The Current

Crazy Rich Asians criticized for Chinese-centric 'colourism'

The new movie Crazy Rich Asians is receiving critical acclaim, but it's also causing a stir for its lack of diverse representation of the Asian diaspora's experience.

'It's impossible for any one film to represent all of the diaspora's experience,' says arts reporter

People have called the makeup of Crazy Rich Asian's cast groundbreaking, as it's composed almost entirely of Asian actors or actors of Asian descent. (Eric Charbonneau/Warner Bros.)

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Crazy Rich Asians has hit theatres to critical acclaim for its groundbreaking movie cast composed almost entirely of Asian actors or actors of Asian descent, but some critics argue the film is marred by colourism.

"That criticism isn't without its merits, but I think it should also be possible to enjoy Crazy Rich Asians while also being critical," said Mallory Yu, a producer and movies editor for NPR's All Things Considered.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on the first book of Kevin Kwan's bestselling trilogy. It tells the the story of an Asian-American woman shocked to discover the wealth of her fiance's family in Singapore. 

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning essay In Search of our Mothers' Gardens, Alice Walker defined colourism as "prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their colour."

In the context of Crazy Rich Asians, Yu describes colourism as focusing on East Asian actors and characters, and overlooking other Asian (and especially non-Chinese) representation.

"It ignores the socio-economic and racial disparities that are present in Singapore between Chinese and Indigenous people," she told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

"This film does focus on a very specific family and a very specific set of people, but Henry Golding is half Malay and Nico [Santos], who plays Oliver, is Filipino."

She argued the film also falls prey to conventional Hollywood standards of beauty.

'Something very special is happening:' Making Crazy Rich Asians

4 years ago
1:05
Author Kevin Kwan on what happened when he flew to the Singapore set of Crazy Rich Asians, the upcoming film based on his bestselling novel. 1:05

"Everyone in this is thin and beautiful or muscular and beautiful, except for kind of the more buffoonish characters who tended to be shorter and chubbier and I could have done without some of those notes," said Yu.

While it's not a perfect film, Yu calls it "a lot of fun" and urged people to see it.

'You have to tell your story'

According to Rebecca Sun, a senior reporter with the Hollywood Reporter, the film lives up to the hype, describing it as beautiful, funny and emotionally authentic and entirely unique.

"I'm Asian-American ... born and raised in this country my entire life. And you get used to learning to identify with whatever protagonist you're given. And so I've always grown up being able to identify with, you know, plucky white females," said Sun.

Michelle Yeoh, from left, Henry Golding and Constance Wu in a scene from the film Crazy Rich Asians. (Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

In response to the film's criticism, Sun believes the expectations to represent an expansive, diverse experience in one film is insurmountable.

"It's impossible for any one film to represent all of the diaspora's experience and so, you know, by necessity, good stories are specific," Sun explained.

"You have to tell your story."

Now that Crazy Rich Asians has hit Hollywood, Yu hopes the door will be open for more successful films led by Asian-Americans or actors of Asian descent.

"I really want to see biopics of Asian-American activists throughout history," she told Lynch.

"I don't think these projects should hang solely on Crazy Rich Asians … but you can't deny that there's something special about it and that [director] John Chu is here to say that Asian people are beautiful and they can have Hollywood appeal."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


Written by Lisa Ayuso. This segment was produced of The Current's Allie Jaynes and Richard Raycraft.

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