By Jasmine Linder
Crazy Rich Asians portrays a familiar story of a woman seeking acceptance into a family. After introduced to the Young family through her prospective spouse, Rachel Chu finds herself negotiating the lives of the Youngs and her background. Although she faces scrutiny and judgement by the Young family, Rachel eventually wins acceptance through Nick Young’s proposal. Although this ending is positive for the audience of the film it can be viewed as problematic. By casting Nick and Rachel’s marriage as the “happily ever after” ending of the film, Crazy Rich Asians glorifies marriage as the ideal, devaluing Rachel’s independence and dignity.
Despite the couple’s clear happiness and affection, the Young family rejects the idea of their marriage. The reasoning behind their disapproval, as Aunt Eleanor explains, is that they are “not of the same people”. Through this, Eleanor is referring to the economic gap between the Chu and Young family, as well as the fact that Rachel spent the majority of her life living in America. Rachel is seen as different due to her individuality at home, not fitting into what Judith Lorber would describe as “gendered structures” (Lorber, 219) which fit into social order of China. Due to the Young’s emphasis on Chinese tradition, Rachel would fail her job as a married woman. Additionally, Kumiko Nemoto explains the social aspect of marriage stating, “Images and discourses of interracial relationships make some couples more socially acceptable than others” (Kemoto, 230). Although this quote is referring to the social implications of interracial couples, it can be applied because Rachel is seen as an “other” due to her American upbringing and cultural identity. Her background makes her less ideal in the eyes of Nick’s traditional family. Furthermore, Rachel is villainized by Nick’s family friends. Nick’s mom goes as far as to tell Rachel that she will “never be good enough” for Nick. This scene exemplifies the ways that the Youngs scrutinized Rachel for who she was. Keeping this in mind, it is interesting how happily Rachel accepts the Young family as her own.
Despite this humiliation and judgement, Rachel quickly accepts her invitation to join the Young family. This acceptance completely dismisses the main conflict of the film—the Young family doesn’t embrace Rachel for who she is or where she comes from. It also diminishes the empowerment that Rachel felt after leaving the Youngs in the first place. The film leaves many questions unanswered, such as where the couple will live (will they remain in New York, allowing Rachel to continue her career, or follow Nick’s family to Singapore?) By failing to answer key questions of the plot, the film re-affirms the idea that marriage is of upmost importance. In “One Is Not Born a Bride”, Chys Ingraham describes the nature of marriage stating, “identity in relation to marriage is universal and in no need of explanation” (Ingraham, 43). Ingraham suggests that marriage is seen as vital in the formation of identity and asks no explanation. Rather than looking back on the questions that complicated their marriage in the first place, Rachel and Nick engage without question.
On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians looks to be a positive movie about a couple’s victorious romance. However, when looked at through a critical lens, it becomes apparent that the film re-enforces the idea that marriage is the ideal. Through this idealization, Crazy Rich Asians conveys the message that marriage is the solution, leading to a happy life. This is not always the case. In the “Lesbian Feminism” section of Gender Inequality, Lorber describes the empowerment that women feel in rejecting societal norms regarding relationships. Keeping this in mind, it is important to question what the storyline would have been life if Rachel chose what empowered her, leaving the family which disrespected her identity, rather than settling for what is expected—marriage.
Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.