DO | Crazy Represented Asians

As Asian representation expands in the United States, from the decorated class commentary of Parasite, to the rising popularity of Asian-American music label 88rising, I want to take a critical look at what popular portrayals reveal about Asian-American-ness today. Modern depictions of Asian people in the media mostly aim to dismantle the “yellow peril” and “model minority” stereotypes that have defined Asian characters for so long – but how well do they succeed? Historically, the “yellow peril” framework paints Asians as unassimilable foreigners whose presence in America spells doom for the whole country. We’ve seen yellow peril make something of a comeback in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as actor John Cho so eloquently stated, “Coronavirus reminds Asians-Americans … that our belonging is conditional.”

On the flip side, Asian people that assimilate too well are deemed model minorities. White people use them as ammunition to blame other minorities for their race-centric problems, as if to say “if they can do it, why can’t you?” 

In 1922, a Japanese man named Takao Ozawa, who was ineligible for U.S. citizenship by naturalization, tried to convince the Supreme Court that he should be classified as a “free white person” on account of his American upbringing, language, religion and cultural practices.

YANG | Not All Chinese Here Are Americans (Obviously) and That’s Fine

I remember my palpable disappointment when I first watched the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” It turns out that most of my fellow international Chinese friends also judged this film that way, as well as the general public in China. The movie flopped in China, both in the box office and in reviews. The aggregated score from 83,054 public reviews on Douban (豆瓣), the Chinese equivalent of IMDb, is a mere 6.1 out of 10. A common thread of criticism toward the film is a lack of authenticity, with many Chinese moviegoers begrudgingly calling it “General Tsao’s Chicken,” a particularly cruel title if you realize that this famous and delicious Chinese food is actually an invention linked more to America. So, you can perhaps imagine my bewilderment at first when I realized that “Crazy Rich Asians” is actually a cultural phenomenon in America, having a deep impact on the Chinese-American community in particular.

Crazy Rich Asians Reintroduces a Revolutionary Leading Lady

It’s been a long way back for Michelle Yeoh. The Malaysian Chinese action star who gained renown for her stunt work on a string of popular Hong Kong action films in the 1980s entered a new pantheon when she played the main love interest in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 1997. It was a movie where people glided through the landscapes of China and spun proverbs. It was as if David Lean directed The Matrix, but instead of a frumpy, aged man and heavy CGI, it was the work of an unknown director named Ang Lee and the female leads that carried the film. But it was Michelle Yeoh’s performance, filled with manic restlessness and fierce action work, that redefined what an Asian actress could accomplish on the silver screen.