Crazy Rich Asians misrepresents Singapore’s real diversity by showing only one type of Asians

by Arlene Tan

Earlier in April I decided not to watch the film Crazy Rich Asians due to the stereotypical representation of darker-skinned Asian characters/extras in its trailer release. However, I changed my mind as the Asian-American buzz over the film got me curious.

The film sure lived up to its usual Hollywood rom-com flaire – a mixture of Meet the Parents, Monster In-Law and Gossip Girls. The usual love story arc that ends with the big dramatic proposal/ boy chase girl, a la the Wedding Singer. While in the cinema, it is nice to see Malaysians of all races come and watch the film, it shows that the film did not fall into the ‘racial’ category where it is only appealing to a one-race audience.

It is also nice to see multiracial background extras were featured in few scenes. There was a Malay family with tudung sitting at the background during a hawkers food court scene.

And it’s worth noting that Finas (yes, our Malaysia Finas) chipped in 30% of the film budget. So as much as it is a Hollywood produced film, it is also a film that is Malaysia-produced. Most probably to fund film locations shot in Malaysia, eg. Pulau Langkawi, Seri Carcosa Negara (the house of Nick Young) and Penang.

That aside, there are still dire misses on the film’s representation department that left me with a bad taste.

The most obvious is the stereotypical representation of Indians as ‘the scary Indian’ bodyguards and servants — all with no lines. They were there to serve as bad humour for people to laugh at. That is racism 101 faced by many dark-skinned Asians. Historically, the Sikhs were brought by the British colonial masters as guards and security forces, the particular scene in CRA was merely perpetuating the worst stereotype of the other Asian.

Then there’s the lack of speaking roles for none-Chinese actors, other than the princess Intan role which was extremely minimal, most of them were ‘Chinese’ roles with mostly Chinese extras at the background. Context wise, the movie probably wanted to hold true to its Chinese-centred old money family who probably never formed any meaningful relationships with other races/ ethnicity. That probably makes sense considering how horrible they treated high-achiever Rachel Chu who is considered ‘bo ka ki lang’.

There goes to my final criticism, the Mandarinization and Americanization of Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. The early Chinese diaspora to Malaya were non-Mandarin speaking Chinese but Hollywood gets the accent wrong, especially the grandmother (Ah Ma) who is the Matriarch of the Young family. Instead of speaking Hokkien or Cantonese, she spoke Mandarin as if she was from Northern China. Then there’s the family of Peik Lin (acted by Akwafina), she and her dad (acted by Ken Jong) were horrible at depicting their Singaporean-ness.

In a nutshell, the film still sees Asians in the lens of Asian-Americans. But probably no one cares because it is Hollywood, because their real audience are Asian-Americans and their romantization of what Asia is supposed to be.

This article was first posted on Arlene Tan’s Facebook page and reproduced here with permission.