Within its first 9 days of release, Crazy Rich Asians made $50 million dollars. Tickets sales were surging due to its diverse cast and plot. Critics, actors, movie buffs, and movie watchers all across the world were praising this movie for achieving not only success in the box office but also in representation. However, while the movie had a very diverse cast relative to the majority of movies in Hollywood, it was not a ‘radical’ win for representation. It was not truly representative of Singaporean society or people and ignored the realities of the country behind the extravagant and beautiful scenes. Singapore is a country with large income inequality and rampant racism which is concealed and forgotten throughout the entire movie.
Singapore’s rich are extremely rich and one in 34 people in Singapore are millionaires. It is one of the most expensive places in the world to live in and there is a large income gap between the top 1% and the bottom 50%. While the incredibly rich seen in Crazy Rich Asians can afford to have extravagant weddings and cater buckets of food to hundreds of guests, many people struggle every day to put food on their plate for a single meal. Singapore’s rapid service economy and a large number of foreign workers further increases the amount of income inequality present. This kind of poverty in Singapore is usually hidden due to government-subsidized public housing, which makes homelessness virtually nonexistent. However, the issues associated with poverty still exist. Youth in poverty are exposed to drugs, crime, and violence, and families still struggle to feed their households every single day. As seen in the Singaporean nonprofit Beyond Social Service’s Facebook series called ‘Humans of Beyond,’ many people in low-income housing units struggle with fulfilling their basic needs and face many obstacles when it comes to having a good quality of life. This movie can’t be seen as progressive when it glorifies the most privileged in society and sees this display of extravagant wealth as praiseworthy and attractive, regardless of the actual circumstances.
Crazy Rich Asians is also seen as a landmark for racial equality and diversity in Western media, but the movie only represents a certain population of Asians and ignores the rampant racism present in Singapore. The country is known for its multi-ethnic society and even has four national languages: English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese. At every food court, there is a variety of food options that represent the diversity of its population. However, minority populations, such as Malay and Tamils, are systematically disenfranchised. Job advertisements mostly ask for people who can speak English and Mandarin, Muslim women with hijabs are kept out of certain civil service jobs, and top schools promote learning Mandarin and traditional Chinese values. In addition, this racial hierarchy can be seen in the income distribution where Chinese people hold the highest-paying jobs and the majority of occupants in low-income housing units are Malay or Tamil. Crazy Rich Asians claim to be representative of Asian voices, but there is not a single South or Southeast Asian character in the movie (other than servants) even though they are a part of Singaporean society. This is not representative of all Asians and instead perpetuates the racism in the country. While this movie had a progressive cast for people in America, it was the opposite for people in Singapore.
Crazy Rich Asians had the opportunity to represent all Asians and truly reveal a progressive diverse cast but instead, it chose to glorify and represent an already very privileged and represented group in society. It’s already hard for the government to take action on poverty because no one knows about it. The Singaporean government controls the media and promotes an image of the country to the rest of the world as having racial and class harmony. Also, because of lack of homelessness, these issues take a backseat and people believe they’re not that serious. There are nonprofits and NGOs working towards improving the conditions of the poor and lessening racism and discrimination. But first, these issues need to be seen. Applauding this movie for its diverse Asian cast further erases the voices of the oppressed in Singapore, and continues to paint this idealized picture of Singapore that doesn’t actually exist.
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