The film, Crazy Rich Asians, is a Hollywood movie based on Kevin Kwan’s titular novel of the same name. The story revolves around a rich Singaporean family and their internal family dramas.
Despite the highly localized setting, and even though author Kevin Kwan novel claims to want to “introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience”, the casting of the movie shows that the film may be anything but Asian.
As one Straits Times reporter puts it: “The first and most obvious thing is that Hollywood thinks that one drop of Asian blood makes a person “Asian” or at least “Asian enough”; this is why it has cast Eurasians such as Henry Golding (a Singapore-based host and social media influencer) and Sonoya Mizuno (La La Land, 2016) as Nick Young and Araminta Lee, both of whom are ethnic Chinese characters.
The next thing one learns from the casting is that it is all about the bottom line. Nobody makes films to lose money, least of all a major studio like Warner Bros. Using a Eurasian leading man in a romantic comedy solves a lot of cross-border marketing problems – Golding’s ethnically ambiguous face on a movie poster simply works, from Bangkok to Beijing, from Taipei to Tokyo, and maybe Toronto.”
It may not be a big deal to cast a Eurasian as an ethnic Chinese. Eurasians have been part of Asia for generations, and it would be unfair to classify them as “not Asian enough”.
The true debate lies in why there seems to be a form of white worshiping in Singapore’s own cultural industries.
Golding and Mizuno’s mixed looks are prized because they represent the look that shows on all of Singapore’s fashion magazines and advertisement billboards, “on Orchard Road, or Shibuya, Wan Chai, Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul” as John Lui writes.
Asian performers, and even those from other non-white ethnic groups, can attest to the preference for “fair skinned” performers. At some level, this preference is also split along gender lines. Male leads with more Caucasoid attributes are more highly sought after. Female performers on the other hand can show off more Asian features, evidenced by the casting of Gemma Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Constance Wu for the leading female parts in Crazy Rich Asians, none of whom are Eurasian.
Will Asians ever get out of the “white is right” trap?