I’m someone who has always steered clear of opinion pieces, since I’m not very fond of the backlash that tends to follow afterwards. But the recent brouhaha surrounding Crazy Rich Asians has compelled me to voice an opinion that I’ve kept to myself for the longest time:
That calls for representation are fast becoming an unfair witch-hunt.
Too often, content is taken out of context and held to a burden of impossible standards of representation.
Crazy Rich Asians is a prime example of this growing cultural phenomenon. While the film has been lauded as a win for the Asian American community, much ink has been spilled about its limitations.
Crazy Rich Asians has been criticised for propagating the oppression of Singapore’s racial minorities by relegating them to positions of servitude. Controversy has erupted over the misrepresentation of Singapore as a prosperous playground thereby ignoring the income inequalities that exist in the country. There’ve been complaints over the lack of Singlish in the film. Some are even questioning why we need validation from Hollywood to begin with.
In summary, the consensus from the woke liberal crowd is that if Crazy Rich Asians wants to market itself as a win for representation, then it needs to represent every truth and every reality.
It’s an unfair expectation for any film to live up to. But Crazy Rich Asians is not the only victim of such crazy relentless scrutiny.
The local LGBTQ+ community in Singapore too has seen a series of diversity related controversies in recent memory.
When the gay short film ‘Summerdaze‘ by The Authority went viral with over half a million views, criticism over the lack of minority representation was swift despite the fact that the film only had two cast members. When Esquire Singapore organised its first LGBTQ+ panel, the organisers continued to come under fire even after introducing a female panelist when faced with criticism over its initial all male line-up. Similarly, Dear Straight People sparked an outcry over the lack of Indian talents in our National Day video ‘Home’ back in 2017.
Instead of appreciating the intrinsic value of each of the above examples, the naysayers chose to focus on what they lacked instead.
They didn’t care that The Authority spent a five-figure sum on a passion project that would never make any monetary returns. Neither did they cut some slack for Esquire Singapore despite the fact that it was their first time organising a queer panel. They were also blissfully unaware that of the four Indian talents we originally cast in our National Day video (below), three backed out at the last minute.
But herein lies my point.
In the fight for greater diversity and inclusivity, some have become so fixated on finding points of contention in everything they see. Content is often taken out of context and held to unreasonable expectations. Such scrutiny borders on nitpicking. And Crazy Rich Asians is the latest victim of this growing trend.
The film may not be a win for representation for everyone. But it does break down more barriers than most films.
After decades of white-washing, it’s the first mainstream Hollywood film with an all Asian cast in 25 years. The movie will open doors for English-speaking Asian actors. Generate bountiful returns for Singapore’s tourism industry. Shine the spotlight on one of the largest indigenous communities in Malaysia thanks to the casting of Henry Golding with his Iban heritage.
It’s real breakthrough however, lies in its nuanced Asian characters. Instead of the emasculated geek and the all-knowing kung-fu expert, Crazy Rich Asians provides us with strong well-rounded characters that goes against Asian stereotypes so prevalent in Western media.
Now don’t get me wrong. I completely understand where the criticism is coming from.
Even though I enjoy Chinese privilege here in Singapore, spending a few years of my childhood in Australia means I understand what it’s like growing up as a minority. So I can understand why certain groups are so upset with some of the more problematic aspects of the film.
But the kind of scrutiny certain people are putting Crazy Rich Asians through borders on nitpicking. And their intention doesn’t seem like it’s to better the world with constructive criticism. Rather, it’s beginning to look like a witch-hunt where they are constantly on the lookout for the next opportunity to vent their anger on. And in their pursuit of controversy, they have no qualms about taking things out of context to suit their agenda.
Crazy Rich Asians was never meant to be a documentary. It’s a fictional romantic comedy that just happens to be set in Singapore. Yes, the film was marketed as a win for representation. And in many ways, it has earned that mantle. Crazy Rich Asians is a game changer that will go down in history.
But Crazy Rich Asians isn’t perfect. And truth be told, it doesn’t need to be. The movie has achieved what it was originally meant to. There’s no doubt that it will lead to more opportunities for Asians to tell their stories in tinseltown. So that one day, every Asian can find a story on the big screen that they can finally call their own.
If that isn’t a good enough win for representation for you, then maybe your expectations are a bit too crazy.
Written by Sean Foo – www.instagram.com/mrseanfoo
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