The Netflix hit Bling Empire is beloved by fans, but cast member Kevin Kreider is getting some flak lately. The show celebrates ostentatious wealth and also features scenes where its stars support each other during tough times. While the cast is generally inspiring, lovely, and interesting, the show gets criticism. For example, the AAPI community has called out Bling Empire for its attempts to honor Asian and Asian-American culture, while also showcasing the lifestyles of elite one-percenters.
Sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans is a devastating problem that seemed to be ignored by many people outside of the Asian-American community, until recently. In New York City alone, there was a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020. From March 19 to December 31, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate received 2,808 reports of hate crimes. The community was reeling and it seemed like no one was listening, or worse, that they didn’t care.
Given the community’s pain and efforts to promote awareness, no one expected a message of resistance, especially not from a celebrity with a platform. So, it was a surprise when model and TedTalk speaker Kevin Kreider took to his Instagram platform to proclaim, “I’ve been getting tons of messages from fans and social justice warriors who are out to promote the end of racial hate crimes, noble but at times it can come across as self-righteous.” Fans were angry, and Shania Twink took to Twitter to write, “Bling Empire was a mistake. People are asking you to speak up about the anti-Asian hate crimes against the elderly since you claim to be such an “activist” … and this is how you respond???“
Bling Empire was a mistake. People are asking you to speak up about the anti-Asian hate crimes against the elderly since you claim to be such an “activist” … and this is how you respond??? pic.twitter.com/asDT8EsRFK
— shania twink (@shania_twink) February 10, 2021
Made aware of the ignorance behind his post, Kevin, who was gifted Dior by castmate Anna Shay, quickly changed course. He put out a statement of regret, saying, “To everyone in AAPI community, I had time to reflect and learn more about current events and wanted to address what I said in the past. While not everything I post will be about hugely important movements, it does not mean I’ve forgotten about what’s happening in the world. I am sorry to those who believed what I wrote (or not sharing enough) meant that I didn’t acknowledge or have empathy for these hate crimes. I want people to know that I’m doing my best, but it’s not perfect.“
Kevin went on to promote IG users with deeper knowledge. These users share information about the staggering and awful rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. He shared the IG accounts, @nextshark, and @hateisavirus. He then promised, “I will use my words more carefully on this platform because I acknowledge it comes with bigger responsibilities.“
Showing only wealthy Asians and Asian-Americans wearing diamonds and designer clothes (in Bling Empire or the film, Crazy Rich Asians) is often problematic. As Rachel Yang from EW wisely wrote, “when the show strives to humanize its stars, it also flattens their cultures.” Non-white reality stars, TV stars (and film stars) need to be free to accurately represent their cultures and emotional inner lives, in all their variety and diversity, just as the white community has always had the luxury of doing.
Bling Empire is now streaming on Netflix