Crazy Rich Asian Masculinity
Why The Movie is Revolutionary for Asian American Men
Asian American men in real life and in the media suffer from a perverse double standard. We are emasculated as meek, small penis, nerds who are the worst sexual/romantic partners (both straight and gay) by non-Asian Americans. Conversely, we are portrayed by a significant minority of Asian American women as the epitome of toxic masculinity - abusive husbands and demanding, misogynist “Tiger Patriarchs” whom Asian women should escape from by partnering with (supposedly more progressive and less abusive) white men. This bizarre, logically impossible dichotomy (how can a man have toxic masculinity if he doesn’t even have masculinity in the first place? that’s like saying somebody is a bank robber when the bank was actually not robbed) not only hurts Asian American men, it also prevents them from fighting against these stereotypes. When Asian American guys tries, for instance, by attempting to play leading/romantic roles in Hollywood, they are discriminated against by non-Asian Americans. When Asian Americans guys complain about their misrepresentation by prominent Asian American women, they are quickly gaslighted and dismissed as sexist men. Of course, when Asian or non-Asian American women creators depict Asian women as submissive love interests who needs rescuing from bad Asian men by non-Asian (usually upper class, white) men, they are promoting harmful stereotypes against Asian American women as well.
This is the current status of Asian American men and women that needs to be changed, both in the media and real life. The bestselling success of Crazy Rich Asians novel series and the current blockbuster success of the movie are an important examples of the progress that we need.
“I Do Not Find Asian Men Attractive - They Look Like My Ugly Cousins”
A quick note to those fellow Asian American brothers who are against Crazy Rich Asians: don’t be swayed by angry Reddit posts. Kevin Kwan and the cast and crew of the movie are on our side. Some guys complained that the series is a “minstrel act” by portraying Rachel as an Asian American women who (initially) refused to date Asian men or the “white worshipping” by the other Asian characters. If you read the series, you would realized that these “transgressions” are actually the point - Crazy Rich Asians is addressing, not promoting, the problem of Asian/Asian American internalized racism. For what it is worth, the movie adaptation didn’t include these scenes where Rachel realizes her mistake of discriminating against Asian men - for which also caused complaints by Asian American guys (folks, it’s impossible to please everyone!).
Others have complained about the casting, such as Henry Golding benefiting from colorism and Ken Jeong’s previous stereotyped roles. I hope that you can realize it is impossible for the cast and crew to make a perfect movie fighting against an industry and audience that are biased against Asian Americans. The representation of Asian men by Crazy Rich Asians is imperfect, but is much, much better than what was available before in literature and Hollywood. Yes, Henry Golding (this was his first movie) wrongfully took away a spot from a fully-Asian American actor who worked hard all his life and endured more discrimination by Hollywood. But Henry Golding also suffered discrimination as a Hapa man who has mostly “Asian”, not white-looking body. Just remember that the movie also will make the career of many full-blooded Asian American actors - if you do not support Crazy Rich Asians you are also not supporting Harry Shum, Jr., Chris Pang, Nico Santos, and many others.
Sane Rich Asian Men as Ideal Romantic Heroes
As an Young Adult/New Adult/romance novel author, I always find it ironic - and troubling - that so many of the bestselling books contain problematic male romantic heroes and romance plots. These characters are produced by an industry dominated by females - as authors, agents, editors, and readers - many of whom proclaim themselves to be progressive and feminist. Yet by writing, publishing, and promoting glittering vampires and Seattle billionaires (who are never Asian men and only occasionally black or Latino men) glorifies abusive relationships and hurts, not helps real women in our society.
Crazy Rich Asians series is revolutionary for a romance novel/rom-com not just because it presents Asian men as desirable, but also as romantic heroes who actually treat women with respect. Nick Young is not a toxic Asian man nor the cliche romance novel romantic hero; the only things he have in common with Christian Grey is that both are billionaires who pilot helicopters. Instead, he is actually have some “unmasculine” traits - he behaves rather passively and actually listens to, respects, and defers to his mother and grandmother. Nick also treats Rachel Chu well (i.e. he’s not forcing her to sign BDSM contract in order to whip her). In fact, Nick’s father (unfortunately cut from the movie for time), his best friend Colin, and Charlie Wu are also Asian men who are not abusive to their girlfriends/wives. Such male heroes are rare in the YA and romance genres - remember that both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey also spawned literally hundreds of copycats novels.
