Enjoy “Crazy Rich Asians”—But Don’t Stereotype

Representations of Asian Americans in the media are rare.

Posted Aug 22, 2018

mohamed_hassan/Pixabay
Source: mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

The hopes of many in Asian American communities are high for the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”. This is the first major movie involving an all-Asian cast since “Joy Luck Club” 25 years ago. “Crazy Rich Asians” is set in Singapore. But this is a rare chance for Asian Americans to see people that look like themselves on the big screen. And Asian Americans are similarly absent on the small screen. Over a 20-year period, Asian Americans were only 1.3% of the characters in prime-time television vs. being 6% of the U.S. population.

These rare glimpses of Asians create the potential for stereotypes. If a person’s experiences with a group are limited, media can be very influential. One stereotype from “Crazy Rich Asians” is that all Asians are rich. One can find actual examples of rich Asian Americans. U.S. immigration policies since 1965 have selected educated and professional immigrants. But many Asian immigrants have come to the U.S. as refugees, with few resources. Images of riches mask the fact that the gap between the richest and poorest Asians is the largest of any U.S. ethnic group.

Another stereotype from “Crazy Rich Asians” is that all Asians are East Asians. However, Asian Americans come from at least 29 different cultural backgrounds. Chinese Americans are the largest Asian American group. But Asian Indian Americans and Filipinx Americans are the second and third largest groups.

The one non-rich Asian in “Crazy Rich Asians,” Rachel Chu, had a single mother who escaped an abusive marriage in China. Her mother went into real estate and Rachel became a college professor. However, even this relatively unstereotypic character fulfills the Model Minority stereotype. This stereotype is that Asian Americans are inherently high achievers and have unlimited career mobility. This stereotype overlooks the many Asian immigrants who have struggled educationally and economically. And it overlooks discrimination against Asian Americans that is as common as it is for other groups of color in the U.S.

The scrutiny of “Crazy Rich Asians” is intense because media portrayals of Asians are rare. But one movie cannot be expected to represent all Asians. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie captured this well in her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”:

“I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called “American Psycho” and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.”

Most White Americans would not see a White serial murderer in “American Psycho” as typical of all White American men. This is because there are many images of White American men in movies and other media. But in the absence of many media images, Nigerian men are assumed to be abusers and Asians are assumed to be rich and East Asian.

Understand that “Crazy Rich Asians” is from Hollywood and that the characters are glamorized. This is not an accurate depiction of most Asians nor is it intended to be. So, enjoy “Crazy Rich Asians” for what it is. Romantic comedy and satire. And public support of this movie might create a market for other movies with more realistic depictions of Asians.

References

American Psychological Association (2016). Stress in America: The impact of discrimination. Stress in America™ Survey. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/impact.aspx

Junn, J., & Masuoka, N. (2008). Identities in context: Politicized racial group consciousness among Asian American and Latino youth. Applied Developmental Science, 12, 93–101. doi:10.1080/10888690801997234

Tukachinsky, R., Mastro, D., & Yarchi, M. (2015). Documenting portrayals of race/ethnicity on primetime television over a 20‐year span and their association with national‐level racial/ethnic attitudes. Journal of Social Issues, 71, 17-38. doi: 10.1111/josi.12094

Yoo, H. C., Miller, M. J., & Yip, P. (2015). Validation of the internalization of the Model Minority Myth Measure (IM-4) and its link to academic performance and psychological adjustment among Asian American adolescents. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21, 237-246. doi: 10.1037/a0037648

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