in letters, movies, reviews

A movie that can represent us

It’s a weird thing to be an Asian American that’s tangentially involved in the media. I spend a lot of time commenting on art, but I see very little art that reflects my understanding or perspective of the world. Even worse is the feeling that when I have seen Asians or Asian Americans on screen, I’ve felt as though each one bears an immense (and unfair) burden of representing a whole group of people to its audience.

I’ve winced when Asian characters speak in broken English for comedic effect. I’ve cringed when Asians are exoticized and “othered.” I’ve died a little every time Asian men are presented exclusively as goofy and sexless.

I feel the desire to grab the audience, to shake them and explain, “We’re not all like that! This piece of art that’s shaping your perception of my people is incomplete!” It’s comical to say all of this but it’s also a comment on how little art there is out there that features Asians prominently (This list provides a solid overview of how Asians and Asian Americans have appeared in film over the course of the past century).

Then a movie like Crazy Rich Asians comes out. The characters on screen are beautiful and charming. The plot deals with aspects of immigrant life that feel deeply authentic. I’ve seen the film with audiences who have laughed and cried. There are many Asian characters on screen and they are silly and funny and elegant and stern and luminous. The Asian male characters are sexy and desirable. And for the first time in long while, I feel like there’s a movie out in theaters that can represent us.