Minority Representation in Crazy Rich Asians

by Ryan Costa

Discrimination and prejudice among minorities stem mainly from differences in religions, ethnicities, ideologies, and cultures. Within these cultural differences, financial and social status have been used as tools for minority discrimination, mis- and under-representation. The film Crazy Rich Asians combats the social issue pertaining to minorities, specifically Asian American minorities through the character development of the protagonist Rachel Chu, an economist professor and her interaction with her fiancée’s family along with wealthier members of the Asian society. The director of the film, Jon M. Chu, effectively utilizes various aesthetic, affective, symbolic, and narrative techniques as a tool to demonstrate minority representation, specifically pertaining to financial and social discrimination, the notion of minority myth model, and potential solutions to combating minority social issues. In Crazy Rich Asians, through the actions and juxtapositions of the characters, Chu demonstrates the universal truth that courage and compassion instead of hate should act as the foundation for combating minority issues and promoting change.   

            In Crazy Rich Asians, Chu illustrates the concept of minority representation in modern societies through Rachel Chu’s journey to Singapore, where she strove to gain acceptance from her fiancée’s, Nick Young, extremely wealthy family. The fictional movie depicts several negative interpretations regarding the treatment of minorities. For instance, when Nick Young is mentioned Rachel Chu, to his mother, Eleanor Sung-Young, her initial impressions of Rachel involve a negative tone. Eleanor’s bias revolves around the racial notion that Asian American are inferior to traditional Asians, which often stem from differences in ideologies and culture. Chinese American adopts the American culture of freedom, independence, and individuality while traditional Chinese culture greatly emphasize the value of family, and hierarchical organizational structures, where children and individuals of lower class are under strict guidance of those with greater financial or social status (Miyawaki). This is evident with the discussion between Rachel and Eleanor, as Eleanor utilizes American stereotypes and culture to destroy Rachel’s relationship with Nick. The conflict is a symbolic representation of minority struggle within society, as Rachel is disrespected and not accepted by Eleanor, who represents wealthier class of society. It shows that society is forged on cultural status, where these divisions result in minority discrimination and conflict. Jon M. Chu demonstrates that minorities do not receive respect, and support from the wealthy class as they want to remain in power at the cost of harming the minority community. This is evident through the mistreatment Rachel experienced from Nick’s friends, family and acquaintances, all who utilized social media as an attempt to hinder and prevent her from rising within the social ladder due to differences in culture and ideology. Crazy Rich Asians effectively utilizes aesthetic elements such as modern tools of social media to demonstrate the role that media plays in minority representation. Media generally negatively project minorities, and misrepresent their true ideologies, culture and values (Lin). This is significant because the media provides skewed views of minority representation which indicates the lack of opportunity and choices for individuals in vulnerable populations (Frisby). The characters’ actions demonstrate the nature of society, where the wealthy class discriminates and misrepresent minorities through their power to influence key government and political positions (Frisby). Their control over policies and technologies such as the media are utilized as tools that mainly benefit the wealthy, while limiting the opportunities of financial and social growth within minority community.  

Discrimination is not limited to only racial and cultural domains. Social and financial factors also play a significant role regarding discrimination and minority misrepresentation. In Crazy Rich Asians, Nick and Rachel’s relationship was also frowned upon by his family due to differences in financial status. The interactions among the characters, especially during the conversation between Nick and his relative, Eddie demonstrates that marriage among families depends on financial and political motivations. Eddie claims that the marriage between Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee was a success because each person brought something to the “table” (Crazy Rich Asians). Eddie continues to insult Rachel, stating that her financial status renders her incapable of benefitting her partner, as she cannot offer anything of value to Nick. This demonstrates that within a wealthy society, marriage is often used as a tool to gain financial and political power rather than for love. This perspective of marriage leads to financial discrimination, especially towards minorities as they do not have several assets to compete with the upper class within society. The disproportionality in power and wealth, often leads to emotions such as greed and selfishness which further amplifies discrimination as they want to maintain their status of power while eliminating competition by limiting the financial growth of minorities (Frisby). This is evident in Crazy Rich Asians especially through the abuse and threats Rachel experienced during the bachelorette party. Terms such as “gold digger” (Crazy Rich Asians) are utilized by the rich to inflict psychological damage in hopes to destroy her relationship with Nick. The negative connotation of “gold digger” (Crazy Rich Asians) serves to prevent minority financial growth and connections with the wealthier communities. While Crazy Rich Asians effectively portrays financial minority discrimination, it fails to cover the full scope of the issue. The character of Rachel is utilized as an archetype for minority conflict, however, the character itself is flawed because it is not a true representation of minorities. While Rachel is not part of the wealthy class, she is still a financially stable, and a well-educated individual as demonstrated by her profession as a Professor of Economics. If the character of Rachel was a true representative of minorities, such as those who are within the poorer and more vulnerable populations in society, the struggles, conflict, interactions and decisions among Nick’s family will be extremely different. Incorporation of relatable characters that provide an accurate representation of members from the minority community will greatly improve the effectiveness for the film to further address issues of racism, injustice, and discrimination, providing a more accurate portrayal of minority representation.

