Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians - The Seeming Forgivable Stereotype"

I don’t know... 

If it’s a sustained hit, I guess the backlash will inevitably arrive.  But right now, the prevailing response to Crazy Rich Asians, the first major studio motion picture with an all-Asian cast in 25 years and “the highest opening romantic comedy since 2015’s Trainwreck” is a universal “Hooray!”

I was not going to write about Crazy Rich Asians, which we saw last weekend, not because I did not care for it – I thought it was fine – but because… you know how you drink a milkshake without a straw and it leaves a telltale mustache of froth on your upper lip?  Well… who wants to write about froth?

Before I turn this over to the Asian perspective I have yet to hear, let me set forth my prejudice.  Not against Asians.  Against conspicuous consumption.

Full Disclosure: I have walked out on maybe half-a-dozen movies in my entire life.  (And, to my credit, I have never loudly demanded the theater manager return a pro-rated portion of the ticket price.  Although I’ve wanted to.)  

One movie I precipitously departed was Pretty Woman.  Why?  Because the ’”Block Comedy Moment” was a borrowed credit-card-backed shopping spree on Rodeo Drive.  

I just hated that!  (And so did my feet, which, without instructions from my head, immediately headed for the exits.)

I was okay with Julia Roberts being a prostitute.  But I draw the line at buying everything in sight!

That’s the sine qua nonof our cultural aspirations?

“Acquisitive Gluttony”?

Okay, enough preachery. For now.

Crazy Rich Asians depicts wall-to-wall luxury.  First-Class plane rides include complimentary pajamas.  The film’s opulent galas make Disneyland look like traveling carnival.  Everything ostentatiously screams “Money!”  Who arethese people?  And where’s “”Madame Guillotine” when you need her?

Anyway… I appear to have lost my way here… oh, yeah.

It seems there are stereotypes, and there are stereotypes.  And “Acute Workaholism” and “Rejecting Snobbery” are not considered to be negative ones.   

In Crazy Rich Asians, two of the family’s sons get married at separate weddings.  The driven Dad is a conspicuous “No-Show” at both of them.  The film’s (albeit highly accomplished) “Cinderella Character”, cuttingly told, “You will never be a ‘Young’” – ultimately submits to that banishing decree.  

(Until the end where – Spoiler Alert! – the lead characters struggling to choose between love and unimaginable affluence wind up – thanks to a generous screenwriter – not having to choose, an ending that offends me as a writer andas an audience member.  (“You made me think “It was one or the other’ and it turns out they get everything?  I want a pro-rated portion of my… okay, never mind.”)    

The question is – and it is not my question to ask but there is nobody else here– why aren’t the members of the ethnicity portrayed in Crazy Rich Asians upset by this generally unflattering portrayal of their culture?

Back in the fifties, an irate organization of African Americans got Amos ‘n’ Andy cancelled because of “offensive racial characterizations”, even though Amos entrepreneurially owned a cab company and “The Kingfish”, though a recognized “Trickster”, was always trying to better his economic condition.  Only Andy was characteristically “iffy.”  As if all oppressed minority members have to be role models.

The offended organization complained that, since there were at the time a paucity of black characters appearing on television, Amos ‘n’ Andy produced an unbalanced negative representation.  The show unequivocally needed to go.

The thing is, speaking as a student of comedy (and not as an African-American, though I am sure a(n unspecified) number of them would agree with me), Amos ‘n’ Andy was inarguably hilarious.  It didn’t matter.  Amos ‘n’ Andywas decreed a destructive stumbling block to racial understanding.  

And yet – returning to Crazy Rich Asians – it’s okay to portray, without alternate balancing representations, money-grubbing Asians who reject Chinese-Americans for being not sufficiently tough-minded?  (Because they believe in “personal happiness” over “the best interests of the family”, all of which, apparently, involve becoming as gaggingly rich as you possibly can?)

Call me crazy, but I’m seeing negative stereotypes here.  Granted, the behavior is not criminal – simply free enterprise on “Overdrive” – the film no more culturally offensive than, say, movies like “Crazy Cold Eskimos”, “Really Fast Black People” or “Jews With Cramps – The Ashkenazi Nightmare” would be.

I get it.  It’s a fantasy.  Audiences are a lot savvier than to think Asians are all obsessed capitalist kingpins.  (An attribute some may secretly admire.)  

Crazy Rich Asians is entertainment-oriented, summertime “fluff.”  It is not meant to be taken seriously.

The thing is,

Neither was Amos ‘n’ Andy.

And, believe me, that was a heck of a lot funnier.


JED said...

Is the difference that Amos 'n' Andy was created and written by people who were not the minority the show portrayed while Crazy Rich Asians had an Asian director and more input from Asian writers and other crew? I don't know enough about either show. Just thinking about possible reasons.

Anonymous said...

Somebody needs to tell Jackie Chan that his movies are worthless because the roundeyes didn’t finance and make them in Hollywood. When an all round eye movie is made and financed in Hong Kong let me know. Long past time that Jackie is awarded an academy award for his career contributions to cinema, he is the real deal.

JED said...

That last comment reminded me of this - We adopted our daughter from China (sixteen years ago). While in China to bring our daughter home, our tour guide told us that the Chinese say that they notice our Big Noses as opposed to their Small Noses. At least that is what this one tour guide said to this one group of Big Noses at this particular time.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Coincidently, I just saw a show on public T.V. about the early days of Hollywood and how badly ethnic minorities were depicted in the movies. More often than not the Chinese/Asians were portrayed as laborers, laundry men, cooks, servants, etc. As were Blacks, Hispanics, et al. So, I'm sure that to many Asians this is NOT an "unflattering portrail." Just the opposite. To show Chinese as successful and affluent as opposed to "coolies" or waiters or inscrutable villains is a major step forward. It's none of my business what your politics are, but in this day and age, to some people, the idea of wealth in general is an anathema. Finally, I actually know some real life crazy rich Asians. My friend's in-laws are ethnic Chinese. I'm not sure how they got their money; some kind of business dealings in Asia. I went to one of their Christmas parties. They live in a mansion in the Hollywood hills. It was magnificent.

Mathew B. said...

It seems, then, that the title says it all!