"Crazy Rich Asians" is being touted as a major breakthrough for minority representation, with its completely Asian cast in a stereotypically white genre such as rom-com. All across social media sites, Asians have reported their unexpectedly emotional reactions to this lavish, fun film — walking out with red-rimmed eyes, hysterically sobbing and not even completely understanding why.
So for a film that has touched a minority group so deeply, why is there still such controversy surrounding Henry Golding's casting as the leading man of the film? For some, the answer lies in his split heritage.
A half-Malaysian and half-English actor, Golding has never belonged completely in either sphere of his ethnicity. He lived in Asia for much of his childhood, moving to England when he was seven. But this split, this lack of being wholly one or the other, has led to some backlash about his role as the leading man in a movie meant to honor and promote Asian culture and diversity.
And yes, that statement truly is as ironic read as it is argued.
What does it mean to be Asian? Is it just a drop of the right blood in the mix that confirms you as Asian, or are you marked by upbringing and culture? And most importantly, in the case of Golding, what does it mean to be half and half?
"As a kid, I grew up in the UK, but have lived most of my life since then in Asia, so I can relate to not feeling 100 percent at home or belonging in either place," Golding told the New Paper. "I've adopted numerous cultures. In Asia, you go there, and you think, 'I am back to my motherland, fantastic.' And they are like, 'Do you speak Malay, do you speak Chinese?' 'No, I can only speak English.' 'Oh, you are definitely not Asian.'"
In these instances of criticism, people have often adopted the defense that, in a film about celebrating Asian culture, Golding being half-English is somehow a defect in the celebration. It's as if there is a thermometer that acts like the litmus test of if a person is "Asian enough," a pass/fail grade that somehow Golding has fallen just short of.
In fact, this whole idea of racial purity not only is discriminative on the whole, but it is minimizing of the intricacies of race.
Being "Asian" doesn't just rely on having 100 percent ancestral blood. There are no lists to check off, no aspects of personality or qualities that are an apt defense against these critics.
In fact, very few are completely Asian, through and through. Instead, those who are deemed "Asian enough" may not even be fully Asian. They may just have the features that others claim are stereotypical or traditional for the claim of being Asian. Whereas Golding, who looks more ethnically ambiguous, may even possess a stronger tie to his Asian roots but is judged purely by his heritage and his appearance.
Golding, and other multicultural people, should not have to feel limited or alienated by the ethnicities they inherit.
So, in a turn of events, a movie meant to show more Asian representation has led to a broader dialogue about the standards of representation people have. It's a nuanced issue that has plagued movies that hail themselves as "diverse" and "representative" because it puts them under a microscope in the court of public opinion about race.
But in short, "not being Asian enough" is a cheap stab at trying to stir controversy because race and belonging isn't just a matter of opinion; it's a matter of identity.