Crazy Rich Asians criticised for failing to highlight Singapore's ethnic diversity, overlooking brown Asians

The release of Crazy Rich Asians in Singapore and its neighboring Asian countries has elicited a mixed reception.

FP Staff August 21, 2018 16:55:02 IST
Crazy Rich Asians criticised for failing to highlight Singapore's ethnic diversity, overlooking brown Asians

A year after The Big Sick made Kumail Nanjiani Hollywood's first Pakistani-born rom-com hero and months after Black Panther became the third highest-grossing motion picture of all time in North America, the release of Crazy Rich Asians has been touted as a watershed moment for Asian American representation in Hollywood. The John M Chu film continues to rake in the big bucks in theatres across the United States, earning over $35.3 million since it hit theatres on Wednesday.

It is the first romantic comedy in almost three years — since Amy Schumer's Trainwreck — to open with more than $20 million. But what is driving the frenzied publicity is the fact that it's the first Hollywood movie in a quarter of a century to feature a majority-Asian cast — a feat not matched since The Joy Luck Club in 1993. The film has also received glowing reviews from most major American publications.

Crazy Rich Asians criticised for failing to highlight Singapores ethnic diversity overlooking brown Asians

(From L-R) Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu in a scene from the film Crazy Rich Asians. Image via AP

Crazy Rich Asians is also a love letter to Singapore as much of the movie is set against the wealthy city state's modern and traditional architecture, parks, nearby tropical beaches, street food and music. However, its release in Singapore and its neighboring Asian countries has elicited a mixed reception, as first reported by The Guardian.

For a film, which is supposed to showcase a rare array of Asian culture and identity in a Hollywood venture, critics say it fails to highlight their ethnic diversity and has completely overlooked brown Asians.

The cast was drawn from Taiwan, Britain, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States and Australia, along with Singapore, but as writer-activist Sangeetha Thanapal puts it, “While it is being billed as an Asian movie, it is made up almost entirely of east Asians. The few brown people featured in it are seen in service positions to the glamorous and wealthy Chinese characters. The dominance of east Asia in the worldwide imagination of who constitutes the idea of Asia is troubling, especially since brown Asians make up a sizable portion of the continent.”

She further adds that the Western Chinese representation comes at the expense of systematically disenfranchised minorities in Singapore and this, in turn, only perpetuates the state of racism and Islamophobia in the city-state.

Even though a majority of Singapore's residents are Chinese, a quarter of its population are Malay, Indian, or Eurasians, with many migrant workers from surrounding countries like Bangladesh or the Philippines.

CNN International's Cat Wang wrote as part of a Twitter thread: "Chinese dominance is made clear in #CrazyRichAsians. Asian actors and actresses of darker skin tones are only seen working mutely as chauffeurs, domestic workers, and guards. Set against the distracting opulence of the mansions, these minorities are made insignificant."

Crazy Rich Asians sees Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu play a New York economics professor Rachel Chu, who flies to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family only to discover that it is one of the wealthiest in the country. It also stars Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and newcomer Henry Golding.

(With inputs from agencies)

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