On Tuesday night, the cast of Crazy Rich Asians attended the film’s premiere in Los Angeles. As is standard for Hollywood premieres of big movies, they were dressed in gowns and tuxedos and suits, all coiffed and made up to look their best on the red carpet.
But what made the scene look different from the typical red-carpet premiere was that the actors and actresses of Crazy Rich Asians were all of Asian descent. That’s because the movie is the first major studio film in more than two decades to feature an all Asian and Asian-American primary cast.
Aside from the presence of an all Asian and Asian-American cast — a major cinematic milestone — nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary in the red-carpet photos. But you wouldn’t know it from one of the style dispatches written after the event, which implies that the Crazy Rich Asians cast failed in some way by not making a concerted effort to wear fashion by Asian-American designers.
“Crazy Rich Asians Red Carpet Fashion Lacks Representation for Asian American Designers,” reads the headline of the piece, which was published by the Hollywood Reporter. In it, after reporting that the movie’s stars wore designers like Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Ralph & Russo, and Reem Acra instead of Asian-American designers, writer Booth Moore asks, “Crazy Rich Asians cast members have been using their platform to talk about representation in Hollywood, in publications like THR and others; should they be obligated to use that platform to shine a light on representation in fashion, too?”
The piece points out, complete with a typographical error, that the “only female cast member to tap an Asian-American designer for her red carpet look was Gemma Chen [sic], who wore a glittery dress by Oscar de la Renta, which is co-designed by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, who was one of the hosts of the New York screening.” It also quotes an anonymous “industry insider” speaking about Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu and her dress by a non-Asian designer: “Constance talks so much about representation but there is no show for it,” the source told THR.
This complaint — that actors of Asian descent who’ve appeared in a movie that stands as a major representation milestone in Hollywood aren’t doing enough to support representation — is unfair. It doesn’t just dismiss the Crazy Rich Asians cast members who did wear Asian designers (yes, there were a few); it sets a ridiculous and disproportionate expectation for actors of color.
Crazy Rich Asians is a huge milestone. But its cast can’t — and shouldn’t — be the only people calling for representation in Hollywood.
Though the red carpet offers a very visible platform — one that just this year has been used to support the #MeToo movement, protest gender inequity, and more — there is certainly no rule that states it must be used as a tool to raise awareness.
Further, Moore’s THR piece allows an anonymous source to chide the Crazy Rich Asians cast and cite Black Panther’s press tour as an example of what the Crazy Rich Asians cast could have done, without fully explaining that even though many of Black Panther’s actors and actresses wore red carpet looks inspired by (and invoking) African royalty and the movie’s setting of Wakanda to the movie’s LA premiere, many of those looks came from big-name designers like Versace, Calvin Klein, Viktor & Rolf, and Armani.
But admonishing the cast of Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians for not using their monumental films to raise awareness of representation in fashion misses the point entirely. Namely, it isn’t solely the responsibility of nonwhite actors and actresses to be spokespeople for representation. There have been (and will be) decades of movies with predominantly white casts (including actors who have taken whitewashed roles) where no one has questioned what those casts are doing to promote representation in Hollywood and support nonwhite fashion designers.
Trying to criticize the Crazy Rich Asians cast for not going out of their way to wear Asian designers unintentionally underscores the pressure that nonwhite performers are under to be exemplars of race and representation in a way that, say, the cast of Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again is not. And while an actor’s choice to wear a specific designer can send a specific message, scrutinizing what they didn’t wear is a slippery slope. Allowing someone to anonymously nitpick the work Wu has done to advocate for representation in film is particularly egregious.
This isn’t to say that representation doesn’t matter. But with the expectations surrounding Crazy Rich Asians as high as they are, examining the issues with criticism of this ilk is as important as the impetus behind the criticism itself.