Arts and Culture
This roundtable focuses on the debates sparked by the film Crazy Rich Asians (CRA) in multiple global and national contexts. For the global context, we offer a comparative analysis of audience receptions (presumed and actual) and historical distortions/misperceptions of Southeast Asia/Singaporean/Malaysian and diasporic Southeast Asians such as Southeast Asian Americans. The divergent and often contradictory migration and class politics of the specific transpacific ethnic audiences forces a rethinking of the Asian Pacific American identity categorization itself. Further, the context of global capitalism generates an analysis of the role of microeconomic theory in CRA. The lead character Rachel Chu is an economics professor who specializes in game theory, and the Young family’s vast real estate wealth can also be tied to game theory. We thus consider the gendered and sexual dynamics of speculation speaking to larger dynamics of neoliberal capitalism, national security, and militarism. Examining the Cold War origins of game theory and its representation in romantic comedies that range from Pretty Woman to CRA, we suggest that the film allegorizes the gendered and sexual interplay of (ir)rationality in microeconomic theory. Within the US context, given the film’s significance as the first Hollywood studio film with an all Asian cast in 25 years, director Jon M. Chu declared that “it’s not a movie, it’s a movement.” Beyond its generic conventions as a heterosexual romantic comedy, CRA is a movement not because it resolves the problem of racial representation, but because it is giving rise to significant conversations, exposing a productive irresolution. We consider CRA alongside other recent successful cultural productions by people of color, Hamilton and Black Panther. On the narrative level, all three advance politics that can be read as deeply regressive, whether the romanticization of the origins of the U.S. nation-state in Hamilton, the Black nationalist nostalgia of Black Panther, or the refortification of heterosexual romance and normative notions of kinship and family in CRA. Yet their insurgent possibilities lie less in their narrative trajectories as in their mobilization of affect. Each insists on the possibility of joy within the confines of present day precarity. Moreover, a further consideration of other recent “surprise” hits at the box office, including RBG and Won't You Be My Neighbor, reveals how transformations in American film industry are creating a context in which narratives featuring racial minorities can reach audiences. Processes of racialization are themselves generative of value at the box office.