The hotly anticipated film Crazy Rich Asians has just dropped its first trailer, prompting some viewers to ask: “Is this really Singapore?”
Is this really Singapore? Crazy Rich Asians trailer stirs debate
The Hollywood adaption of Singapore-born American novelist Kevin Kwan’s book depicts the meeting of an Chinese-American woman and the ultra-rich family of her Singaporean boyfriend.
A trailer released this week could not be more glamorous, showing the lead characters Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding) at lavish airplane bars, house parties and beachside spas.
Visually, the film is a love letter to Singapore. It features some of the Southeast Asian city state’s best-known landmarks: the Marina Bay Sands resort, Gardens by the Bay nature park, and the city’s unofficial mascot statue, the Merlion.
But what’s missing? Rich non-Chinese Asians.
Critics were disappointed to find that almost everyone in the trailer, from Young’s wealthy friends to guests at glam cocktail parties, looks East Asian.
In a 23-second teaser released earlier, two brown faces are spotted – but they appear to be parking valets.
Singapore is one of the most multi-ethnic nations in Asia, with four official languages and a large number of immigrants. Ethnic Chinese account for 74% of its population, followed by Malays (13%) and Indians (9%).
“I’m not sure the movie will put Singapore on the map more than it already is,” says Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.
“It represents the worst of Singapore. Erases minorities. Erases the poor and marginalized. All you get are rich, privileged ethnic Chinese.”
Some might argue that’s perhaps the point of the movie, and Kwan’s books. Forty-two of the 50 richest in Singapore are of Chinese ethnicity, according to Forbes.
Singaporean observers have also pointed out that even the ethnic Chinese in the film do not seem like their fellow compatriots.
For one, none of the central cast comes from Singapore, according to IMDB, although a number of local actors do have smaller parts or cameos.
For another, no characters (at least in the trailer) appear to speak Singlish -- a mishmash of English with Malay, Tamil and Chinese influences -- that many in the city state have grown up being proud of.
The Singaporean love interest, played by Golding, speaks with an posh British accent – not unusual for rich Singaporeans educated overseas. His mother, played by Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, has more of a refined Malaysian accent.
Singaporean writer Jolene Tan says that the film appears to fail to portray the reality of the city’s multiracial population.
“Singapore seems purely incidental to this film, a kind of glittering touristic and commercial backdrop, rather than a real society,” Tan says.
But fans have argued it is already impressive for a Hollywood film to feature an all-Asian cast – none of whom are displaying martial arts skills.
a studio movie with an all-Asian cast, none of whom are doing any martial arts moves or leaning into subservient stereotypes but instead are t h r i v i n g in designer decadence and universal attractiveness, is a pipe dream come true. HERE FOR THIS, #CrazyRichAsians!! https://t.co/xOnO936meR— Ashley Lee (@cashleelee) April 19, 2018
But “diverse representation” doesn’t mean including everything in every story—it means uplifting a range of stories from places that are broadly invisible. #FreshOffTheBoat wasn’t the last word of Asians on TV, but one of the first. #CrazyRichAsians will be the same for film. https://t.co/oQBg4LeQEQ— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) April 24, 2018
This isn’t the first time the movie has been criticized for its casting: Henry Golding, who is mixed-race, was decried by some as being “not Asian enough” when his role was announced.
The novel’s author Kwan said that one Hollywood producer had asked him to reimagine his lead character Rachel as Caucasian, but he refused, according to Entertainment Weekly.
The film will hit cinemas in August as the first Hollywood film with an all-Asian leading cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.