Essay

Crazy Rich Asians and the Question of What Wealth Means

Hollywood can either welcome the new lady of the manor, or get the mop.

This won’t be a review in any strict sense, except for this: Crazy Rich Asians is a gorgeous film filled with humor and heart; you should see it. I do want to dissect the movie as a means of further recommendation of it, but if you just want a fun time, that first sentence is all you need.

There’ll be no spoilers here, I’m only going to reference the opening scene. If you’re that sensitive to spoilers, well, there’s your warning. It’s a set up we’ve seen before: the Chinese Young family arrives, soaked from a torrential downpour to a ritzy London hotel. Despite confirming the reservation the day before, the hotel staff are not so subtle in their denial of service and encouraging the matriarch, Eleanor Young to find more appropriate accommodations in China town. We next see Eleanor in a phone booth outside, and then reentering the hotel where the British Lord who has owned the hotel has come to the lobby to greet her as the new owner, having just sold it over the phone minutes prior.

giphyThis is the kind of immense wealth the Young family commands.

The importance of this scene as a statement of intent, or even a thesis statement is not simply that wealth endows power, but more so what that power is wielded to accomplish by a non-white family commanding enough of it to make a British Lord get out of bed in his pajamas to welcome Eleanor as the “new lady of the manor.” Eleanor does not condemn, fire, or insult the concierge who was cruel to her. She treats him as her new employee telling him to get a mop.

giphy-1For the Youngs- for all non-white people- wealth is the entryway not to superiority, but to equality and fair treatment. The book/movie shows that Eleanor Young had to wield her family’s immense wealth just to be treated humanely and have her hotel reservation honored. There may be a level of deeper reflection in the representation achieved for Asian and Asian American culture in this film as well: that in order to seize equality among decades of white representation in film, this story had to wield immense wealth as a plot point and motivator.

Make of it from there what you will, but the first scene’s incisiveness and intelligence is not to be undervalued. In a world with inequality, prejudice, and discrimination, it’s a sad truth that money talks and “green” is the one color everyone loves. Kevin Kwan must have known that it was as much a weapon wielded, as it was a shield to buy back equality, and the movie revels in the excess and extravagance as if to say to decades of Hollywood as the concierge before it: we don’t need you to let us in, we can buy our way in.

Judging by the book sales and weekend box office for this story- not to mention the response to other diverse stories and movies we’re seeing of late? Minorities are buying their way into representation, and Hollywood can either welcome the new lady of the manor, or get the mop.

giphy-3

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