For generations, Asian Americans have grown up relating to people in media who do not look like us and who haven’t had our experiences. While there has been a positive progression from Asian Americans being portrayed as racist caricatures and the use of yellow-face to progressive shows like Masters of None and the Mindy Project, there is still a lack of Asian American representation in mainstream media.
Since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl in the 90s to Fresh Off the Boat, there have only been two sitcoms centered around an Asian American family. Crazy Rich Asians will be the first major Hollywood production starring an all-Asian cast in 25 years. This is a historic moment for all Asian Americans. This summer’s upcoming blockbuster is about an American-born Chinese NYU professor, Rachel Chu, who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s ultra-rich family, the eponymous “crazy rich” family of the film’s title. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, this rom-com’s star-studded cast includes Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu, Ocean’s Eight’s Awkwafina, the Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng, and Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang.
Why Representation is Crucial
Media not only showcases culture and development in society, but also highlights issues and conflicts in a country. Like every other demographic in the US, Asian Americans are multi-faceted and can’t be characterized by a single description. Although Asian Americans have made tremendous strides recently, white-washing in Hollywood is still a thing. Dear Hollywood producers: don’t use our story if you don’t want to cast our people. How can Ghost in the Shell happen in the same period when Master of None and Fresh Off the Boat have reached such successes?
— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) February 28, 2016
Breaking the Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth is used by people to deny discrimination still occurs against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations, but also prevents AAPIs from seeking much-needed help and support. While the demographic term is all-encompassing, we must be intersectional to show the multi-dimensional faces of Asian America. Although Crazy Rich Asians highlights wealthy AAPIs, it is important to understand that poverty and the lack of adequate healthcare that plague many AAPI communities. While the film is not the movie that can represent the Asian American community (but could there ever be one to represent a non-monolithic group?), it’s an important start. The success of this movie has broad implications on the future of Asian American portrayal in media. If it’s a success, it will only help pave the way for more and more complex media representation. Director Jon M. Chu says he hopes the film’s success will enable more like it in the future that can show the diversity of an underrepresented community. Asians are not singular stereotypes but complex characters who can be crazy rich, poor, fierce, beautiful, and all or none of the above.
Why Representation in Politics is Crucial
For nearly two decades, AAPIs have been the fastest growing demographic in the US. For this reason, they constitute an important population to observe and study especially in terms of growing political power. Though AAPIs are a diverse group of peoples in terms of language, educational background, socioeconomic status, geographic origin, and political attachment, they are often grouped together as one monolithic and homogenous group. Despite constituting a small minority that is often eliminated from national polls, their political presence has grown significantly. Their expected growth makes them a critical population. Although Asian Americans still constitute a small chunk of the electorate, it is enough to swing election results in close elections when every vote matters.
Representing AAPIs in politics and in media is crucial not only to representing a minority group, but also for ensuring a platform where we can effectively address issues in our community. If we do not speak up about the issues targeting our own community, then who will? There are still constant attacks against our community. From the Chinese exclusion act to Japanese internment camps to the present-day Muslim ban, we have a lot to take on through the power of our voice and our vote.
The film comes out in theaters on August 15th, and we urge everyone to go see it!
This article was written by YaYa Sun, AAAF Media Intern.
Editor’s update Aug. 17: The movie is excellent! Go see it and don’t sweat the #RepSweats. This is one for the history books.