The Feminism of Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is lovable for many reasons (as its record box office performance demonstrates). One of them is how it effortlessly portrays a world in which women are the prime movers. The men in the story are either absent or seen in moments where women are center stage. The two scenes where we do encounter men only both pass a kind of reverse Bechdel test, in which the male characters are important enough to be named but their conversation is entirely about a woman.

It is in the traditionally female domain, the mahjong parlors, kitchens, high-end fashion boutiques, bedrooms, boudoirs, and garden pavilions of Singapore that the true stars of this film move like warring goddesses, dripping with jewels and clothed in a procession of jaw-dropping outfits. But these remarkable women are more than mannequins. It is their struggle to balance duty and love, to find peace with each other, and to keep alliances in an uncaring world that generate all the suspense and joy of this story. The men of the film are the objects that keep that plot moving. They are beautiful objects, but untransformed by the story. Like the jewelry which is so important to the plot, men are valued more in the exchange than the possession.

So much of the talk about Crazy Rich Asians has focused on its breakthrough status for minority representation in cinema, that its remarkable feminism has gone unremarked, perhaps because it wears it so lightly but so well.