Stories about princesses finding and marrying princes are the antithesis of feminism - but Crazy Rich Asians is as (intersectional) feminist a fairy tale as it gets. The movie made it very clear that it celebrates self-made female success (how many romance novels or rom-coms exist that features the heroine - not the hero - as a super smart and successful economics professor) while presenting nice, attractive Asian guys who actually finishes first. Behind the camera, it should be noted that the author of the book series and the director are both Asian men - while the creators of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey were women. They are proving that Asian American men can actually be more progressive/feminist than even American women.
Crazy Rich - and Progressive - Fathers
The men of Crazy Rich Asians may have great abs, but that obviously should not be the only consideration a straight woman (or gay man) should have when picking a partner. Asian fathers, if they are presented at all, are not depicted as great parents. This is especially a point of contention for Asian American men, as many of the Asian American creators who are achieve mainstream success happens to be females who write/make jokes about abusive Asian fathers while promoting yellow fever/AFWM narratives.
Of course, I’m not arguing that abusive Asian/Asian American men doesn’t exist. But real life crime data - and basic common sense - demonstrates that just because a man have “yellow” skin doesn’t make him inherently more violent or more sexist than a white man. What we Asian American guys are protesting is that this “yellow peril” Asian father/husband trope is the often only media representation that we have to an American audience - and made even more “accurate” in the eyes of non-Asian Americans when the creators are Asian American women). When Asian or non Asian American females only see such negative depictions of Asian - or other POC men - it adds another false and damaging stereotype against Asian men.
The Crazy Rich Asian series depict many non-abusive Asian husbands and fathers, but the one I especially like is, bear with me, Ken Jeong’s character. He plays Goh Wye Mun, the Singaporean father of Rachel Chu’s college roommate Goh Peik Lin. At first, he seems to be just the eccentric comic relief, but with more careful viewing you recognize that Goh Wye Mun might be the most positive portrayal of an Asian father in Hollywood history. Mun is “new money”, born poor but found success in Singapore after attending Cal State Fullerton. He doesn’t marry a young fashion model trophy wife - instead he is happily married with an old, darker skinned, chubby woman. Mun is generous (if too gauldy) with his riches - not just splurging on his family but also lending a helping hand to Rachel.
Mun also makes a great case that being a “Tiger Dad” - instead of being problematic as Tiger Parents are usually depicted by American media - is actually quite positive for their children - especially for daughters. After meeting Rachel and discovering what she does for a living, Goh Wye Mun praises her for her educational and professional success and criticizes Lin for not following suit. He is a man who values smart and ambitious women and wished that his daughter was better educated and had more professional ambition - that is very feminist and progressive!
“To All the (Asian) Boys I (Haven’t) Loved Before”
Like Batman, Crazy Rich Asians is not the perfect novel series/movie we Asian Americans deserves - but it is the movie we (especially us men) needs. It is not the cure-all for Asian American representation in media - but it is an important part of the long, hard-fought battle to get our equitable share. Crazy Rich Asians will not end the sexual discrimination against Asian men (straight or gay) by (Asian or non-Asian) Americans, but it will provides medication to counter our terrible media image and might just get us a few more swipe rights on Tinder/Grindr. The movie will not resolve the dating/desirability conflict between Asian American males and females, but at the very least Crazy Rich Asians fosters actual mainstream media discussion of the sexual discrimination we face from both non-Asian and Asian American women and non-Asian gay men.
When I walked out of my advanced Crazy Rich Asians screening, my head is held higher. Not only I am proud of the dedicated work and care to make such a movie possible, I am ecstatic about finally seeing women who look like my sister get represented as full human beings - and men who look like me depicted as full human beings who deserve love and respect from others just like any other men. That is the power of Crazy Rich Asians - and that is why we have to make it the huge success it must be.