When I watched Crazy Rich Asians, I cried. My husband teared up as well, and, according to my Twitter feed, lots of other people did too.
So why is a romantic comedy making people weep?
For a long time, neither Asian American faces nor experiences were well represented in movies. You have to go back 25 years to find a studio-backed film that had a mostly Asian American cast. So when my husband and I watched Crazy Rich Asians and saw people who looked like us and faced similar cultural struggles—feeling like the immigrant outsider—we were overwhelmed.
Why this widespread reaction? Because when we are seen and known, we are acknowledged as human beings with inherent dignity and value. We are neither mistakes nor outsiders. We belong. The beautiful uniqueness of who we are is celebrated, not whitewashed or marginalized.
For me, the experience of watching the film and feeling seen and known by it provided a beautiful reminder that there is One who sees and knows me fully. He is my Creator and perfect Father. When art like this functions as a mirror—when we recognize ourselves and feel seen by it—it can remind us that there is God who created us each uniquely and sees and knows us more intimately than anyone else does. It reminded me, for example, that God created me purposefully as an Asian American.
God Made Me Asian American
Does it matter that I am a Christian and Asian? Does God care that I am Asian American?
The answer is resoundingly yes. In Psalm 139, the psalmist wrote that God “knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God is intentional in who he creates us to be.
We are all made in his image, and our Asian Americanness is a part of that. Our heritage, our struggle to fit into two (or more) cultures, our feelings that we are foreigners—these are all unique experiences that God can and will use for his glory.
Asian American heritage, our struggle to fit into two (or more) cultures, our feelings that we are foreigners—these are all unique experiences that God can and will use for his glory.
Part of why I was so moved by Crazy Rich Asians is that I saw these familiar experiences so clearly in the film. Rachel (Constance Wu) is off balance and uncomfortable in the extravagant world of Singapore. Not only is she in a different social class than the people around her, but she’s seen as an American outsider and not Chinese enough by her boyfriend’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
Many white Americans might find it shocking to hear the word “American” said with pity or disdain, as Eleanor does in the film. But Asian Americans feel this tension constantly. In America, it is the “Asian” part that ostracizes us; but in Asia, it is the “American” side that disqualifies us. I am both, and I find no complete home in either place.
The reality is that all Christians should also feel like foreigners to this world. We know this world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven, so we should never feel fully accepted or at home here. As Asian Americans who are not quite accepted by our parents’ cultures and also perpetual outsiders in America, we can perhaps understand that aspect of our Christian identity more easily.
God Loves That I’m Asian American
Again, until I saw Crazy Rich Asians, I had never seen a movie celebrate aspects of my Asian and Asian American culture.
Take all the food scenes. I’ve been to Singapore twice to visit my husband’s family, and to that exact outdoor food court where Rachel tastes all that scrumptious food. It was refreshing to see satays, laksa curry, and ice kachang portrayed as delicious instead of just peculiar or cringe-inducing.
There’s another scene in the film in which Rachel’s boyfriend’s family makes dumplings together as a bonding activity. In American films, we might see families play board games or football in the backyard. But here, we see an Asian and Asian American tradition portrayed as the normal way families spend time together—doing an activity I did with my parents as a child.
There there’s the famous mahjong scene. Instead of a poker or chess scene to represent the conflict between Rachel and Eleanor, we are mesmerized by this game with its beautiful tiles and clicking sounds—sounds my husband grew up hearing whenever he visited relatives overseas.
God loves and celebrates us in our cultural distinctness. I believe he knows my favorite dish is gejang, a spicy crab fermented in soy sauce. I believe God sees and blesses many of my family’s cultural traditions, like bowing to our elders on New Year’s Day and eating seaweed soup on birthdays, knowing they bring our family members closer together.
I believe God was pleased by all the time I spent with my mother, learning to play with Hwatu (flower cards used to play a fast-paced strategy and matching game) or Gonggi, a game played with five grape-sized pebbles that you toss and catch.
God Sees You
When people “get you,” it means they have been paying attention. They respect you, dignify you, and see you. In a culture (or even in a church) rife with misunderstanding one another, thinking the worst of one another, and painting the other with broad brushes, a movie like Crazy Rich Asians is a great reminder that one way we can love better is by being more attentive: listening, learning, seeing each other in our differences—differences God crafted and celebrates.
A movie like Crazy Rich Asians is a great reminder that one way we can love each other better is by being more attentive: listening, learning, seeing one other in our differences—differences God created and celebrates.
To my non-Asian American brothers and sisters reading this article, God sees and knows you too, and he delights in many aspects of your culture. Since we are in Christ, we are brothers and sisters in a deeper way than any of the familial bonds depicted in Crazy Rich Asians, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or any other “big ethnic family” film. But part of being siblings-in-Christ is loving one other amid our cultural differences, not in spite of them.
To my Asian American brothers and sisters, God sees you and knows you too. He loves that we are Asian American. But the validation we get from seeing ourselves in television or movies like Crazy Rich Asians is nothing compared to the affirmation we get from God, our Creator, through our union with Christ, his Son, through whom we are born again.
We are seen, we are known, and we are loved by God on high. That is something we can all weep over with joy and gratitude.
Editors’ note: A version of this article originally appeared at SOLA Network.