CINEMA: Crazy (Not So Rich) Asians

Culture, Feature

Man, diversity is trending like a motherfucker, and although it’s something many of us MTV kids have been waiting for, since time; making sure it isn’t a passing trend is the new mission for all involved in this movement. It’s hard not to question why the inclusion of those who tick the ‘other’ box is suddenly being embraced by mainstream outlets. By now people of colour are already tired of standing up when they say, sitting down when ‘they’ say and dropping everything, when THEY say.

In a time when I thought my well of ideas would burst open and I’d have a million articles to write and express my inner most deepest feelings, instead I froze up. I observed the platforms that were being ‘given’ and ‘provided’ and couldn’t find my voice even when I tried. Over the past few years I watched the #poc #woc #blacklivesmatter #staywoke #metoo narratives unfold online and felt even more confused than before, but I put it down to writers block and kept living.

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Director Jon M. Chu’s film Crazy Rich Asians just became the highest grossing romantic comedy in a decade. Reaching $165.7 million as of this weekend. Starring Michelle Yeoh, Akwafina, Ken Jeong and Nico Santos the movie overflows with decadence, luxury, fine things and fun amidst the strict, non-tolerant to anything other than just do what you know you’re supposed to be doing (become a lawyer, doctor…Prime Minister would be good) world that goes hand-in-hand with cultures who’ve kept their traditions despite westernized influences and dilution. Chu’s screenplay takes you to ‘exotic’ Malaysia and Singapore, and if you’re from those lands (as I am) the mere sight of the pasarmalam (night market) or the use of the word ‘Alamak’ (Oh My God) on a cell phone projects you into a ridiculous deep nostalgia you can’t help but zone in on. Even though your mate from Zimbabwe is next to you balling her eyes out at the unjust heartbreak portrayed on the screen, you forget to ask her if she’s OK (not cool Aleyna) because you’re momentarily homesick and lamenting over the fact that had you not come to New Zealand, become really westernised and chose to disobey your parents at every turn, this could have been your life, once, too.

The beauty of this movie is that it is a romcom – the type of movie which I do and can safely appreciate with my mum – it won’t cause us to talk about our world views or politics or sociology. It is the type of movie where we both simply agree – he’s cute, she’s pretty, that bad guy is actually an asshole and the grandma should keep her 2 cents before she exposes the truth and debunks the entire climax which alludes to fairy tales being a real-life realistic goal to strive for. In romcoms, I don’t remind my mother that I’m radical and potentially a dud child, and she doesn’t remind me that she’s old school. It works.

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“You’re what’s considered Eurasian” she explained to me around the age of 10. “How?” I wondered… You’re Indian and dad’s Chinese and Filipino. I’d watched movies with Spanish content and appreciated the expression and how the language made you feel like you’re allowed to yell at your lover even when you just want them to pass the salt. I’d watched ‘Real Women Have Curves’ featuring America Ferrera and felt less ugly, embarrassed or bad, my 5ft curvy body couldn’t fit anything even at Glassons. I realised tall Caucasian figures were the basis for the pattern making – another Kiwi experience I’d made a conscious-thought-out-decision not to take personally. The term Euroasian sounded too close to European to me and growing up in New Zealand looking Māori or Polynesian made me feel like I wasn’t Euro anything, I simply wasn’t interested in the Euro part – especially after experiencing racism for my skin colour.  I have lived this way since I came into consciousness – dating a white boy once and dumping him immediately for calling Kanye West a racist because he rapped ‘A white man gets paid off of all of that’.

ME: You can’t say he isn’t right Tom!

Tom wasn’t having it and neither was I. My mum’s one chance to welcome home a white boy was obliterated in that moment and my ‘activist’ ‘radical’ sensibilities were birthed and cemented into time.

I identified myself in the female protagonist played by Constance Wu. She was raised in America and free to follow her passions – naive to the benefits of strict traditions. When her mother tells her ‘But you were raised here’ I recognised a strong, very defining statement, of the reality that once you leave your homeland a part of it lets you go too. It sounds sad but one thing having a Kiwi identity affords you is the liberty to not have to conform, to follow your dreams and become an artist if you want to. You’re free from traditional expectation. The catch is, when you’re away for too long, expectation is all you want. ‘One tight slap’ on the face and a good scolding from your Aunty for leaving a wet towel on the bed (culturally insensitive) doesn’t seem so bad when you’re homesick.  

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In my experience coming from a Euroasian family who immigrated elsewhere, I have access to the traditions but am not obligated to follow them. In my case my parents only spoke English to me, something I was deeply sad about for years. For them we didn’t need Tamil, Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese or Mandarin in New Zealand. ‘Better you go learn French’ my Grandma would casually say to me at the age of 14.  “So I could speak to who?!” I’d balk back. At that time I was not concerned with the array of cute boys who could (and would) speak French in my life. Survival as a little brown female in a Western world was my primary concern, it would be a long time after that in which I’d care about boys.

