Asian American Representation in Crazy Rich Asians (Alissa Final)

December 17, 2019 at 12:29 am 1 comment

The rise of television and film has drastically interwoven into the American lifestyle, and as popular culture converges with the political atmosphere of the United States, it functions as a tool for expression and reform. Crazy Rich Asians were based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel and take much inspiration from the writer’s privileged upbringing in Singapore. Crazy Rich Asians was released in 2018 and raked in around $238 million at the box office. Additionally, Crazy Rich Asians has been the first predominantly Asian cast in a big-budget Hollywood movie in about 25 years. 



We have seen time and time again the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of Asian Americans in cinema. However, unlike many of the films we have watched throughout the semester, this could be one of the first films that are void of popular Hollywood stereotypes such as “dragon lady”, “lotus blossom”, along with many others. Rather, Crazy Rich Asians depict Asian Americans as multidimensional people with different experiences and backgrounds. Additionally, it represents the many contrasting Asian women’s experiences across generations. 

The movie, Crazy Rich Asians follow the story of a girl named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who is a Chinese-American professor. She quickly falls in love with a man named Nick Young (Henry Golding) who is from an incredibly rich Singaporean family. Although Rachel does not know this at first, when she finally meets Nick’s rich family, she struggles with feeling accepted as well as trying to hold on to her own identity while trying to navigate herself in such an unfamiliar world. While watching this movie, I found myself relating to Rachel Chu’s experience SO much for what seemed like the first time ever. Although I have seen multiple Asian Americans in some form of media before, I never felt like my identity aligned with theirs, except for our shared heritage. Like Rachel Chu, I have been called a “banana” before which refers to someone being “yellow on the outside and white on the inside” or in other words, an Asian-American who has lost their “Asian” roots. Being a Chinese American adoptee and growing up in America for pretty much my whole life in a white family, I have missed out on ever celebrating “Asian” holidays, eating Chinese food, knowing and understanding Chinese cultural traditions and norms, and not even being able to speak Chinese. Therefore, I always feel the need to prove that I am “Asian enough”. The storyline, as Constance Wu has stated shows, “[Asian] culture is more than skin deep”, meaning that although a majority of the characters in this movie share the same heritage, their experiences differ from each other. This is so powerful as it truly depicts Asian Americans as multidimensional people. 


There is a scene of the movie that I remember so distinctly. The moment was shared between Rachel Chu and Nicks’s mother, Eleanor Young, while playing a game of Mahjong where Eleanor tells Rachel that, no matter what, in the world of Singapore high society, Rachel will always be a foreigner. To Eleanor, Rachel is not part of her, “own kind of people” because she is American and all Americans can think about is “their own happiness”. However, through the careful playing of Mahjong, this game becomes an analogy of their life’s struggle and values. During this game, Rachel could easily win but decides not to, to let Eleanor win instead. While she lets Eleanor win, she tells her that she turned down Nick’s proposal to her regardless of the fact that she loved him. This was due to her wanting to put Nick first and save more potential conflict between Nick and his family. This shows that regardless of Eleanor’s accusations that since Rachel is more American, she must not think about anyone except for herself, Rachel is proving that not only is she wrong, but she’s done seeking Eleanor’s approval. She has finally accepted herself and her identity. During the shooting for this scene, Constance Wu actually found herself very emotional as she could she identify with many of the feelings that her character, Rachel was feeling in this scene. The fact that Constance could draw from her own experiences and feelings while portraying this character in a Hollywood movie is so powerful.

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It is impossible to encapsulate the richness and complexities of the Asian diaspora through just a single movie but Crazy Rich Asians attempt to. The main aspect of the Asian American experience presented in the movie is one that many can still identify and relate to: that one is constantly straddling two cultures, always afraid that they are unable to fully immerse into a single one. By representing the struggle, the movie shows and acknowledges Asian Americans as encompassing varied complex identities, rather than being a flat character with little individuality or personal development. Additionally, Crazy Rich Asians have most importantly proven to society that Asian American centered stories can live in media today. This ignites the possibility and hopes for more Asian and Asian American representation, leading to a more holistic understanding of what “Asian American” identities consist of.


Beck, Lia. “How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Co-Writer Adele Lim Changed The Story To Make The Women Even Stronger.” Bustle,
Chow, Andrew R., and Ang Li. “How Hollywood Is Faring One Year After Crazy Rich Asians.” Time, Time, 10 July 2019,
Ho, Karen K. “How Crazy Rich Asians Is Going to Change Hollywood.” Time, Time, 15 Aug. 2018,

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 24, 2019 at 7:44 am

    In this final post, you brought back your personal voice. Again, I would advise making this a more consistent element in your project. I very much appreciate you sharing your own experience growing up as an adoptee – how does that experience influence how you are studying to these media representations? That could have been the thesis of your project.

    You wrote: “However, unlike many of the films we have watched throughout the semester, this could be one of the first films that are void of popular Hollywood stereotypes such as “dragon lady”, “lotus blossom”, along with many others. Rather, Crazy Rich Asians depict Asian Americans as multidimensional people with different experiences and backgrounds.” Do you think the transnational setting and production of the film (and book) have something to do with this change?

    What you have in this final project are three posts that are related by their general topic, and the fact that they are posted on our class blog. They need a more focused thesis and critical framework in order to be considered a stand-alone project. I appreciate you engaging with examples of contemporary Asian American media representation, and would have liked to see more references to debates and discussion in relevant scholarship.

    Prof Ma


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