No, Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t capture the lives and experiences of the entire Asian-American community.
No, Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t show all the multifaceted aspects of the people, culture and locations of Singapore.
These critiques – which are common in the last weeks – get to the heart of why representation of all cultures, people and places is such a big deal.
The problem is that as the first mainstream movie to feature a primarily Asian-American cast in 25 years it bears the burden accumulated over the last quarter century. Audiences went to the movie because they were promised being able to see people like them, but that was nearly impossible because it was just one film.
If you’re a white American, you have a good chance of seeing characters that are similar to you and share some background and characteristics. Pick any 10 movies and you’ll find at least two or three you’ll be able to relate to, while the rest offer portraits of those outside your socioeconomic demographic.
Realize, though, that you have 10 (or more) to choose from at any given time. Other groups don’t have that luxury.
When you increase the number of movies (or shows or whatever) that feature different demographic groups, you take that burden to be all things to all people off each individual film.
Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t provide a holistic portrait of the Asian-American experience any more than Never Goin’ Back provides a holistic portrait of young women. It doesn’t show every aspect of Singapore any more than Manhattan shows every aspect of New York. But because there are so many more movies featuring young women or set in New York, a more complete picture comes into focus when you take a cumulative view.
Make more movies about different kinds of people – not just straight white men – and you better meet the expectations and needs of a broader, more inclusive audience.