“The actors, the producers and the director, all shared the same sense of pride and responsibility to properly represent Asians in mainstream media with this monumental opportunity. This was our chance to show the world that we are just as brilliant, just as good looking and just as funny as everyone else in Hollywood. This was our key to open the doors for all the amazing Asian talents in cinema.”
Yang, Jimmy O.. How to American (p. 213).
I recently read Jimmy Yang’s book and was very impressed by his life story (ended up writing an Amazon book review 5.0/5.0 stars) But this one part kinda gnawed at me.
In Jimmy Yang’s book, he mentions his experience in the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, as above. As proud as I was to see more Asian representation in the media, it wasn’t that clear to me what this movie was trying to achieve.
A couple years ago, one of my Caucasian co-workers told me that she wasn’t impressed after seeing the movie, I had actually been a little upset at her and thought, ‘Oh, another Asian hater.’ Then I saw the movie and was like “Huh…..maybe she wasn’t being mean. Just honest.”
Here’s the thing. Is making a lot of noise around crazy, rich good-looking Asians of the world going to change people’s perceptions? Is it for the kids? Is it for the future generations? It seemed very much “in your face.” (Like the whole scene with a 3-minute sequence of the male lead actor’s naked body in the shower) It was like an Asian kid in a predominantly white elementary school’s playground posing for the camera in a tuxedo with combed hair and saying “hey I can be good-looking and classy too!” It felt a little forced, self-celebratory, with a hint of backlash toward the existing Hollywood community.
Granted, Hollywood currently sucks in its Asian representation, so maybe this movie was a natural reaction from creative, artistic Asian-American moviemakers who wanted to desperately get other Asians out there. In a way, a step forward (the fact that this movie even exists). In another perspective, Asian-Americans still have a long way to go, not just in the amount of representation in the media, but the consensus we need to achieve to say “WHAT stereotypes do we want to challenge? What image should we communicate to the world?” Projecting “Hey! we can be rich, crazy and good-looking too!” is not enough. There’s no depth there. Nowhere to go from there.
If we really wanted to change people’s perception of the race, or the Asian-American community or the global Asian community in general, we can’t do that by just putting up good-looking Asian faces in Hollywood movies alone. Yes, it’s important for Asian children in the fact that they get to see more representation of role-models who look like them. But that’s missing the larger context. A movie with funny jokes and aesthetically pleasing images of Asian people alone isn’t enough to make other racial communities think “Oh yes, this movie changed my entire outlook on how I should perceive Asians. They are so much better than I thought they were.” You have to win people over. Slowly. Through values that we live by that will actually touch and help the world regardless of race. Just touting from the top of our throats about how cool we are is going to backfire. Asian people have so much history, culture, philosophy, legacy just being ourselves. That’s probably something we should highlight more.
Hollywood shouldn’t be a petty competition-land where people from different ethnic communities try to out-muscle each other in terms of better representation. Media is important yes, that’s why we are fighting for it in the first place. However, more we fight for a louder voice here, more we miss the point of winning the actual bigger war of “correct representation.” Just like Michelle Obama used to say, “When they go low, we go high.” No matter how badly we are depicted in the media, we don’t just fire back by trying to get louder with more media. We are certainly taking positive baby steps in media. But at the end of the day, we need to do more than just pushing media to change people’s real perceptions. It will be hard. But I sure hope we get there.