From Hula Girls to Crazy Rich Asians

By: Li-Min Lin  

The discourse of casting has been even more intriguing in the present time as both artistic and economic practices. Since the body is the corporeal manifestation of power relationships, it also makes a convenient tool to reduce cultural complexity when packaged commercially. Almost twenty years ago, Jane Desmond has warned in her Hula girl case study the trap of using the human body as a performative symbol as it can decrease or even remove specific cultural references. The Hula performance requires a mixed-race body that looks neither Caucasian nor Asian, or even authentic Hawaiian, to stage an exotic and sensual islander culture. On the other hand, it is interesting to examine the casting of Henry Golding as the male lead in Crazy Rich Asians as Golding’s name hardly suggests his British-Malaysian identity and the Iban ancestry from his maternal side. The complex lineage tree makes Golding’s appearance special—he is very mixed that his face becomes a blank signifier like those hand-picked Hula girls, that any Asian cultural identities are possible to be associated with him while his remaining a unique difference, a kind of “generalized other.” Crazy Rich Asians also plays with heterosexual attraction but with six-packed abs male bodies to entice an “exotic” sexuality—whether to the eyes of the American or audience outside the U.S. Therefore, before claiming the film a progression for the minority, it is worth to consider if all the sparks of Crazy Rich Asians are disguises of “reconstructed ethnicity” within a white cultural frame again.

Hula girls, Crazy Rich Asians, Chinese-American, Mixed-race, Ethnicity, Exotic, Otherness
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Li-Min Lin

Assistant Professor, Media and Communication, Shanghai Jiao Tong University