Why Asian Representation in Hollywood Will Never Satisfy Everyone

I’m sure we’ve all heard the same complaints about not enough representation of minority ethnicities on media. Yet, with the release of two films, one with an all Asian cast and another with an Asian lead, the public is still not satisfied with what they saw on the screen.

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The movie poster for the book to film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding. Source: impawards.com

Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy-drama, is the first Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993. Adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name, this story follows Rachel Chu (portrayed by Constance Wu), a Chinese-American NYU economics professor, who is invited by her Singaporean boyfriend to meet his overbearing and “crazy rich” family. The majority of the film is set in Singapore, displaying and promoting the city as the metropolis that many worldwide do not know it to be.

Where are the Singaporean accents? Why are these actors and actresses all Chinese? Why do they barely speak any Hokkien?

However, the public remains as picky as ever. Where are the Singaporean accents? Why are these actors and actresses all Chinese? Why do they barely speak any Hokkien?

Following the release of Crazy Rich Asians, every Golden Village, Shaw Theatre, and Cathay Cineleisure was filled with locals eager to see their home in cinemas. The film’s greatest fans and critics were found in the little red dot itself. Having lived in Singapore for four years, I was quick to nitpick at the differences I saw as well, like how it’s nearly impossible to host a party at the tourist-infested Gardens by the Bay, or the fact that Merlion Park is never empty between sunrise and sunset–so it’s highly unlikely Nick Young (Henry Golding), the film’s main sigh-worthy man, would be able to find Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) there completely alone.

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The movie poster for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix, featuring Lana Condor as Lara Jean Covey. Source: Wikipedia.org

Similar critiques were applied to the Netflix-produced To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before as well. Based on a best-selling novel of the same name, it follows a Korean American teenage girl, Lara Jean Covey (portrayed by Lana Condor), whose five love letters she’d written for each of her crushes are suddenly sent out without her knowing. In an instant, she’s roped into a fake relationship with the most popular guy in school, who also happens to be her seventh-grade crush.

While there’s praise for the film for having an Asian American female lead, there are critiques similar to those nit-picking Crazy Rich AsiansYakult (a Japanese yogurt drink cameo-d in the film) isn’t even Korean. Lana Condor is ethnically Vietnamese, not half Korean. 

“[Lara Jean’s part-Korean heritage]…was an easy detail to forget.” – Beatrice Wang, SAS Junior

 Many stress that numerous details concerning Covey’s ethnic heritage were glazed over or completely cut out in the film version. Beatrice Wang, a junior at SAS, watched only the movie and did not read the book. She said that“[Lara Jean’s part-Korean heritage] wasn’t a huge part of the movie and it was an easy detail to forget. Countless components of the film missed the opportunity to bring out this unique point of her character and truly set it apart from other typical teenage rom-coms”.

Of course, this has to do with human nature. We will never be satisfied with how Asia and minorities are seen in movies. But we should at least be grateful that Hollywood is moving in the right direction.

These small quirks are understandable for me. After all, these are films, and not 100% reality. It takes more than one film to accurately portray an entire country, continent, or minority. The statistics of ethnically white to ethnically Asian actors clearly show a large disparity between the two. It’s tough for movie producers and teams to put together a film they want to do well with the correct budget and the right actors, while also pleasing a crowd whose desire for perfection in equal representation in media is like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. 

I’m not here to decide if how Asia and Asian Americans were portrayed in these films is right or wrong. I’m here to say that no matter what Hollywood does with expanding the ethnic representation, there will always be small things to nit-pick here and there. We shouldn’t be caring about things like if the cast is Singaporean enough when we should be grateful that it’s even Asian enough. Change happens in small steps. Hollywood is just learning how to walk with their first few Asian American/minority-centric films, but only time will tell if they take the effort to run.

Author: Jonna Chen

Jonna Chen is the Editor-in-Chief of The Eye this year. This is her fourth year in Singapore (and SAS) and her second year working with The Eye. Currently a senior, she can be found stressing over a formative quiz or poking her friends on a normal school day. Once at home, she multitasks by doing homework, organizing her life in color-coded lists, and watching Worth It on YouTube. Her phone constantly being on silent causes her to miss all her friends' calls, but she can always be contacted at chen47991@sas.edu.sg.

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