I was one of those girls who didn’t have to go to temple with the rest of the family because the ceremonies would be long and I’d get bored – my mum assumed. This meant I missed out on weddings and funerals. Chinese New Year was the best though, because in Malaysia there’s this tradition called angpow, where if you’re a child, upon arrival you receive a red envelope filled with money. This part of our culture was one my parents happily let us participate in (maybe it was their version of a DIY economics class). As the visiting foreigners my brother and I would tour the city driving from cousins’ house to aunt’s to great-great-grand-mothers “of your uncle’s second wife’s sister” collecting red envelopes, allowing aunties to feed us and pinch our cheeks – so long as they gave us envelopes.

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My parents immigrated to New Zealand because dad couldn’t handle the fact that the jungle laid land he grew up in and loved so much had given way to a concrete jungle and capitalist priorities. Mum felt the country was becoming corrupt and so we moved to NZ where my younger brother and I enjoyed the fact that we could say ‘fuck’ freely – simply telling our mates our parents were taking us to Whakatāne to holiday. At the time, this felt awesome, now, I understand it’d quite likely be considered culturally insensitive.

What’s interesting in Jon Chu’s narrative is the empowerment it leaves women, particularly Asian women. Whether the character be a single mother who ran to America to raise an illegitimate daughter or an heiress with a shopping problem and unfaithful husband, the movie celebrates the strength of women. It reflects the fact that in many societies across the world it is a woman’s love, strength and patience, resilience and care that should be celebrated and not ignored or taken for granted. In Jon Chu’s film it’s these traits of being a traditional woman that become vital fibers in the fabric that hold a family and sometimes an empire together. Bring on the sequel and the “tsunami” Michelle Yeoh proposed in a NY Screen Times panel discussion where she explains if roles for Asians aren’t created then “We can’t work because of you”.  

 Yeoh is a Malaysian actress who has a net worth of $40 million and a lead role in the American TV series Star Trek. She also says she hopes “It doesn’t matter what race you are I hope that very soon we don’t see us as actors, or filmmakers, as colour, or whatever it is – but storytellers with stories that needs to be told in the right way and represent what we are and who we are”.

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Some criticism of the movie is that although it hosts an all-Asian cast and makes progress for Asian cinema, Alice Truong writes for Quartzy:  ‘It only depicts ethnic Chinese people, who make up a portion of the city-state’s population. The lack of South Asians or anyone with dark skin has the internet suggesting new names for the movie: Crazy Rich East Asians and Crazy Rich East Light-Skinned Asians.”

TV: Claws – Multi-ethnic steel magnolia trash

Culture

Janine Sherman Barrois, one of the series writers for Claws – a great new TV series says creator Eliot Laurence, “told me he used to read the Florida Man [Twitter account], he’s seen all these cases of women who bit off their spouse or partner’s d— in Florida. And it inspired him to write about that area in that sort of Florida-noir, Elmore Leonard kind of quirky, dark humorous way.. that’s sort of where it all sort of evolved from.”

Claws is fucking hilarious, speaking about finally having a seat at the table in the interview below, the cast talk about being able to truly be themselves at work and the difference it made to producing quality for their audience. Desna, the protagonist is played by Niecy Nash, she explains they’re real women on set, not size 2, they DO eat on camera and have complicated relationships – despite many embarrassing truths and blood drawing challenges – the show is about women coming together and blends a diverse cast of women without it feeling forced.

 

One of the features of the show is the brilliant writing and the perfectly timed bursts of  humour amidst robbery, drugs, the Russian mafia and more – the other is the wardrobe by costume designer Dana Covarrubias. In an interview with toofab.com she said:

“I honestly don’t think there’s any other show on television that’s like this show and/or is representing the kind of women that are in this show… I would say in the first few fittings we were still trying to perfectly figure it out because we really didn’t want these characters to look and feel like cartoon characters or like we were poking fun at these people. There is obviously heavy tongue-and-cheek cheese factor to the show but as far as the costumes went, we wanted to have fun with them. We wanted them to be fun and crazy but we also wanted them to be real. That was the only challenge in the beginning; trying to figure out where that line is exactly.”

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The Claws team struck the balance so well. The woman are perfect in the way they balance their portrayal of real life woes and hood-rich glamour. One of the reasons I love a series is because it lets me tap out from real life and enjoy a fantasy story that has me guessing what will come next like Heroes, Empire, Scandal, Banshee or How to Get Away With Murder, this show had me wanting more too. In the YouTube interview above they advise up and coming actors to “learn your craft  and study because we are in a microwave generation and everything is shorter, quicker, faster”. 

