Crazy Rich Asians and How Hollywood Constructs Race Under Global Capitalism

A screenshot from "Crazy Rich Asians".

By Guest Contributor: Alison Roh Park

This essay originally appeared on Medium.

Within six months of Crazy Rich Asians’ much anticipated release, I was physically assaulted by a White woman in furs on the 6-train in New York City. She shouted at me to go back to China, and shortly thereafter I was verbally assaulted on the 1-train by a musician/busker (and a middle-aged Black gentleman) whom I didn’t have a donation for. Ironically, this was all while I was seated across from two White women also wearing fur.

Asian American New Yorkers have the greatest internal wealth disparity than any other group. Chinese Americans are disproportionately represented under the poverty line, while headlines about massive Chinese real estate buys and a so-called U.S.-China trade war loom on every outlet. This plays out for urban Asian Americans on the hyperlocal level in New York City — for instance, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, overseas Chinese real estate buyers and developers are gentrifying and displacing longtime Chinese residents of this historic neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Asian American women remain pointedly invisible. Shows like The Expanse and Top of the Lake: China Girl (literally — with the White feminist superstar Elizabeth Moss investigating the rape and disappearance of a virtually mute 12 year old Vietnamese girl) hinge on the idea and trope of “Asian Women” and as victims of sexual violence whose end is inevitable, while simultaneously obliterating them from the actual substance of the show.

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“The Farewell” and the Duality of Language: Finding Depth in What Can and Cannot Be Said

Scene from "The Farewell", directed by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina.

By Guest Contributor: Claudia Vaughan

Editor’s Note: Please note that this post may contain minor spoilers for the film, “The Farewell”.

The Farewell, A24’s latest film from Chinese-American director Lulu Wang, hit theaters earlier this month, packing a soft but powerful punch. At its core, the film examines what it means to be a caring, accountable family member – AND whether that can ever include being untruthful with your loved ones. The opening scene cheekily notes that the story is “based on an actual lie,” borrowing from real events in Wang’s own life centered around her family’s decision to hide news of her grandmother Nai Nai’s terminal cancer from her. (The story originally ran as an episode of This American Life before Wang began developing it as a feature).

The choice not to inform an elderly relative of his/her illness is commonplace in some Asian cultures, as relatives receive the diagnosis from the doctor first and then choose whether that information is actually shared with the patient. Oftentimes it is not, as is the case in The Farewell. Because of the family’s decision to keep Nai Nai’s diagnosis a secret from her, The Farewell quickly becomes a story of what can and cannot be said – both literally, due to language barriers, and figuratively, in terms of what information can be divulged to whom.

One might even say that language becomes a character in its own right, proving to be a source of power – the more of it you have, the more information you accumulate, but, on the other hand, the more responsibility you must then personally bear.

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Orange is the New Black and Recidivism: The Need for Accurate Media Representations of the Many Causes of Incarceration

Actor Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Netflix's Orange Is The New Black (Photo credit: Netflix / Orange is the New Black)

By Guest Contributor:Rachel Ko

About 50,000 people a year exit incarceration only to enter immediately into homeless shelters; legal restrictions and discrimination against individuals with criminal records are often to blame. As has been well-documented, the incarceration rate for African Americans is more than six times the incarceration rate for white Americans. African Americans also make up more than 40 percent of the homeless population, despite representing only 13 percent of the general population.

Even though general statistics don’t simultaneously track the effects of race on incarceration and homelessness, anti-Black racial stigma amplifies the measurable social impacts of both. Individuals released from prisons are more likely to be re-arrested for misdemeanor offense they commit in order to survive on the streets, but many scholars have failed to sufficiently connect recidivism, homelessness and incarceration.

A more successful representation of these connections is the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black. Through Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, a compassionate, intelligent, and likeable African American character, Orange is the New Black sheds light on the lack of rehabilitative resources and support systems that cause re-incarceration of individuals suffering from poverty. Taystee’s story shows us that crime is not a single action; rather, it is a series of events and complex social factors.

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Defending Diversity on Campus

Side View of statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French. (Photo credit: Farrell Grehan/CORBIS)

By Guest Contributors: Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez and Sally Chen

The value of a “Harvard education” — which draws students around the world with its promise to produce the future “citizen-leaders for our society” — is inextricably linked to the university’s affirmative action policy. 

The two of us – Sally, a Chinese American senior at Harvard, and Itzel, a Xicana who graduated in 2017 – owe our education to Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy. We just testified in the lawsuit SFFA v. Harvard, which claims that Harvard’s policy discriminates against Asian American applicants.

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The Triumph Beyond Sandra Oh’s Trophy

Sandra Oh at the 2019 Golden Globes.

By Guest Contributor: Jacqueline Wong

Sandra Oh recently made history three times at the 76th Golden Globes Awards as the first Asian American host, the first Asian American woman to win multiple Golden Globes, and the first Asian American woman in nearly 40 years to win for Best Actress in a TV Drama for her role in Killing Eve

Yet it was not just her hosting duties or her receipt of a Best Actress award that made the night so special for Asian Americans.  Rather, it was how Oh unabashedly celebrated her Asian-ness on live TV.  Asian Americans have rarely been given the opportunity to have their faces or voices broadcasted live on such a large platform.  By owning her Asian identity on stage, Oh took back control of the Asian American narrative.

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