Okay. So. Crazy Rich Asians.
It sorta hit me in the middle of the movie that I was going to only see Asian actors in this film and my heart kinda…swelled? The idea that there’s an all-Asian cast in a mainstream romcom is ridiculous. We haven’t had a major studio movie since Joy Luck Club. Yes, there have been other Asian American films, but those have been independent movies, and which didn’t have the amount of marketing that CRA has.
Overall, I adored it. I loved watching Asians on screen. All these Asian actors that I’ve gotten to know in other works coming together in some kinda Asian Avengers. Asians being funny. Asians being charming. Asians being allowed to be humans instead of a stereotype. It was ridiculous, really. Singapore is laid out as some kinda magical fairyland of excess where the super rich hold sway. I suppose it’s not too far from the truth, and yes, there are moments in the film where they show the hired help, housekeepers and servers and cooks, and for me it cast a shadow on the whole affair of seeing an all-Asian cast in a major studio movie. Because…let’s be frank…that help could quite probably be Filipino. This despite the appearance of two Filipino actors in the movie, in real life, Filipinos have taken on these caretaking roles. It’s common in Filipino culture for upper class families to have housekeepers or nannies. It’s well known and it’s a sign that you’ve “made it” to the higher class, and in a developing nation like the Philippines, where the national economy is dependent on Filipinos working abroad and sending money home to family, it’s almost certain that a large percentage of the help in Singapore would be Filipino.
Aaaaand that pulled me out of this Asian fantasy. Which hurt a little. It’s Asian, but it doesn’t quite represent me.
CRA is certainly a fantasy. It’s an Asian Cinderella story where a young Asian-American woman has to navigate in this bizarre ultra-rich world she’d never been in before. I did love Rachel. I loved how she defended her family and her working class roots. I loved that she didn’t back down after being bullied. I also loved that she had friends who absolutely wanted the best for her, because her family structure was so untraditionally Asian but so commonly American. But as much as CRA is touted as an Asian representation landmark (and it absolutely deserves that), I don’t expect it to be the be all and end all of Asian experience. I just hope this opens doors to more Asian narratives in the future. Asia is not a monolith, the affluence of the Singapore shown in the movie is not the norm, but we can still have our fantasies.
Allow us to dream and then allow us to tell more of our stories.