Wednesday 5 September 2018

Readers write in to defend Crazy Rich Asians: 'Cut it some slack'

So I received two e-mails regarding my last column about Crazy Rich Asians:


I take it that you have written the article tongue-in-cheek and I should better take it with a pinch of salt.

Crazy Rich Asians, the movie and novel, is not a documentary, but based on the author's observations of the super rich Chinese in East Asia. So let it be. Minority inclusion in this instance and context is not necessary. Personally, I would also hate to see it turn out like a Mediacorp drama with minority races artificially inserted. But it is understandable for Mediacorp as they represent the government.

However, Crazy Rich Asians the movie has no such national obligations and objectives. Neither should it set out to sterilise and pontificate to the audience. It is fiction. It is satire.

Cut it some slack. It is not worth a battle fighting. Otherwise there will be a tonne of other Hollywood movies that too are not representative of the real world. Audience don't want to watch real life. They want drama. I am saying this as a screenwriter, director and actor. You could do to accept them as art with the creative licence to entertain.

Michael Chua

This next one may have taken part of my column too seriously:
Dear Mr Ong,

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie, based on fiction. Must we take everything so personally?

Isn’t it a story of one girl meeting rich boyfriend’s rich family? Like Cinderella. It’s not autobiographical even if its based on the writer’s experience.

It is not a story of Singapore and it’s multi racial people. The movie is set in Singapore based on a particular family who happens to be a Chinese family.

This story of being looked down upon by a rich family can happen to a Rich Malay in Brunei, Rich Indonesian, Rich American (Paris Hilton), Rich English (Royal Family), etc.

Movies are to escape into. Some can be a political or social statement but generally its entertainment isn’t it? I had fun. I laughed. I cried. I'm easy to pleased.

I know its just a fluff article but it is not often that Asians are represented for the world to see, especially for Singapore Asian, this round the Chinese, next time maybe the Malays or Peranakan. Can’t we support the Singaporean actors who got this opportunity for work and exposure. They don’t get it from Mediacorp, who should engage, encourage and support local talents. To suggest Scarlett Johansson is to ignore the story of this Chinese settings and to fall back on Hollywood’s usual casting of big names for ticket sales. I’m glad it is not the usual Mark Lee’s bunch from Mediacorp by the way, where talents from tv swop with radio and channel 5 with channel 8.It was fun identifying the local actors used and encouraging. I liked that the cast was international asians too.

Writing to you coz I’ve nothing better to do. :)
F Kee

I know I won't be changing anyone's mind, but I just want to make a few points.

Yes, Crazy Rich Asians is a movie, but it has also been marketed as a milestone for diversity and representation, setting a standard for itself that it fails to meet.

The movie is not called Crazy Rich Asians Of Chinese Descent but Crazy Rich Asians, and "Asians" means more than just East Asians. If the movie were set not in Singapore but in Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing or Shanghai, no one would question the characters being all Chinese. But being multi-racial is a defining trait of Singapore and leaving the other races out of the movie is a failure in representation.

Others have written more about this. Here are a few links:
The New York Times: For Some Viewers, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Is Not Asian Enough

The Atlantic: One Way That Crazy Rich Asians Is a Step Backward

The Guardian: Where are the brown people? Crazy Rich Asians draws tepid response in Singapore

Medium: Why You Shouldn’t Watch the Crazy Rich Asians Movie

I also note that the two readers who wrote in to defend the lack of non-Chinese in the movie happen to be Chinese. Should we check our majority privilege?

But all this doesn't mean you can't enjoy the movie, so there's no need to be defensive about it.

You can love Crazy Rich Asians and still acknowledge that the movie could've done a better job at representation that its marketing is crowing about.

I mean, I kinda enjoyed Ghost In The Shell even with Scarlett Johansson.

EARLIER: Crazy Rich Asians should have been called High SES Chinese & starred Scarlett Johansson