UBC panelists argue that Crazy Rich Asians is both groundbreaking film and missed opportunity

On October 10, the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office hosted “Watching Crazy Rich Asians in Vancouver (A Dialogue)”, featuring a diverse range of panelists with different backgrounds in Asian North-American culture and film.

The panel began with a discussion on how the portrayal of “Crazy Rich Asians” may reinforce existing stereotypes surrounding Asian immigrants in Vancouver.

Yulanda Liu, coordinator at Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice, expressed concerns that the film would exacerbate the discrimination experienced by impoverished seniors residing in Chinatown, which her organization currently aims to serve.

Dr. Danielle Wong, assistant professor in language and literature at UBC asked the audience to consider the purpose of representation in the film. Namely, is representation solely for representations’ sake, or does it possess a greater responsibility to be accurate?

Barbara Lee, founder of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, stressed just how little Asian representation there is in Hollywood.

“No, [Crazy Rich Asians] doesn’t answer all the questions we wanted it to, yes it reinforces certain stereotypes, but part of that is commercial success.” she said.

While some critiqued the film for emphasizing commercial palatability rather than sympathy, Lee emphasized that any form of representation can break barriers for more diverse narratives to be told on film. “It’s not an evil thing to be commercially successful, because it opens doors for other people.”

Dr. Janey Lew, educational consultant for Indigenous Initiatives at UBC, brought forward one of the closing scenes of the film, where Chinese-American protagonist Rachel gives up a winning hand for Eleanor, her boyfriend’s mother, in order to demonstrate that she understands the family values more than Eleanor suspects.

Drawing a parallel to our discussion, Lew posed a final question to consider going forward: “How do we give up some of our privileges … to see, hear, and support the strengths of the unacknowledged?”

While the film garnered a wide range of criticism from the diverse perspectives in the room, nearly everyone could agree on one thing: Crazy Rich Asians was thoroughly entertaining. It thrives in its identity as a romantic-comedy, deploying the well-loved tropes with exceeding competence. Crazy Rich Asians may not have been the radically progressive film that many of us were hoping for, but this may be the hand we give up in exchange for the representation and opportunity that its success could bring us.