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Brown Asians and Black people should not be asked to support a movie that does not support them.

By Sangeetha Thanapal [This piece is the second in a two-part critique of race in "Crazy Rich Asians", you can read the first one here.] Many are lauding “Crazy Rich Asians” as a step in the right direction for the representation of Asians in Hollywood. Some have even gone so far as to call it the “Asian ‘Black Panther’”, and its setting, Singapore, the “Chinese Wakanda.” The truth is that the movie is actually far from being a win for representation, largely because it perpetuates existing racist dynamics in Singapore. It simply is not the “Great Asian Hope” that it is being portrayed as. While it is being billed as an Asian movie, it is made up almost entirely of East Asians. The few Brown people featured in it are seen in service positions to the glamorous and wealthy Chinese characters. The dominance of East Asia in the worldwide imagination of who constitutes the idea of Asia is troubling, especially since Brown Asians make up a sizeable portion of the continent. The tendency to equate East Asia with all Asians wipes out the many differences between us. An East Asian-Brown Asian divide exists specifically because Brown Asians have been overlooked from the American definition of Asian for generations. There has been much criticism against such erasure, and this movie only propagates it by branding a Chinese cast as a movie for all Asians. It presents Brown Asians as a backdrop to East Asian opulence and success, reinforcing the notion that Brown people are inferior to East Asians, those in closer proximity to whiteness. It further entrenches the idea that East Asians are the only Asians that matter. This should not be the case, especially because East Asians buy into and promote the model minority myth, conveniently cutting out those who do not fit into this narrative. Commentators keep referring it to as the first movie with an all-Asian cast in over two decades. However, Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem With Apu” also had a predominantly Asian cast, but because Brown Asians are often ignored within the U.S., the movie was not praised the way Crazy Rich Asians is being. One might say that a documentary is different from a movie but then what about "Missisipi Masala" or even "Harold and Kumar"?
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"Crazy Rich Asians" promotes the ongoing systematic erasure and oppression of Singapore minorities on a global screen.

By Sangeetha Thanapal After the trailer for "Crazy Rich Asians" was released, the internet went wild over it, especially those of us who care about representation and diversity. Based on Kevin Kwan’s book by the same title, the film about a Chinese American woman who travels to Singapore to meet the family of her Chinese Singaporean boyfriend, is being lauded as a huge win for people of color. At face value, the movie is a stepping-stone for more representation of Asians in Hollywood, signifying a milestone for diversity. Except that neither this movie, nor the novel it is based on, are even representative of Singapore. After gaining its independence in 1965, the tiny island-state of Singapore has gone on to introduce a set of economic and social policies that are often marvelled at all over the world. The country is touted as a model to follow, both for its economic prowess and its multicultural approach to racial harmony. However, underneath the façade of skyscrapers, is a country that has systematically disenfranchised its minorities. Chinese Singaporeans, at 77% of the population, are the vast majority of the nation and the population’s minorities are Malay and Indian people, who make up 15% and 7% respectively. There is also a sizeable populace of racialized labour from neighbouring countries with construction workers from South Asia and domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia. Racism against minorities is endemic in Singapore. Job advertisements frequently only ask for those who can speak in English and Mandarin, and even if minorities are able to do so, they are told that only ethnic Chinese are wanted. Muslim women in hijabs are kept out of certain civil service jobs because of their headwear. While there are police bans on speaking in Tamil, there are yearly tax-funded programs to promote speaking in Mandarin. Minority representations are rife with stereotypes and the idea of the quintessential Singapore girl is one that embodies only East Asian beauty standards. The country’s ruling power has stated that Malay-Muslims in Singapore cannot be trusted in the armed forces due to their divided loyalties between religion and state. It has further accused them of being unable to ‘integrate’ an irony considering that Malay people are considered the original inhabitants of the land. The founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, holds views on genetics that would seem disconcertingly similar to eugenicist and white supremacist ideals, as he has touted the genetic superiority of the Chinese as stronger and hardier, with Indians not being as bright, but still better than the lazy, un-driven Malays. Chinese people wear Indians in ‘brown face’ and many elite public schools are reserved for them.
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