About US: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is missing some Asians

Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
The Washington Post

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Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
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Raising the bar on Hollywood diversity

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A different kind of teen romance movie

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Is “Crazy Rich Asians” Asian enough?

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Allyson Chiu
reporter

Days before the national release of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the film has attracted a lot of soaring language: “Historic.” “Landmark.” “A watershed moment for Asian representation in Hollywood.”

Compared with the typical feel-good romantic comedy, there’s much at stake for this Hollywood film, which is based on a novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan and is pitched as an Asian version of “Meet the Parents.”

It’s the first Hollywood studio production in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast and Asian Americans in leading roles. Drawing actors from across the world – including Australia, Malaysia and Singapore – the film has been praised for advancing diversity in Hollywood, an industry that rarely puts Asians in lead roles and has been chided for “whitewashing,” or casting white actors as nonwhite characters.

As the film’s Aug. 15 release in the United States nears, expectations are high – crazy high.

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A scene from “Crazy Rich Asians.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Despite generating a largely positive response among Asian Americans, the film has drawn some criticism. Some say it struggles to showcase diverse perspectives, falling short of adequately representing the wider Asian experience or what life is like in Singapore, where most of the movie takes place.

“It is diverse when you look at it in the scope and context of Hollywood, which is predominantly white,” said Nancy Wang Yuen, chair of Biola University’s sociology department. “But in terms of representing all of Asians and Asian Americans, it doesn’t hit that mark. It is a very specific story to a specific enclave, and even within that enclave, a specific class of that enclave.”

But Yuen adds that the expectation for a film to achieve that level of diversity holds it to a higher standard than most Hollywood films. Since stories about nonwhite characters are so rare to begin with, movies that break the mold are put under a stronger microscope.

“The problem is that we don’t have enough stories,” Yuen said. “It’s not that this film is terrible and Kevin Kwan’s book is so horrible, but that it is one story and it shouldn’t represent all of Asia and nobody wants that to happen.”

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The film follows a Chinese American economics professor named Rachel Chu, who accompanies her boyfriend to Singapore to meet his family for the first time. But Rachel doesn’t know she’s dating the “Prince Harry of Asia,” who comes from one of Singapore’s wealthiest families.

When the movie’s trailer was released in April, critics noticed something was missing in the scenes showcasing the opulent lives of Singapore’s elite: South Asians or anyone with dark skin.

“Seems more like Crazy Rich East Light Skinned Asians …” one person quipped on Twitter.

At just over 74 percent, ethnic Chinese make up a majority of Singapore’s population, but the island city-state is also home to Malays (13.4 percent) and Indians (9 percent).

Although viewers spotted two brown faces in the trailer, the characters weren’t guests at the lavish parties — they appeared to be in servant roles. Yuen, who has seen the movie, said she saw South Asians as guards at a mansion.

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Singaporean writer and activist Sangeetha Thanapal told The Post that the film exacerbates existing representation problems faced by minorities in Singapore.

“Already within Singapore, minorities are finding it hard to be represented in ways that are dignified,” Thanapal said. “Now this movie is saying, ‘Hey you know what, the only people that count in Singapore are Chinese people’ and doing it on a global stage.”

Singaporean actress Tan Kheng Hua, who plays Rachel’s mother in the film, told The Post the movie is a reflection of Kwan’s “specific perspective” and that the author “is not a general Singaporean talking about general Singapore.”

“If you read the book, the book is about a specific set of characters from a specific lifestyle,” Tan said. “It’s called ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ it’s not called ‘Every Singaporean.’”

Keep reading this story

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Kim Coco Iwamoto, a candidate for Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, holds her daughter Rory after voting on Monday. (Courtesy of Jim McCoy/Iwamoto campaign)

Much has been made of 2018 being “The Year of the Woman,” but that narrative tells only part of the story of this election cycle. In fact, the country is seeing an increase in potentially historic candidacies across many demographics, including the LGBTQ community.

Several transgender women will appear on primary ballots in the coming weeks, and in general elections in November. In Hawaii, Kim Coco Iwamoto, a lawyer and former member of the state board of education, is hoping to win the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in the state’s Saturday primary.

