I’ve often written that the word Asian is misused, often for calculated political reasons. For instance, in the currently pending lawsuit against Harvard’s admissions affirmative action (AA) policies, the claim is discrimination against Asian-American applicants, yet the anti-AA movement has been mostly Chinese. Indeed, for the most part, Indian- and other South Asian-Americans have been conspicuously absent, in spite of similar demographics. It’s natural that the anti-AA people want the broader “Asian” umbrella, but this example shows that the term can be misleading.
Another interesting example, pointed out in The Economist‘s September 1 issue, is the movie Crazy Rich Asians. Many Asian-American activists, again mainly Chinese, have praised the film for having an “all-Asian” cast. They had complained for years, quite justifiably, that Hollywood has typically portrayed Asians in negative roles, say menial workers. Now, finally, an “Asian” movie is out, and enjoying high box office success.
Well, not quite, says Banyan of The Economist, writing on how some view the film in multi-ethnic Singapore, the setting of the film. The main characters are ethnic Chinese (though the male lead is half Malay, half white). The Economist, not a publication that plays up identity politics, writes:
For plenty of Asians, the film is more of an affront than a triumph…the film ignores all Asians other than the Chinese kind. One-quarter of Singapore’s population is not Chinese but of Malay or Indian descent. Yet when Malays feature, it is as valet-parking attendants, Indonesians as masseuses…Sikh guards [are portrayed as] buffoonish…What passes for victory in Hollywood can look like a glaring failure in Singapore.
Not sure how Banyan got wind of this, but it’s an important point.