SG & M’sians unite to defend Henry Golding after claims that he got ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ role by being ‘white-passing’

Image credit: The Hollywood Reporter

When we talk about Malaysians who have made it truly big in Hollywood, two names come immediately to mind: Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh, and Henry Golding. Both have made significant strides in the international film industry over the past many years, and have simultaneously appeared in the groundbreaking 2018 Hollywood blockbuster, Crazy Rich Asians, as mother-son duo Eleanor Sung-Young and Nick Young.

Simu Liu had once auditioned for Henry Golding’s role in Crazy Rich Asians

However, it has recently been revealed by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu during a podcast with independent film review website IndieWire that he had also previously auditioned for roles in Crazy Rich Asians, but had failed to land himself a part. Speaking as part of the website’s ‘How To Fail With Elizabeth Day’ podcast on 18th May 2022, he said that he had participated in four auditions for the role of leading man Nick Young, in addition to supporting roles such as Colin Khoo, Nick’s childhood best friend, and Michael Teo, Astrid’s husband.

However, he was turned down at each turn, with the role of Nick Young eventually falling to our very own Malaysian-British heartthrob Henry Golding. When asked regarding the feedback he received from the auditions, Simu said he was told by studio executives that he simply did not possess ‘the X-factor, the ‘it’ factor.’

Netizens claim that Henry Golding was cast in Crazy Rich Asians over Simu Liu as he is 'white-passing'. Image credit: The Hollywood Reporter
Netizens claim that Henry Golding was cast in Crazy Rich Asians over Simu Liu as he is ‘white-passing’. Image credit: The Hollywood Reporter

It is worth keeping in mind that Simu himself had cast no aspersions over Henry’s casting, nor questioned or criticised it. In fact, he had expressed his enthusiasm for the film, and said that he was proud of the movie’s landmark success.

“I am very, very happy and proud of the success of the movie. When it came out there was no feeling — and usually, there are, believe me — but there was no feeling of jealousy on my part. I was truly, truly happy that it existed.” he said.

Netizens claim Henry Golding’s casting was due to the fact that he is ‘white-passing’

However, that did not stop netizens on Twitter from accusing the casting choice as prejudiced. Some have pointed to Henry’s half-white ancestry, claiming that the only reason he was picked over a pure East-Asian actor for the role of Nick Young was over the fact that he is ‘white-passing’.

The term ‘white-passing’ is used to describe people of colour who are often mistakenly identified as being white, typically due to their appearance. Some netizens have claimed that the presumed ‘it factor’ that studio executives were referring to was an actor who looked white.

Another netizen has also questioned what a Malaysian/British actor would know about being Singaporean, seeing that Singapore is made up of ethnic Chinese majority.

Malaysians and Singaporeans come to Henry’s defence

However on the flipside, many Malaysians and Singaporeans have stood up for Henry’s casting as Nick in Crazy Rich Asians, and point to the fact that Henry would inherently understand more about Singaporean culture than Simu would.

Others from Malaysia have also pointed out that Henry isn’t ‘white-passing’ to begin with, and that men with his features are commonplace in Malaysia, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. They also point out that Southeast Asia encompasses a wide gamut of diasporic and native communities, and that there isn’t a single, monolithic definition of how a Southeast Asian is supposed to look like.

One netizen asks why it was even necessary pit two Asian actors against one another to begin with for no apparent reason.

In a follow-up to the furor surrounding his podcast, Simu said that his time auditioning for Crazy Rich Asians has granted him ‘meaningful feedback’ in his work, and says that the movie was ‘perfectly cast the way it was’. He has not made any direct mentions over the ongoing discourse surrounding the matter.

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