Crazy Rich Representation

Saw Crazy Rich Asians. You need to. Go go go pay the money and go. Maybe eight times.

I’m not great at sitting through movies because sitting still is a challenge for me in general. I did not have a problem sitting through this film for a few reasons, not the least of which is, it’s a great movie! Sure, I do like romantic comedies sometimes. Many of them feel like something to flip on while I cook dinner or clean my shower. Not this romcom. The film itself is light and humorous in several places, which I found entertaining. The fashion tickled my fancy for sure. But the movie actually deals with a dense array of themes and issues that truly held my attention. I should say, the movie is based on a best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan- Kwan deserves the credit for this brilliance in intersecting themes.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Representation matters. Hollywood especially needs to heed this message a thousand times over. It matters that the cast of this film was not centered around white leads (or even supporting roles!) because so often, this centering creates a one-dimensional character that fills a stereotype or perhaps edgily fights against it, yet in the process of fighting still upholds that identity. It matters that the film actually focused on women character development more deeply than the men. It truly matters that this movie deals with class- albeit sometimes in a funny, glamorous way- because here in the United States, we don’t talk about class nearly enough. It also matters that this movie deals with fraught relationships and misogyny.

Without spoilers, intersectionality plays a big part in the conflicts between different characters.  Questions are left for us to answer- what is family, really, and how do we connect and support our own? How does the privilege of resource affect our bias? How can we live out feminism in different ways? The movie isn’t just important because it cast several Asian and Asian-American actors together- it is an essential commentary on how race, gender, class, language, culture, and sexuality define boundaries and sometimes clash within a single person’s identity.

I will not claim to find much commonality with most of the characters in the film because my context and privilege is different (also, I can look literally anywhere to see “me” represented in any field or sector). I spend much of my day immersed in questions of race, religion and class because my job is to interrogate how these concepts affect public life in the United States. One particular element did feel quite close to home. The film helped me begin to question how my family system affects my work in terms of what we “preserve,” what values we continue to uphold. Increasingly, my family and I clash in terms of what we value. My job is not to dismiss their traditions without engagement. Reflecting on the moments of change in our own values matter because we need to recognize the catalysts. Crazy Rich Asians matters because it is itself a catalyst in how Asian and Asian American identities are recognized as relatable but not one-dimensional. Final note- the soundtrack is amazing.

 

Birthday

It’s thaaaaaat time of year, again. I definitely understand the shift from getting excited about one’s birthday to really dreading having to say you’re another year older. Anyway, change is inevitable, so here we are. I do feel like my birthday gift came a little early this year, that is on January 2nd, the Trojans battled until the end and came out on top. I hugged my dad so hard and then definitely shed some tears (mostly releasing the pent up stress I carried for 3.98 quarters of the same). After starting out 1-3, I’m so impressed with the coaching, the teamwork, and the unwillingness to give up. Even if it’s only football.


Before the game started, I met my friends Darlene (affectionately Darlo) and Veronica (affectionately Vero) and stayed with Darlo’s family for a while as we counted down until the gates opened to the Rose Bowl (our natural habitat). As my dad and I walked the almost three miles to find them, I noticed some Penn Staters tailgating with a Confederate flag on their pickup truck. Admittedly, my face scrunched up in disapproval before I fully registered what was before my eyes. And I started thinking about how strange and unique this humongous group of people was that came together, at least physically, to watch a sporting event.

My dad likes to be overly friendly to visiting fans. Having traveled to many games, we have witnessed our fair share of mean, rude, drunk and nasty people before and after games, win or lose. No one likes getting trash talked, at least, I certainly hate it. My dad and I walked most of the way from the train station to the stadium with a family from the Jersey Shore, decked out in their blue and white jerseys. After we parted ways eventually and passed that pickup truck, I thought about what the two schools represented in this space- their locations, their atmospheres, their populations. USC lies in the heart of a densely populated uber-metropolis. Penn State is more than an hour away from a midsize city. USC is a medium-sized private institution that brags about their international population, and Penn State is a massive public school, about 3/4 of the students are white. Both schools’ NCAA football programs are considered in the top 5 of all time, and for the most part, both schools respect each other as historic rivals. Statistics aside, frankly, as I looked around I noticed how ethnically diverse the USC fanbase seemed compared to Penn States’. This isn’t a judgement, simply an observation.

I spent my week off reading, because that’s how I veg. Since the election, I have committed to exploring genres and authors who have written notable works in the past few years on identity-based politics. It feels like a tiny step in the right direction when I feel “frozen” in terms of social action. Reading by no means represents direct action to dismantle or tear down, but my thought process was that by sharing my own mistakes and reading about those who share theirs, I could take some small steps to avoid committing microaggressions, or be more thoughtful in my language. On the plane to LA two days before Christmas, I finished Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, a sociologist’s reflections and learnings about spending time among working class whites in rural Louisiana. The book has been a conversation piece in my circles lately. I wanted to read it because Hochschild states that her mission with the study was simply to try and understand a group of people who live in a very different world from her, and subsequently, consider politics quite distinctly. I think that’s a solid mission- it echoes goals of some interfaith communities, not to change minds, but to educate and understand, to find some common ground.

Hochschild interjects a few times throughout the book that she vehemently disagrees with her newfound friends on many issues- taxes, welfare, and the “right to choose”, among others. I found myself wondering, “how could this person have spent five years with people whose views make her terribly uncomfortable?” And yet, I believe that’s exactly where I need to push myself. Perhaps it wasn’t appropriate then, and would have led to unnecessary trash talk- but what would it have looked like to start a conversation with the pickup truck driving, Confederate flag touting Nittany Lion?

I’m going to keep reading, but recognize that only through some difficult conversations will I actually begin to educate myself. I think my toolkit as an interfaith dialoguer and someone who strives to sustain a meditation practice is helpful, yet not something to hide behind. Another year older, and hopefully, just a little bit wiser. Fight On!