Jon M Chu’s new Hollywood studio blockbuster is a symbolic breakthrough moment for Asians living in Western societies.
“If I experienced racism or anything like that, I was not conscious of it and it was because I was my own worst enemy..” answers Constance Wu in a recent interview, the star of the new Hollywood romantic comedy ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. She doesn’t realise this, but this comment points to an attitude that plaque Asians who live in Western societies.
In a recent company meeting, a project team is discussing how they should allocate work to meet an important deadline. Peter, born in Australia to Chinese immigrant parents, has his concerns but chooses to remain silent as the rest of the team agrees.
[Peter] chooses to remain silent as the rest of the team agrees.
Why doesn’t he speak up? Obeying authority and compliance with the status quo are behaviors ingrained in the Asian psyche. Signs of rebellion are routinely shut down by well-meaning parents for the sake of maintaining stability and order. Attitudes have shifted in recent times but it’s a slow cultural change.
So when it is time for the Peters of this world to step up to the plate, rock the boat, stand in the limelight, generations of indoctrination leave Peter awaiting for approval like pets awaiting its master’s commands. Unfortunately, there aren’t any handouts from Western society either. Square pegged into highly technical roles such as accounting, IT or medicine, no one expects the Asians to play any other role, consciously or not.
Left with this cycle of playing the position we’re assumed. We don’t argue, we do just as Constance Wu shares about her acting career, internalise the rejection and blame it on our own inadequacies: that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough.
That we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough.
This is what makes Jon Chu’s film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ so significant. The first Hollywood studio film to feature a majority Chinese cast since 1993 defies the status quo. Despite pressure to cast a white lead actress, author Kevin Kwan refuses to succumb to pressure but instead takes what isn’t given. The right to stand in the positions left for those reserved by Western societies.
Every breakthrough moment requires a movement to create real change. It is time for Asians to end the cycle of self-defeat and be conscious of the signals that demand us to stay in our lane. There is no excuse, this landmark film proves just that.