Crazy Rich Asians, the upcoming Hollywood movie being released in the USA on August 15 and in the UK on August 17 has the world excited for an all-Asian cast — a diamond in Hollywood’s cave of whitewashing.
The cast captures talents that are Constance Wu (most notably from ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ TV series) and Henry Golding (known for presenting BBC’s ‘The Travel Show’), with the film being based off the books by Kevin Kwan. However, with the excitement, there has also blossomed the question no one wants to take responsibility for: where have Asians been in Hollywood?
What can it mean to fairly represent the population? And what effect can this have on Asian-Americans and Asian-Britons?
In the UK Asians make up 5.5 per cent of the population, and in the USA just over 5 per cent. Yet Asians make up 4.1 per cent of speaking roles in Hollywood across the 100 top grossing movies, and 8 out of 100 protagonists of colour were cast in sci-fi fantasy films.
However, people of colour still don’t have enough exposure in Hollywood. For this to happen, more roles and narratives need to be based on their experience of embodying dual cultures, with Asian-Britons/ Asian-Americans cast in challenging roles instead of the warped storylines and outdated characters they standardly get.
What are the effects of Asian-American/ Asian-British underrepresentation in the media?
Identity is one of the challenges that all adolescents face. In racial debates, there has been increasing dialogue regarding the injustices faced by black people. These include being disadvantaged in education, negatively profiled by police, and frequently becoming victims of stop and search as well as police brutality. However, when it comes to Asians, discussion is usually sparse and problematic issues get sidelined from the limelight. There is also a tendency to depict them as overachievers or unpopular and awkward teens, through humorous and geeky characters in TV shows and movies.
For example, in ‘Fresh Off the Boat’, the mother played by Daisy Wu appears unimpressed reading the immaculate list of As from her child’s report card. She is however, especially overjoyed when her son introduces an Asian-American girl faking to be his girlfriend, in an attempt to please the parents. For an idea, intermarriage is increasing, with 8.8 per cent of British marriages now being mixed.
This perpetuation of Asian stereotypes can be very detrimental to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of Asian-Americans and Asian-Britons, affecting their chances of success. When you’re searching for your interests and where you fit in the world, how can you make an informed decision if the world will only show you one version of yourself? Those that don’t quite fit the criteria, have few options when it comes to finding their identity.
How does the world evolve and realise that it’s big enough to share multiple platforms of power?
As an avid fan of the Crazy Rich Asian book series, I’m counting down the days to the release of the movie this summer. However, my hopes are that unlike many former films that have accumulated racial press, this one will mark the beginning of a Hollywood golden age for the Asian people. One that begins to dismantle stereotypes and frees their identities, dreams and possibilities. It is my hope that one day there won’t even be a discussion when an Asian person is cast as the lead.
The representation of Asians in pop culture may be overdue, but Hollywood — prepare for the birth of a new era.