When observing Asian Americans in the music and entertainment industry, it’s not difficult to recognize the overplayed roles and the limited exposure Asian Americans receive. The spaces available for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry are limited to the stereotypes defined by a white audience; recycled images of the emasculated and bookish Asian man as well as the hyper-sexualized, submissive Asian woman perpetuate a liminal expressive space for Asian Americans. Thus, in Akira Boch’s The Crumbles, it is interesting to see not only the cast itself represent a space of expression free of stereotypes but also the plot unravel in a way not defined by the races of the characters. Therein lies the subtle empowerment in this film about a misfit indie rock band that fails to make it big.
Fitting with its ‘misfit’ theme, the platform of The Crumbles seems to go against all that Asian American actors, musicians, dancers, and entertainers face in the mainstream media. Often, Asian Americans in music or entertainment are forced to either downplay their Asianness for some effect of assimilation or amplify their Asianness as a form of characterization. Mina Yang in “Yellow Faces, White Masks” uses the Jabbawockeez to elaborate on the constraints Asian Americans face as they perform for an audience with a white gaze. Their white masks conceal their racial identity so as to “‘remove all ethnic and social barriers when [they] perform’” (Yang 25), as one Jabbawockeez member explained. Conversely, Yang uses Harry Shum’s character in Glee to discuss the limited roles given to Asian American entertainers; Shum’s episode “Asian F” focuses on his rebellion against “his ‘Asian obligations’ to his father, a stereotypical Asian tiger parent” (29). This downplaying or amplifying of race cannot be seen in The Crumbles. The lack of discussion of race at all could be mistaken as a downplay, but the film in no way makes an attempt to erase Darla, Dante, or Elisa’s race in exchange for some plot development; race is not used at the expense of any one character. They simply are, and that was enough for the plot of the movie.
The plot of The Crumbles, though focused on the creation and performance of music, features fundamental themes of love and friendship. Darla and Dante clearly have romantic interest in one another, and Darla and Elisa have a friendship that holds through their rocky conflict. Elisa also has an ex-boyfriend who is mentioned sporadically through the film as a ‘bad guy’ who she should not get back together with. Interestingly enough, the ex-boyfriend – who Elisa gets back together with – is revealed to be Asian American at the end of the film (in a leather jacket and a cigarette in hand at that). As Fred Ho discusses in “Where is the Asian American Love,” many art forms exhibit the Asian American experience of struggle in life, but not many of them portray love as part of that experience. This perpetuates the stereotype of Asian men as “sexless, servile, comic-relief, undesirable” (Ho 245). Not only does the ‘bad boy ex’ being Asian go against the emasculated, weak vision of the Asian man in mainstream media, Elisa’s love plot line also highlights an Asian American love that Fred Ho defines as “simply Asian Americans who fall in love with other Asian Americans” (240). Elisa’s love life is not perfect, clearly, but that emphasizes the holistic humanity of the ‘Asian American experience’ rather than a carefully crafted, fit-in-the-box vision of what Asian American is or is not.
Boch’s The Crumbles, in the midst of its slightly predictable plot-line, captures a snippet of what it means to express (art or love) as an Asian American. The actors are not pressured to play a certain role due to their otherness nor are they necessarily deterred from doing so. The choice of a diverse cast does not feel like a quota so much as an attempt to represent the reality that is diverse America.