The Fight for Representation


I have mixed feelings about the film, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. I’m thrilled that, finally, Hollywood is backing a movie about Asians and Asian Americans, starring an all-Asian cast. The stars must have really aligned for such a move to take place. I actually have a hard time recalling mainstream American films centred on Asians… oh well, there was ‘Joy Luck Club’ (which I hated because Asian men were portrayed as villains) and ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’.

I just took a detour from writing to google ‘Asian American film’ and, yes, there are a good number of indie films made by and starring Asian/ Asian Americans. In fact, I watched quite a few of them. It’s just that I forgot. There’s ‘Eat a Bowl of Tea’, ‘Saving Face’, ‘Shanghai Calling’ etc etc. Every so often, there will be a film starring a predominantly Asian cast, but it’s a rarity. And what makes CRA special is that it’s based in my home of Singapore.

A film about race is always a tricky subject and my experience studying in the US is the reason I say this. Once you’re a minority, especially in a vocal and free market society like the US, then perhaps you’ll understand what it means to be discriminated. People around me literally think I’m smart and good in math. You will notice a conspicuous lack of East Asian representation in the media, and if there any, they were seldom positive images.

On top of that, what made my experience different from the typical Singaporean studying in the US is that I was born in the US. I identified myself as Asian American. This made me felt as one with Asian Americans, in the movement for better representation.

Activism for Media Representation

Thus, during my stint in the States, I felt I had to take up the mantle to fight stereotypes. I had to advocate for positive representation, and educate my Caucasian and African American peers that I am ‘normal’ and ‘cool’ even, and not the ‘other’. I did this through my columns in my university newspaper, as well as in my academic projects.

There were at least 2 instances that I was abused for being Asian. Once by an Asian American tutor who was rude to me because I was a FOB (fresh of the boat). The second time was in Kroger when a white redneck yelled at my then-girlfriend and myself, saying that he “f**king hate Chinese”. Other times, it was just drive-by insults.

Hence, I was quite bitter in the States. Of course, there must have been occasions when I felt that slights towards me was because of my skin colour, but on hindsight, it may have been imagined. Whatever it was, my experience in the States certainly changed my perspective in life about race and ethnicity. This will colour my judgement when I go watch the film.


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