Crazy Rich Asians
When I heard about the phenomenon that Crazy Rich Asians would be, in that it was the first full Asian cast in 25 years, I reacted to the news with side-eye and pursed lips questioning whether or not the “full Asian cast” would be inclusive of Filipinos. I don’t want to be that person who reacts to progress as if it’s never enough, but in my experience, many people never considered Filipinos as Asian. People would argue that the Philippines being an island in the Pacific made us Pacific-Islanders/Polynesian (clearly these people have never studied a map). When I would demonstrate the...let me say, issues... with their geographical argument, they would come at me with how I didn’t fit the Asian stereotypes (I’m sorry we didn’t let China or Japan take over our country...you can blame Spain for our conglomerate language and culture). I was in a constant lose-lose situation no matter how much I fought and no matter how true my facts were. As one of many examples:
I had just finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was thrilled that there was an Asian girl in J. K. Rowling’s story and an Asian girl as the hero’s love interest. That was a big deal for me because I grew up in the 90s, during the height of high school rom-com movies, and an Asian girl was never the love interest. (Laney Boggs was the only rom-com character I could relate to because I, too, was a nerdy art chick). Anyway, the first two Harry Potter movies had already come out and I thought that if they keep making the movies, they’ll need an Asian girl to play Cho Chang. So I looked up where auditions were and started practicing my English accent. I wasn’t crushed when I learned that my parents wouldn’t fly me out to England for auditions, but I was crushed when I told a friend of my plans to be Cho Chang. He said I couldn’t be Cho because I wasn’t Asian. I told him that I was because Filipinos are Asian. I thought he was just ignorant of our geographical location, but then he said, “But you’re not that kind of Asian.”
My hesitancy to celebrate CRA was that I needed to know that I, as a Filipino, was included in this fight for diversity. I decided to be optimistic about it, hoping that if Asians could have a place in Hollywood, then it would open the door for Filipino-American or Filipino actors one day. (I felt hopeful in Aziz Ansari’s inclusion of Asian-Americans fighting for visibility in Hollywood because it meant that Asians were not longer exclusively Korean, Chinese or Japanese). Well, I didn’t even need to hope for that day because I would learn that Nico Santos would be in the movie as Rachel Wu’s trusty stylist! When I saw Santos in the trailer, I thought that he looked Filipino. I looked up the cast roster, saw his name and thought, “that sounds like a Filipino name!” You guys, buddy is Filipino! Learning that there would indeed be Filipino representation in this all Asian cast was such a thrilling feeling! That feeling would multiply when I would see Kris Aquino in the film. I grabbed my husband’s arm hard and freaked out in the theater! Even ten minutes after her scene, I was still clutching my chest (I don’t really remember what happened shortly after the wedding scene) saying her name softly to myself. My mom loves Kris, so I grew up watching her on the Filipino channel (‘cause when you live in America, “the Filipino channel” is what you call the entire Dish package of Filipino channels) and in movies. Crazy Rich Asians was an answer to many questions I had about Asian diversity and visibility, and it was validation that I/Filipinos are Asian enough!
It was also significant to see the struggles of being Asian-American as depicted by Constance Wu’s character, Rachel. At 28 years old, I’m just now able to put words to the struggle because people are finally talking about it! I could never understand why when I went home to the Philippines I was considered American and when I would return home to America, I wasn’t American. It triggered this identity crisis where I would constantly feel “homeless”. Interestingly enough, the place where I finally felt at home was in South Africa because coloured South Africans could see that I was Filipino and American. When Eleanor Young tells Rachel, “You’re a foreigner. American - and all Americans think about is their own happiness.” You best believe I was all Yaasss girl and not because I agreed with Eleanor dissing Rachel, but because seeing the clash of cultures, like many aspects in the movie, it’s the story of my life! Seeing American culture from an outsider's’ perspective is further evidence that, regardless of origin and skin color, an American is American.
Crazy Rich Asians even rebuff Asians purist critics by casting actors whose ethnicities are blended. In Suyin Haynes segment in Time, she shares that lead male Henry Golding is criticized for being half-white and Malaysian British. Golding responds, “Where are the lines drawn for saying that you cannot play this character because you’re not fully Asian?”. Haynes says that “Golding’s inclusion in the cast is an important part of making a growing mixed-race generation more visible.” As a mom to a half-white Filipino American, I would be devastated if my son had to grow up as an outcast from a conception of Asianness because he’s “only half”. I’m hopeful that this movie is the beginning of much groundbreaking-ness for Asian-Americans and Asians. First steps are never perfect, but they need to be made in order to progress. So I’m giving CRA all the gold stars and praises! And hopefully, J. K. Rowling will come across this post and make me an honorary Cho Chang. I’m crossing my fingers!
Lastly, CRA is a big deal for me because seeing a full Asian cast with a variety of Asian and Asian-American actors working together to share a human story was just beautiful for me. Asia has its own problems of racism and prejudices, and to see a variety of Asians telling a story that’s based in Singapore is headway to making a change. It’s like a cast of English, American, and Australian actors coming together to tell the French story of Les Mis. I joke! King Louis XVI was probably rolling in his grave! Why is everyone but the French acting in a French story written by a French dude? But speaking of Les Mis, Filipina actress and singer, Lea Solonga, played Fantine in the 25th Anniversary concert and Eponine in the 10th Anniversary Concert! Back on topic...if you haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians yet (and it’s been over a month people, come on!), please do! And if this movie made an impact on you, I’d love to hear your thoughts!