“When you fail to recognise our faces, you erase our identities,” Remy Hii wrote in an impassioned Twitter thread.
The movie was nominated for the night’s highest honour, Best Ensemble, alongside Black Panther, A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody and BlacKkKlansman. For many of the film’s stars, the night would mark the last time the cast would gather together before filming begins on the sequel. A celebration was most definitely in order.
Gemma Chan jokingly dubbed the SAGs “the last wrap party” for Crazy Rich Asians, hinting that herself and co-star Henry Golding would be on the SAGs dance floor until the early hours of the morning, whether or not they picked up any hardware at the awards show.
Crazy Rich Asians didn’t end up winning Best Ensemble — that award went to the cast of Black Panther.
But the film’s stars, including Chan and Golding as well as Constance Wu, Remy Hii, Ronny Chieng, Awkwafina, Fiona Xie and Tan Kheng Hua celebrated their film in style, posing for photos and speaking to various media publications about the importance of representation onscreen and how their movie, and movies like Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, have moved the dial when it comes to Hollywood diversity.
The next day, the cast began scrolling through the online coverage of the night to find that many outlets, including People and Vogue, had completely mixed up the names of the film’s Asian stars.
In one article, Chan was misidentified as Liv Lo, Golding’s wife. Tan Kheng Hua, who stars as Rachel’s mum Kerry in the movie, was captioned as Michelle Yeoh, who plays Nick’s mum Eleanor. In a gallery of pictures from People’s own after party, Yeoh and Hua’s names were again mixed up, and Cheng (who played cousin Eddie) and his wife Hannah Pham were given completely different names.
Hii, who stars as the odious cousin Alistair in Crazy Rich Asians, shared an impassioned Twitter thread about how this ‘honest mistake’ is actually a painful microaggression for minority communities.
“To the journalists consistently at fault, I refuse to believe you’ve never mistaken a Bomer for a Cavill, an Adams for a Fisher, a Hemsworth for a Hemsworth and yet it happens ALL the time with PoC,” Hii wrote. “Particularly Asian performers and it’s always just an ‘honest mistake’.”
Hii continued: “When you fail to recognise our faces, when you consistently misattribute our names as though any Asian performer is interchangeable, you erase our identities and you erase our humanity.”
“You negate our achievements and talents with your ignorance. We’re not going to take it. Do better.”
Hii particularly called out People for misidentifying Chieng, Pham and Hua. “Lazy white journalists back at it with their bull**t,” Hii wrote. “This wasn’t even a case of mistaken identity, you straight up threw a bunch of yellow names up and hoped they’d stick.” (People has since amended the caption, but Pham remains unidentified.)
It was a bitter end to a night that, until then, had celebrated diversity. While accepting the award for Best Ensemble, Black Panther’s star Chadwick Boseman praised Hollywood for finally recognising the importance of telling diverse stories. “It’s a pleasure to be seen by you,” Boseman said in his speech. “To be loved by you.”
It is a pleasure to be seen, and to see yourself in the most popular pop culture of the year. But misidentifying the faces of people of colour, something that happens all too often both in the media and in real life, is not a pleasure. It is a humiliating act of erasure, just one of countless microaggressions that reinforce the narrative that people of colour are not worthy.
In Hii’s words, it’s time to “do better”.