Complicated Positionalities of Asian Women in Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asians

By Avia Hailey

This film is categorized as a romantic comedy, but as it delves deeper into societal and cultural issues it becomes so much more. The film begins with a flash back to an “old-timey” 1995 London. Eleanor Young arrives with her children, all soaked from the rain, to the hotel where she reserved a suite. They are turned down their suite by an all white, condescending male hotel staff. From the body language and speech that the staff give, the watcher is eluded to the fact that Mrs. Young and her family’s presentation, is the reason they are denied service (that being both their race, gender, and appearances). After watching that part of the movie I immediately thought about Judith Lorber’s definition of male hegemony in Gender Inequality. She defined it as “men’s dominance in values, knowledge, culture, and politics”. By denying the Young’s service, the male staff at the hotel were asserting their idea of the “ideal” customer for the hotel and then projecting it on the Young’s to make them feel lesser than. The irony of that moment is that the Youngs own the hotel (unbeknown to the hotel staff) so they are the ones that “truly” belong there.

As the film continues you are introduced to the main character Rachel Chu. She is an economic professor at New York University (NYU). Through a game theory demonstration she is able to show both her intelligence as well as cunning manner. Later on in the film the watcher finds out, she is a self-made women from a single mother household, that worked hard to get where she currently is. The character of Rachel is a prime example of feminist theories in action. For example, Liberal Feminism’s focus on deconstructing the “glass ceiling”. The “glass ceiling” can be described as “an intangible barrier that prevents the advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minoritized groups.” Rachel becoming an economics professor at a prestigious institution such as New York University is a direct result of feminist theory. Her story is a testimony to change and the deconstruction of corrupt structures and narratives.

Let’s take a look at another strong female character in the movie, Mrs. Young. She also went to a prestigious university, but instead of finishing her degree and becoming lawyer, she dropped out to put her family first. This was expected of her because of her culture and the family she married into. It was required of her to be a “dutiful” wife, and even at her best she was never seen as enough by the matriarch of the family. This idea of Asian women being dutiful and subservient to their husbands in not new. In “Interracial Romance” Kumiko Nemoto explains that Asian women are seen as “good wives,” because of the dominant narratives saying they are “submissive, subservient, passive, and/or hypersexual”. These characteristic in a women supposedly help reinforce masculinity, which is why Asian women are popular to marry. It is interesting how even after all these year males dominance over women and the pressure to be a “good” wife is deeply ingrained not just into Asian cultures, but in cultures worldwide. In the essay “Disability, Embodiment and the Meaning of the Home” Rob Imrie talks about the home being a potential place of repression and confinement for women. If we hold onto the hundred year old idea of women solely being fit to serve their husbands and their “homes”, then that is exactly what it will become. We need more Rachel Chu stories in the spotlight to help propel change. Stories that deconstruct structures within society that keep women below men.


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.

The Body with All the Gifts

By Ryan McLauchlan

In Professor Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies course, we screened and discussed The Girl with All the Gifts. The film is about humanity being plagued with a fungus that gives people the desire to eat flesh. This post-apocalyptic zombie movie takes viewers on a journey with a young, black, half-zombie girl named Melanie (played by Sennia Nanua), and her white fully-human teacher on their quest to save humanity. Upon watching the first few scenes, I was excited to see a young, black girl cast as a central character in a movie that’s not explicitly about race. However, it became clear that though Melanie’s protagonist role seemed progressive, the use of a black main character is purposely exploited to please a white audience.

The role of Melanie was appropriated in a way to make the mistreatment of her character more digestible to white viewers. As viewers continue to watch the movie, it becomes clear in the plot that the only way to save the human race is to kill Melanie, and create a vaccine from her half-human, half-zombie DNA. Melanie’s partial-zombie status invites the audience to dehumanize her, which is easier for people to do to racialized bodies. In Margo DeMello’s “Racialized and Colonized Bodies,” she claims that “African-Americas were not just thought of as animals; they were treated like animals.” DeMello asserts that if people view racialized bodies as animalistic, it is easier to treat them as such. Along these lines, while it would seem radical to have a black girl as a main character, she is actually cast as the protagonist so that the audience can be more comfortable with her mistreatment in the movie.

Another way in which the creators of this movie take advantage of Melanie’s black body is through the relationship she has with her white teacher. While some would believe that the relationship between a white and black character in a movie diffuses racial tension, in the movie it actually reinforces racial stereotypes. In Kumiko Nemoto’s “Interracial Romance,” she presents the idea that “seemingly oppositional or counter-normative behaviors in fact reveal the logic of domination more than they represent the logic of protest or resistance to the system, much less the logic of liberation.” The white teacher’s white privilege is clear in that she has all the power in the relationship. Moreover, she is seen protecting Melanie when no one else will, which allows viewers to feel good about her role. Their relationship seems not to be about Melanie and her needs, but about how to make the white teacher a hero.

Melanie’s character presents as a powerful, young, black woman, in charge of her own story. But while Melanie has a lot of agency in the film to choose her own path, her presence is not a resistance to white culture, it is rather is an accessory to it. Because Melanie is black, the audience more easily accepts the fact that her body is constantly being dissected in the movie. The audience also gets to avoid feeling uncomfortable in their whiteness by seeing whiteness in the movie cast in a hero’s role. As the film industry and American pop culture in general are moving towards more progressive narratives, creators of film, and we as viewers need to be extremely careful in how we intercept racialized bodies, so that we can start sharing truly progressive narratives.