“The lieutenant governor’s office could be doing so much more for the people of Hawaii … working on the frontlines of our state’s most pressing problems,” she said of her desire to hold the position. She is particularly adamant about improving education and funding for public schools and solving the state’s homelessness and housing affordability crisis.

She says that during her time on the board of education, her identity wasn’t the focus of press attention and that internal campaign polling of Democratic voters found that a clear majority would be open to voting for a transgender candidate.

“The white, hetero, cis-gendered patriarchy is not as deeply entrenched as it is on the continent,” Iwamoto said via email. “Hawaii has always had a place in society for mahu … we are an integral part of our families and communities.”

The term “mahu” refers to individuals who embody both the male and female spirit, and who often occupied important places in Native Hawaiian society.

“Many of us who grew up in Hawaii, do not see our personal identities as limitations,” Iwamoto said.

— Kayla Epstein, Post staff writer

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Actress ChloëGrace Moretz as a teenager exploring her sexuality in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” (FilmRise)

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Rachel Hatzipanagos
Post staff writer

What happens when a woman tells a queer girl’s coming-of-age story

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” aspires to tell a story that’s rarely told in mainstream film: the coming-of-age story of a queer girl.

The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Emily M. Danforth, follows Cameron Post, a Montana teen who is exploring her sexuality in secret until her family finds out. Cameron, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, is sent away to a gay conversion school, where teens are exposed to so-called treatments intended to “cure” them straight.

The film is a rarity for a mainstream Hollywood movie, both because of its subject and because it was directed by a woman. In a study of 1,100 popular films, just 4 percent of them were helmed by women, according to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study.

“I don’t see any women’s sexual coming-of-age stories told honestly on screen,” Desiree Akhavan, the film’s writer and director said in an interview this week. “And that’s just because there’s no way a lot of these directors could possibly understand.”

“We wanted a teen romance that was just as sexy, just as exciting and just as meaningful as any straight relationship would be,” Akhavan said.

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From left to right: Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloë Grace Moretz in a scene from “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” (FilmRise)

The film, which won the top prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, opened in select cities this month. Post critic Michael Sullivan rated it 2.5 stars out of 4, writing that the movie “more often opts for nuance than burlesque, and that is its strength.”

To prepare for the part of the story that addresses conversion therapy, Akhavan and Moretz met with survivors of the controversial treatments, including Mathew Shurka, who was in conversion therapy for five years, from ages 16 to 21. His family spent $30,000 on the treatments in total before he stopped going. “It was traumatizing,” Shurka said. “Around year four or five, I started questioning the therapists about whether this really works.”

Shurka said he’d never met anyone whose sexual orientation was changed as a result of the treatments. An estimated 57,000 teens will enter conversion therapy in the next five years, according to a 2018 UCLA study.

Stories like his are experiences that Akhavan, who is bisexual, said needed to be told by a queer woman and not the male directors who dominate Hollywood. Her 2014 film, “Appropriate Behavior,” in which she also starred, was about a bisexual Persian American woman in Brooklyn.

“It’s absurd to me that someone whose life hasn’t been touched by these issues would feel the entitlement to tell these stories,” Akhavan said. “I wanted to make these films and tell these stories because I was invisible growing up. … It’s not a job for me, it’s a passion.”

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Desiree Akhavan on the set of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” (FilmRise)

She said many movies she saw growing up, mostly directed by and starring men, did not represent gay relationships well. Most often, the films didn’t have any gay characters at all. Even more rare were stories about lesbians rather than gay men.

“With gay characters, they were always either victims or jokes. I really wanted to push against both of those standards,” Akhavan said.

At the start of the novel, Cameron is a teen beginning to shape her identity when she has a relationship with another girl in her school. Moretz wanted to make sure the romance was depicted as supportive.

“I think really healthy gay relationships haven’t been depicted on screen in particular,” Moretz said. “I always thought that was shocking because for me, the healthiest relationship in my life that I was able to see growing up was my brother and his boyfriend.”

Keep reading this essay

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