking about modern dating and the concept of male masculinity. I’ve had many friends, both Asian and non-Asian, both male and female-identifying, tell me that they’re just not into Asian guys. That it’s simply just their “preference.”  As someone who’s only ever dated Asian men, I’ve always found that excuse mind-boggling, and it wasn’t until I watched this recent episode of MTV’s “Decoded” that I realized how historically rooted, damaging, and traumatizing this type of institutionalized racism is.

Crazy Rich Asians’ portrayal of Asian men helps to chip away at the sexual prejudice that many people express when they say that “Asian men are not attractive.” I started to witness this happen in the theatre when one of my white friends exclaimed that Henry Goulding was so hot. I hope that as a society, we start questioning our “preferences” and start to look at Asian men — and other people of color — on a more equal footing.

 

Topic #3: Appropriation and the tension between Asian and Black communities

Many fans have cited Peik Lin, hilariously played by Chinese-Korean-American rapper Awkwafina as the true star of the movie. She’s a fan favorite here at Slant’d (#bokbokbitches), so we’ve found it pretty interesting to see recent articles criticizing the Queens-born actress and rapper:

I’ve had some discussions about Awkwafina’s character appropriating Black culture, which sparks a larger conversation about appropriation across Black and Asian culture (it goes both ways). It’s a confusing topic, and I’m honestly not sure where I stand on it.
— Amber Luan, Slant'd Head of Merchandising

When you grow up as a hyphenated group in a country that constantly questions our own sense of belonging, reconciling your identity becomes exponentially more challenging. Never feeling like a true “American” while also feeling like an outsider in the “Motherland,” Asian Americans are constantly being pulled between opposite poles. The monolithic definition of “Asian American” is nebulous at best, and more often that not, it sows confusion and unspoken bias within the community (see: colorism).

When the definition of our identities is murky, it shouldn’t be surprising when our generation of hyphenated individuals decides to take matters into their own hands. There is much to unpack when it comes to the concept of a self-made identity and the impact that external forces have on the shape of that identity. For Awkwafina, she chooses to define her identity as one rooted in her Queens upbringing. She chooses to incorporate Black culture into her own because that was her reality growing up — and if it’s what she identifies with, who’s to deny that part of her truth?

 

Topic #4: How do we improve representation in other areas beyond film and entertainment?

As people of color, we’re constantly fighting against stereotypes, fighting to be included, and fighting to be seen. Underneath the buzz of Crazy Rich Asians is a groundswell of Asian Americans creators who are carving out spaces for more diverse stories to flourish.

Director Jon M. Chu got flack for calling this movie a movement. This criticism is anchored in the belief that calling Crazy Rich Asians a movement diminishes the work of other projects in the community. We don’t agree with this sentiment, but we recognize there is some truth at its core.

As a grassroots, Kickstarter-backed company, we know first hand that many of us are out there hustling to bring diverse representation into the world. Whether it’s through art, literature, media, community groups, nonprofits, or political groups, the Asian American community is actively building things to make real change. Each and every one of these initiatives is contributing to the greater movement — and Crazy Rich Asians is no exception.

Crazy Rich Asians is our Trojan Horse. It cleverly presented a story that was palatable to both Asians and non-Asians, which was the cost of entry. Now, armed with quantifiable success, the movie has kicked down the door to allow for more Asian American projects to flourish. It’s giving us permission to swarm the fortress and show the world that we have something to say.

 

Topic #5: Is Crazy Rich Asians our silver bullet? How do we continue this momentum?

Many of us got the chills from seeing the community rally together for a #goldopen because it shattered the perception that the Asian American community was fragmented beyond repair.

From organizations buying out entire theaters, to people doing giveaways to gift a pair of tickets to someone else, to all the rallying cries on social media — I felt, for the first time, what it was like to experience solidarity within our community.
— Katerina Jeng, Slant’d co-founder and CEO

A week after Crazy Rich Asians debuted, Searching, featuring #badasian John Cho, hit theatres — but was released to significantly less fanfare. Some have criticized the Asian American community for not “showing up” to support the film, causing people to question the authenticity of the community’s commitment to true solidarity.

The reality is simple: not all of us will have the privilege and luxury of having a PR machine behind us. We’ll have to depend on the support of our fellow Asian American brothers, sisters, and allies, to show up. The more we put ourselves out there, the more there will be to celebrate.

 Image by Rosie at @thehustlingmama

Image by Rosie at @thehustlingmama

 

So what now?

Well, that remains to be seen.

We know that Crazy Rich Asians has its shortcomings, but in the grand scheme of things, we love and support the film, and everything it represents for our community. Most importantly, we feel an overwhelming sense of optimism about the path in front of us. As fellow Asian American creators, we recognize that the movie’s success is the first of many steps in the journey to achieving more diverse and intricate Asian American representation. As a media company that celebrates Asian American identity, we’re emboldened to do our part in the fight for equal representation — and we can’t wait to turn the tides with our fellow creators.  

What questions did Crazy Rich Asians surface for you? Which character did you get in Buzzfeed’s quiz? If you chose to opt out and not watch the film, why? Share your thoughts with us on the Slant’d Facebook Community or send us a note at hello@slantd.media.