Karrueche thanks her fellow cast for their support in her role as an actor just beginning her career. Her character Virginia is written into the show as an outcast who grew up with no family, she’s drawn to the love and support she sees the group giving each other and she works hard to get into the clique. The writing-in of her character shows an open minded and warm understanding of the real life dynamics between women. It’s like producers knew viewers wouldn’t want to give her a chance, so they wrote her in accordingly. She spends the first half of season one trying hard to make the others love her but ends up being the brat you expect.  Eventually you love her. But you hate her first.

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It is currently up to season two, episode four on TVNZ On Demand and I haven’t laughed so hard and unexpectedly at any media, like from the gut, in a long time. Mainstream needs more content like this, more Outrageous Fortune, Baby Mama’s Club type-humor and reality.

The other feature of the series that caught me was Harold Perrineau who plays Desna’s autistic brother. Watching him juxtaposed among all the bright pastels when you’re used to seeing him play darker more serious characters like Mercutio in Baz Luhrmaan’s Romeo and Juliet or an action hero in The Matrix was perfect. Writer Eliot Laurence says he loves stories of female empowerment, sister hood and kick-ass women and that he was super influenced by they Florida noir literary writers like Carl Hiaasen.

Nas — Illmatic 20 years later

Editorial, Music, Review

Standing in front of the same man who proclaimed that “Hip Hop is dead” in 2006, last night the James Cabaret in Wellington, New Zealand was taken back to 1994 — a time when it was very much alive and still growing into the revolutionary genre and street news broadcaster it serves as today. Some people say that it was Illmatic that sparked such a development for the hip hop culture because it changed the way rap music was made at the time; it is recognized as the first album to feature more than one producer on it and valued as “the album that ushered in the era of superproducers”. As Busta Rhymes said in the 2014, Tribeca Film documentary, Time Is Illmatic: “What he was able to do lyrically, completely shift the climate of how the emcee was supposed to rhyme.”

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@nasnyc In Wellington 🙌🙌

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Nas told the sold out venue, “I was writing, thinking what I was going to say to you before I came”, what he did say stuck with me:

“It’s up to the hip hop generation.” He said reflecting on the diversity of the people in the room and the reach his beloved genre and culture had extended to after going for 40 years strong. “I don’t know what they’re doing in politics, don’t know what the Police are doing in America..It’s up to us,” he shared.

Review: PARTYNEXTDOOR — Party Next Door II (The same formula Drake uses to steal daughters).

Feature, Newness, Review

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If I really look at the cover for Jahron Anthony Brathwaite aka PARTYNEXTDOOR’s Party Next Door II I wonder where the face for the initial image went. And what we’re expected to make of it.

Song # 2 is titled ‘SLS’ and is where PARTYNEXTDOOR goes from the status, ‘Oh that guy’s from the same place Drake’s from, right? To, ‘Who the fuck is this guy bringing G’d up R’n B, like R Kelly without the charges?’

Jahron Anthony Brathwaite is signed to Drake’s OVO Sound —  a calibre of talent that is no longer playing music, these artists are playing Monopoly and Kanye’s the banker. Jigga’s the King. Drake is the Joker or maybe the Bishop. ..All I can ACTUALLY say though, is track number #3 is like… If you have someone to share your body with when this song peaks, I am happy for you. Baby making-type-fucking is good. #4 reminds me that it’s better to be a “dark skin girl with a light skin groove”. ..Because, as he’ll tell you in the next song is, “She gets her way”…”She can have her way…yayeyayeryayayerr…” #6, ‘Grown Woman’ makes me check myself, as a woman Jahron offers  male insight (the same formula Drake uses to steal daughters) into how one looks from a certain perspective. I wonder if I like it. Do I agree with it? Am I letting other people decide my life for me. Or am I doing me — Dopely, which is the only thing in life that matters. #7, FWU, comes in with that New Orleans sound in the Monopoly; the auto tune vocals reach depths that go harder than other modern auto tune apparatus’. I suspect it’s Jahron’s original push of energy from his chest being (clearly) more special than others’ who dabble in modern day auto-tune. 8# Recognize features Drake. The line “All these bitches know that you’re my nigga” is all any woman wants to hear at the end of the day.

Recognize allows Drake a space to get even sweeter with his flow, it’s like quality saccharine which we all secretly indulge in. This song makes him a crystal kind of slick. “Name the other things the other men won’t do for ya, I’ll do for ya thats real.” Party Next Door 2 is gold love.

LISTEN to Recognize here:

(But definitely play yourself SLS)