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'Crazy Rich Asians' Nico Santos, and the importance of queer Asian visibility

March 29, 2019

The release of Jon Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, a GLAAD Media Awards nominee for Best Outstanding Film, made massive waves for visibility of Asian narratives in mainstream media. This project, which featured an all Asian cast, dominated the box office as the highest grossing rom-com in nearly a decade. This film meant so much to me as a young gay Filipino-American who was deprived of Asian, queer, and Asian queer visibility all throughout his life. The lack of visibility of folks like myself played a big part in the way I perceived the validity of my identities. Cousin Oliver, played by openly Filipino and gay actor Nico Santos, was the visibility I and so many other queer Asian people needed. For the first time, I was able to look at the movie screen and actually see myself.

Santos spoke about his experiences as a gay, Filipino actor in an interview with Balitang America, connecting them to the lack of queer Filipino representation in media that I’ve experienced:

“As a Filipino and as a gay person, to be able to portray complex and real queer Asian characters is important to me. I never seen myself on television or movies. I always thought when I got into this industry that I was going to have to hide all of that and play down my Asianness and queerness.”

Westernized perceptions of ideality influence the way society and institutions, including the media, perceive folks who are queer and of color. As a result, notions of what qualifies societal excellence is perpetuated. Often queer and Asian folks are seen as inferior, which contributes to the treatment of folks in these communities when entering spaces such as entertainment. Crazy Rich Asians successfully worked to empower Asian and Asian queer folks like myself to believe in the beauty of our culture and heritage and to continue to push our narratives further, regardless of this institutionalized setback of our identities. The film, and furthermore the positive feedback of Nico Santos’ character, are examples of the validity, excellence, and demand for Asian and Asian Queer narratives.

Nico Santos’ character was authentic, carefully integrated into the film to do more than just check off a box of inclusion of Asian queer visibility, but also intentionally celebrate it. Gay cousin Oliver was the visibility I never thought I’d get to see. I remember watching the film in theaters with my Filipinx parents and watching the scene when Oliver proudly introduced himself as the “rainbow sheep of the family”. In that moment, they turned and looked at me. It was a brief moment of not only my own self resonance in this film, but also the recognition of my identities by my family as well. Santos’ character was a part of one of the biggest films of the year, serving an example of not only Asian excellence or queer excellence, but also the excellence of when those identities intersect.

This visibility was monumental in my self-empowerment of my intersectional identities, seeing a character who shared parts of myself, especially parts that I felt needed to be hidden nearly all my life. Crazy, Rich, Asian’s success is a testament to the demand for Asian and Asian Queer narratives. This film is an important piece of work in this day in age for Asian queer folk. It’s hard to be in an Asian body in a western world. It’s hard to grasp and harness your identity and culture that is seen as invalid to Western eyes. It’s hard to pursue action when institutions fail to understand the urgency of relieving queer Asian lives who feel pressure against them and their identities due to their culture and societal invisibility. It’s hard to not conform and to believe you are important and capable when you’re invisible to institutions, media, and society.I am grateful for what Crazy Rich Asians has done to uplift the Asian and Asian queer folks who have for the longest time been deprived of the limelight. The film makes the struggles that I and many other Asian queer folk face day-to-day easier by giving us a glimpse of hope. Crazy, Rich, Asians is a part of the foundation that works to one day make the world believe in our stories and excellence as much as we do.

Andre Menchavez is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and sophomore at University of Washington studying law, society, and justice. Andre also serves as the youngest ambassador of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in the organization's history. Andre serves as a Junior Editor for amp.

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