Am I a Crazy Rich Asian ? By some definitions. Crazy? tick. Rich - vs average, well yes, tick. Asian - hmmmm, I guess, tick.
The film has broken through all type of cultural barriers echoing the breakthrough we saw through Black Panther and chiming with the #MeToo movement.
Stories. Plays. Movies. There is a school of thought which advocates these stories should reflect us. Reflect the human condition. Reflect our hopes and dreams, sins and vices, our sameness, our diversity.
Why has it taken so long to see such reflections? And if people want more such stories then are the mechanisms in place to facilitate that?
One argument runs that dominant culture and dominant gate keepers wish to retain power and dominance (a variation on Darwinian survival of the fittest) and such dominance will tend to crush rivals... competing cultures, competing narratives - it’s a truism, winners write history.
Thus stories of unheard voices or minority’s voices are suppressed either intentionally or by unintentional neglect.
There are two - not necessarily exclusive - solutions. One is via policy, rules, intent where investment or programming purposely targets these stories and promote them. Or at the least ensures equality of opportunity.
Another might be to try and use market based forces to reveal and meet the demand for such stories.
It’s possible to combine the two. Recall I’m all about the mix and mingle.
In terms of tipping point moments, many of the CRA creatives are broadly my distant peers. Gemma Chan is 5 years younger, but Ken Jeong is 9 years older; my distant cousin Michelle Yeoh is a half generation older. It has taken time and steady pulsing pressure to raise these stories up. BUt as Martin Luther King said: “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
So why is it so notable that sales are strong and holding steady?
This shows there is demand for these type of stories.
In a classic market model in search of profit, or rather shareholder value, (not always quite the same) this shows ignoring this demand was detrimental to shareholder value and profit.
This is why a market based social liberal might argue the market mechanism and profit seeking lever when properly implemented is one of the best tools we have for promoting such unheard stories. On one level It lets people choices decide.
Yet the lack of such stories could be viewed as market failure.
Another aspect is the pressure on such a story.
In the dominant story form, there are many unsuccessful examples. That’s OK there is more than enough success as well. There is - as Viet Nguyen might say - narrative plenitude. Where as Asian-Americans live in narrative scarcity. I think this is an intriguing concept. (see NY Times op-ed here by Nguyen).
A single Anglo-American-overseas-Chinese story done poorly sends a negative market signal - maybe not because there is no demand but because the movie was poor.
Skipping side ways to poetry - there is a parallel in poetry. Ostensibly the market for poetry is small. Yet most people in the world have read or written a poem - making it in one sense a very democratic and inclusive art form (although like many others arts but unlike film which most people can not be a creative in) - so when Rupi Kuar (Instagram poet) has millions of followers and sells millions of dollars it demonstrates a demand for poetry (and yes, if you investment types haven’t heard her, she has garnered an FT review along with other IG poets)
I find it odd on many levels for it to be attacked so by unknown poets (for not being poetry or bad poetry; 'bad' films can still sell well, I suppose) although there are again parallels between elites and populism (a thoughtful NYT poet on the form here)
Arguably again poetry in its current state suffers from a lack of diverse critics and published writers - a narrative scarcity - although I imagine most people have written a poem of sorts in their life time.
Skipping again to the broad umbrella is sustainable investments - if there is demand, will the market adjust? Is there real demand?
Borrowing the idea of a tipping point or critical mass, I think we can see that in cultural moments and movements.
Those moments can open markets and unleash those unwilling to commit.
I note - I myself for a complex set of reasons - have a multi-facet career where story telling is only one portion and investments the larger job.
These moments can open up stories for those voices not heard and those creatives who could tip over if only they believed there was a pathway for their work.
Still great work is not created in a vacuum and story tellers do not appear over night - there’s a craft at work and hopefully this proves a moment that builds on.
Do I recognise anything in this movie?
I have to admit yes. I know these people. I know a wife who hid expensive shopping from her husband (though for slightly different reasons); I learnt Mah Jong from aunties; I’ve sat in kitchens with Matriachs and argued about where the best Satay is found.
Others won’t think this world reflects them. I think that’s OK too and maybe if they have it in them, and they want to see the stories that reflect what they know - they should then do better - and create and write the stories themselves.
Most cutting funny political line:
Eat up your nuggets. There are starving children in America.
This is true, about 12- 15% of Americans are below the poverty line which matches the number of Americans who receive food stamp aid, currently running at about 40m Americans on Food Stamps.
On a more optimistic note, Cancer survival rates are the highest ever with 7 out of 10 Americans diagnosed with cancer surviving more than 5 years.
Lastly, on the CRA UK launch, I'm supporting BEATS... which seek to: humanise British East Asians, increase the visibility of British East Asians on stage and screen, and advocate for the use of the term British East Asian.
One of our means of achieving change is by directing the spotlight and mobilising the public to generate critical en masse support to key cultural events that act as catalysts for equality and representation for British East Asians.
We are launching the first of these events now with a special community presentation of Crazy Rich Asians on 14 September at 19:00 at the Picturehouse Central.
Too book tickets email BeatsOrgUk@gmail.com
For more information about BEATS visit http://wearebeats.org.uk