The first time I realized I was an ethnic minority was in the fifth grade, when a boy in my class pulled his eyes back at me and shouted, “Look, I’m Chinese!” I remember my face instantly getting hot from embarrassment as he continued to spew racial slurs as though they weren’t hateful and discriminatory. I remember looking to my classmates, desperate for help, but they decidedly laughed along with him and mimicked my speech by using an “Asian” accent. That one moment led to many racist incidents throughout my middle and high school years, causing me to feel ashamed of my culture and to suppress my Chinese heritage.
I always knew and acknowledged that I was Chinese, though I never felt comfortable embracing it in the community and society that I grew up in. As I moved on into middle school, I started to notice how little Asian representation there was in films, music and television shows. The only Asian actors I was exposed to on Western television and movie screens were those who were used as props to bigger celebrities — the nerdy sidekicks or the strange, exotic extras. I never imagined a day where I would see a full-fledged Asian cast on the big screen of a theater. Director Jon Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” changed that for me.
It took 25 years for Hollywood to finally feature an all-Asian cast with an Asian American lead, with the last Hollywood film featuring a cast of majority Asians being released in 1993. At 20 years old, I essentially grew up with little to no Asian celebrities I could look up to as role models. It took 25 years for Hollywood to realize that centering a film around Asian culture wouldn’t hurt the box office, but instead break it, making the film the highest-grossing romantic comedy in the United States since 2009.
The first time I watched “Crazy Rich Asians,” I cried right as the first scene of the movie started playing on the big screen. Never had I experienced a crowded theater full of people of all races coming together to celebrate Asian culture. I noticed myself constantly looking around me to catch the expressions of audience members and see who laughed and cried along with me to the different scenes. By the end of the movie, a majority of the audience was wiping tears from their faces.
The thing that resonated with me most from the film was how well the plot represented the small details of Chinese culture — from distinguishing the different dialects of Mandarin and Cantonese to including the struggles of growing up as a Chinese American. As a Chinese American myself, I could relate to the character of Rachel Chu, an American-born Chinese woman who doesn’t live up to the expectations of her boyfriend’s first-generation immigrant mother.
In one scene, Rachel’s mother warns Rachel, telling her, “You may have the face of a Chinese person. You may sound like a Chinese person. But in your mind and in your heart, you will never be the same as a Chinese person from China.”
This is a constant struggle that many Western-born children of Asian immigrants face throughout their lifetimes. The fact that the film focused on those difficulties made the storyline even more relatable and empowering.
I understand that the film doesn’t represent all Asian people and all aspects of Asian culture, though “Crazy Rich Asians” does a great job at finally shining a spotlight on Asian celebrities in Hollywood and advocating for more Asian representation in the media. This movie finally gives a voice to Asians who once weren’t given the opportunity to speak. The film “Crazy Rich Asians” makes me crazy proud to be Asian, and that is something I haven’t openly felt in years.
Katy Wong is a junior majoring in English.