Crazy Rich Asians demonstrates the differences and struggles of minorities through overall negative tone and atmosphere perceived by the interactions between Rachel and the wealthy society. Although, the film demonstrates some fundamental truths surrounding minorities, it has significant limitations as it fails to provide the full scope of minority representation. Crazy Rich Asians is depicted as utilizing discursive strategies to enforce the minority myth model, the notion that specific demographic groups are perceived to have greater financial and social success than the general populous (Bishundat et al). This stereotype is specifically targeted towards Asian-Americans, indicating that they are superior than other minorities such as African and Hispanic Americans (Bishundat et al).  Through interpretation of the minority myth model, the film to enforces stereotypes that Asians are good, hard-working individuals in contrast to other minority demographics whose image is distorted and is generally portrayed as criminally prone by the media (Frisby). This is evident through Rachel’s profession as an economics professor, which demonstrating her financial and social stability relative to other minorities, thus enforcing the minority model stereotypes. While Crazy Rich Asians fails to provide an accurate representation of minorities, it does provide universal truths, which describes that minorities are discriminated and disrespected by rich and powerful members of society. Crazy Rich Asians ultimately demonstrates that despite the lack of opportunities and barriers, minorities must combat the issue through courage and compassion, not anger. The anti-institutional strategy of fighting the system, is effectively portrayed through the juxtaposition between Rachel and Michael. While both Rachel and Michael are considered minorities relative to their wealthier spouse, Michael viewed himself inferior to his wife, Astrid and plotted to harm her through his affair. Michael is the archetype of individuals who avoids or utilizes pessimistic means of fighting the minority social issue. Instead, the director Jon M. Chu utilizes the film of Crazy Rich Asians to demonstrates to the audience to act like Rachel, who in contrast to Michael, tackles the issue directly through courage and respect. This is evident especially through the Mahjong scene, which highlights the character development of the protagonist, Rachel as she directly combats the issue surrounding her discrimination by Nick’s mother. Rachel’s actions of refusing to accept Nick’s marriage proposal demonstrates her maturity, as she learned the value of family from her single mother and own personal experiences. Rachel explains to Nick’s mother, that despite their differences, she will not use corrupt means to attain victory, but make good, and informed decisions. The Mahjong scene in the film also can be viewed to represent the discrimination between Asian American and Chinese societies. In Mahjong there are four players which represent the four compass directions (Lo 10). Rachel sat in the West seat while Nick’s mom in the East position, which acts as a metaphor for the conflict between American Chinese and traditional Chinese. Rachel’s decisions not only demonstrate that individuals should directly address minority conflict, but discrimination holistically. Society should follow Rachel’s examples instead of Michael. Jon M. Chu shows that solving the root cause of minority conflict should begin with improving cultural discrimination through fair, open, and courteous discussions. Crazy Rich Asians effectively utilized aesthetic, and affective techniques demonstrated through the Mahjong scene to ultimately portray to the audience that differences in American and Chinese culture which drive discrimination, prejudice and conflict for minority populations should be overcome with love and respect.      

Jon M. Chu utilizes various elements within the film to portray minority conflict in society. The use of symbolism, juxtaposition, and character development along with various aesthetic techniques demonstrates minority discrimination due to financial, social and cultural factors. The growth and progression of Rachel’s maturity throughout the film is a representation of minority struggle and symbolizes means of creating positive change. While Crazy Rich Asians fails to demonstrate all aspects of minority representation by enforcing the minority myth model, it provides the audience with the fundamental truth of combating discrimination; the solution does not involve hate, but courage, love, and compassion.

Works Cited

Bishundat, Devita, et al. “A Critical Review of the Model Minority Myth in Selected Literature on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education.” Sage Journals, vol. 86, no. 2, 2016.

Crazy Rich Asians. Directed by Jon M. Chu, performances by Henry Golding, and Constance    Wu, Warner Brothers, 2018.  

Frisby, Cynthia. “Misrepresentations of Lone Shooters: The Disparate Treatment of Muslim, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and White Perpetrators in the US News Media.” Scientific Research, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=77354. 

Lin, Zhu. “A Comparative Look at Chinese and American Stereotypes: A focus group Study.” ProQuest, no. 42, 2016, search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1963398690/fulltext/523600C9641C4243PQ/1?accountid=13631.

Lo, Amy. The Book of Mahjong An Illustrated Guide. Boston. Tuttle Publishing, 2001.  

Miyawaki, Christina E. “A Review of Ethnicity, Culture, and Acculturation Among Asian Caregivers of Older Adults (2000-2012).”  Sage Journals, vol. 5, no. 1, 2015, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244014566365.

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