Hollywood’s hollow attempt at social justice
4 September 2018
If you want there to be more ethnic representation in the American film industry, you need to watch Crazy Rich Asians this weekend—at least, that’s what I hear. Only in 2018 could this silly little romantic comedy be called a ‘blockbuster moment for representation’ as well as a ‘watershed moment’ for the medium of film.
It’s even harder as an Asian person to ignore this ridiculous narrative and not buy into the idea that an all-ethnic cast is by any means groundbreaking, important, or relevant to genuine contemporary issues regarding race.
We saw this happen already with Black Panther. Now, regardless of your personal opinion about the movie itself, whether you thought it was great or just mediocre, you have to admit that the entire hype surrounding that film was completely overblown. Black Panther was a fun comic book movie, but the media warped it into a cultural and political landmark.
Identity politics infected the movie-going experience.
Soon, petitions came up demanding that Marvel Studios give 25% of its profits from the motion picture to black communities, simply because they had made a movie starring black actors and had marketed it shrewdly. As much as I had tried to stop it, the political atmosphere and the persistent conversations that surrounded Black Panther partially ruined the film for me, with any enjoyment that could’ve been had from discussing it marred by racial politics.
As numerous reviewers let the cultural zeitgeist go to their heads, they evaluated this fairly pedestrian superhero movie with a bias, whether that was because they wanted to support an African American cast or because they were simply afraid of being called a racist if they dared to direct audiences elsewhere.
Indeed, the first negative review on Rotten Tomatoes was widely mocked by social media, a fate that I could not imagine happening to any other review of any other film.
The same thing has now happened in regard to the Asian community and the new Citizen Kane of the progressive media, Crazy Rich Asians. The film is being judged and reviewed not on the basis of its artistic merit or entertainment value but rather how it serves the political ends of representation and diversity.
Like Black Panther was earlier this year, Crazy Rich Asians is being promoted as the pop culture champion of a minority community in the United States.
But as far as films go, why is that we are calling on people to support a superhero movie and a romantic comedy above all the other possible options? Let’s not forget about the countless films that also star a majority black or a majority Asian cast.
In 2017, Moonlight won the Academy Award for best picture, an honour given not because it was directed by a black man and starred black people, but because it was one of the most well-crafted films of that year.
And when it comes to Asian representation, you’ll find hundreds of great movies that star not a single white person; all you need to do is engage in the foreign film industry, where South Korea and Hong Kong produce an ample number of blockbusters and critical darlings.
The fact that we consider movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians to be significant says more about our collective taste in entertainment than it does the issue of race in our society. It raises questions as to what audiences value as needing an all-ethnic cast—Marvel comic book adaptations and romcoms.
Now African and Asian Americans can see themselves represented in the crap white people have been enjoying for years!
Of course, I’m being a tad hyperbolic and dismissive. There is definitely power in pop culture, which can certainly be used to shift the cultural outlook on a group of people.
However, to say that Black Panther ‘grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life’ is just disingenuous, heaping far too much praise and political significance upon this ordinary piece of cinema, importance that could be lavished upon greater films and stories.
I don’t blame the movie studios or marketing teams for capitalising on this opportunity, but rather, I blame the droves of drooling sheep who inflate the value of inclusivity and believe they are doing the world a favour by giving money to movies with predominately ethnic casts.
Yes, more stories of greater variety should be told in the American movie industry, and if that lets actors from racial minorities seize main roles, great. However, supporting Hollywood’s racial diversity should not result in self-satisfaction or brownie points. We need to stop treating these slices of pop culture as if they truly represent the issues of our time and enjoy them based on their own individual merit.