Since watching this film, I’ve been thinking a lot about representation. Many Asian American individuals are arguing that this film only represents individuals who are of Chinese descent, “light skinned” Asians and does not do justice in terms of representation for Asians of other ethnicities.
To be honest, my first response was, “come friggn on people, you’re killing my vibe”. The movie has been out for ONE day and there are already haters? Can’t we just celebrate a little longer? Then it turned to a resolved “haters gon’ hate”.
It wasn’t until I was talking to my parents the other day about the film, when it started to hit me. My parents, Taiwanese immigrants, like many immigrants came to the US to secure a better future for their kids. For various reasons, they stuck to their ethnic enclaves (the Taiwanese church) and never really “Americanized”. When I asked them if they wanted to watch the film, they said, “well, we just won’t understand what they’re saying.” We went to see Mission Impossible instead.
For a split second, I was angry. Didn’t they understand that this film is making history? That, finally, we have representation, I have representation. Then I realized…I have representation. I, a 29 year old ABC (American-born Chinese) have representation. (ok, so technically I wasn’t born here, but people usually round up my 1.5 generation status…which, for the purposes of this article, I’m okay with). My parents, don’t identify with this film. They don’t have representation. Instead, they wanted to go watch Mission Impossible, as it was a television series they grew up watching in Taiwan.
Then it got me thinking about all the other individuals who do not feel represented by this film, or even the term “Asian American”. Forgive me if I’m not being as exhaustive or inclusive as possible. The term Asian American is an umbrella term that racially lumps anyone of far Eastern descent. But these countries have such distinct histories and experiences shaped by colonization, war, trauma, etc. A Filipino person may identify more with Latino culture than Korean culture. Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cambodian Americans, many whose parents came to the states as refugees, have very very different experiences than a Chinese ABC. And South Asians, are sometimes left out of being considered Asians as when people think of Asians, they think of “light-skinned” Asians. And, what about TCK’s (third-culture kids?) Individuals of Asian descent, raised in a few different countries. Do they identify as Asian American? Even though to label themselves as such is quite reductionistic?
So, I get it. I get it when people critique the film, saying that does not reflect the diverse range of Asians that make up Singapore. But at the same time, was this film meant to? Representation of these people just does not fit the storyline.
The story is about Singapore’s 1%. Of course 99% of people are not going to feel represented.
We also just do not have enough films starring Asian Americans to be able to represent everyone’s diverse experiences. While being critical about the film is important as it propels society toward progress (and I agree we indeed need more representation), let’s celebrate and acknowledge that this film takes a giant step towards creating the possibility for more representation for us all.
And as my friend Raechel Wong (Asian American actress…you should hire her!) so thoughtfully puts it, “We have to be strategic about what ” ‘fights’ to pick” or else it turns into the “oppression olympics”. Let’s remember that “this is just a cornerstone, not the whole house”.
If you are an individual who does not feel represented by this film, I encourage you to take action. May the anger and passion that you feel drive you towards creating something new, something great. May you be the pioneers that blaze the way. Make this film become your floor. And may standing upon it shatter the glass–no, bamboo ceiling.