In the West, Crazy Rich Asians is praised for its diversity and its representation of minorities. In Singapore, where the story is set, it has sparked outrage from the diversity brigade over its lack of diversity and representation of minorities.
This is why you cannot win the diversity game.
Based on the bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians tells the story of Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American professor from New York, and her Singaporean boyfriend, Nicholas Young. After dating for a year, Nicholas brings her home to attend a wedding and meet his parents, at which point she discovers he comes from the richest family in Singapore. Eleanor Young, Nicholas’ mother, does not approve of Rachel. Hilarity ensues.
To a Western audience pre-conditioned to love diversity and representation, Crazy Rich Asians hits all the right notes. Every major character is Chinese, a widely-recognized minority in the West. At the same time, in the trailer, everybody speaks English, wears Western attire, lives in Western-style homes, and uses Western technology. Singapore is exotic and Eastern, yet it is also a First World country. At once comfortably familiar and slightly strange, Crazy Rich Asians is a story of foreigners who aren’t too foreign.
Singaporeans see things differently. Chinese are the majority in Singapore, so claiming that Crazy Rich Asians represents minorities holds no water over here — or, indeed, anywhere east of Turkey and west of Hawaii. Among the many complaints leveled at the film are its lack of representation of minorities (no Malays, Indians or Filipino domestic workers), its absence of Singlish (most Singaporeans do not speak English, but the local dialect), and its misrepresentation of Singapore.
As for myself, the only emotion I can muster is amusement.
Lifestyles of the Crazy Rich
When I was younger, I used to travel in strange circles. Among them were the children of the ultra-rich in Singapore. Including the real-life version of Nicholas Young.
The way they lived was vastly different from regular people. They would think nothing of dropping $30, $60 or more for a meal. They don’t look at prices, only quality. For recreation they visited exclusive clubs and resorts. They studied in the finest schools, mingled almost exclusively with fellow elites, and lived in luxurious bungalows. The guy I mentioned above actually had a weekend house, itself a three-story semi-detached home, with marble floors and luxury leather furniture and ultra-high-end electronics. His real home was elsewhere.
Bear in mind that in Singapore, landed property is routinely valued in the millions of dollars.
Having observed them at first hand, I can say that the trailer, while somewhat overblown at times, accurately depicts the lives of the super-rich.
None of the crazy rich people I knew speak Singlish. Granted, they may switch to Singlish or Mandarin when speaking with the proletariat, but when conversing with each other they all spoke excellent English without exception. They were also more likely to learn third and fourth languages, and properly pronounce words like ‘proletariat’. Indeed, in Singapore, perfect English is the mark of the well-educated and the wealthy — usually both.
I also noted the lack of non-Chinese people in their circles. As discussed here, the ultra-wealthy in Singapore are overwhelmingly Chinese. Their wealth was accumulated over the generations through marriage and business ties, and were concentrated in the hands of an elite few. I don’t see a problem with the overwhelmingly Chinese cast — especially since I saw this first-hand. I’d rather an authentic portrayal of lived reality than forced diversity.
Complaints about how the setting misrepresents Singapore are also unfounded. Crazy Rich Asians is an American film for a Western audience, and no doubt it will be marketed to China as well. If you show these audiences a shot of a random HDB flat, they’ll scratch their heads and call it a funny-looking apartment, but they won’t know where or what it is. Shots of local landmarks like the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort are critical to establish the time and place of the film for people who do not live in Singapore.
Granted, some of the more opulent settings like the enormous mansion seem out of place — but this is how the film establishes that the Young family and those in their social circles are extremely rich, by having them live in unfathomably expansive and expensive homes. I don’t have any difficulty believing that a super-rich Singaporean family could live in a huge Western manor with its own swimming pool and household staff.
What really gets me is how Rachel Chu doesn’t cotton on to the fact that Nicholas Young is super-rich until she visits him at home. Remember that the wealthy do not live lives like regular people, and it leaks through. They don’t have any hang-ups about wearing well-tailored clothes, patronising five-star restaurants and hotels, buying expensive watches and accessories and electronics, driving expensive cars and living in upscale apartments. They speak well, and they comport themselves in a more refined manner than most people. If Rachel hadn’t realized that Nicholas belongs to the one percent after a year of dating, then either she is unobservant or he is taking pains to hide his wealth.
For realism’s sake I’m hoping it’s the latter.
The Game of Turtles
The whole nontroversy about representation and diversity in Crazy Rich Asians demonstrates that you can’t play the diversity game. No mater how ‘diverse’ a creative work may be, there will always be increasingly-narrow identity groups screeching about why the minority du jour isn’t represented and how it’s not ‘representative’ of minorities.
There is no winning the diversity game. If you include a minor character who is a minority, the diversity brigade will scream that it’s tokenism. Even if that person plays a major role, if the rest of the cast isn’t a minority of some kind, the harpies will keep harping ‘tokenism’. If you don’t include people like a Malay taxi driver or a Bangladeshi construction worker or a Filipino maid the social justice warriors will point and shriek about the lack of representation; if you do include such people in a story about crazy rich Asians the SJWs will point and shriek about them not playing important roles in a story that’s not about them.
The diversity game is just turtles all the way down. There will always be someone ready to take offense on behalf of some minority group, whether or not their difficulties have anything to do with the story. The diversity brigade will always swarm any work that doesn’t fit an ever-nebulous standard of ‘representation’.
There is no winning the diversity game. Don’t even play it. Simply tell the stories you want to tell. You must certainly do your research and accurately portray the peoples and cultures in your stories to the best of your abilities, but you should never shoehorn diversity into a story that doesn’t need it.
Most of all: never give in to the SJWs. They will never be your audience, they will always find fault with ‘problematic’ stories, and there is no profit in wasting time and energy on pleasing them. Tell your stories to people who will appreciate them, and leave the diversity brigade in the dust.
If you want uncompromising fiction that accurately represents the myriad faiths and cultures of the world, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.