From Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to I Feel Pretty, 2018 has had great feel-good films, but we’re not done yet. Crazy Rich Asians is almost certain to fill us with joy. The comedy/drama follows Rachel, a young Asian-American woman, who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick. There, she finally meets his family… and discovers they’re one of the richest families in the country, and that he’s considered a wildly eligible bachelor.
Based on the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding. The Jon M. Chu-directed movie has everything we love to see in a great rom-com, but it’s so much more than that. Crazy Rich Asians is a significant film, one that will hopefully change Hollywood for the better.
A Hollywood Rarity
Despite steps forward in the last few years, the American movie industry is severely lacking in diversity and representation. For instance, the last time an American studio made and released a film with an Asian or Asian-American cast was in 1993, when Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures released The Joy Luck Club. That was the first such film in US studio history, and in the subsequent 25 years there hasn’t been another like it.
(Some films with all-Asian casts, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, have been released in the US by major studios, but those were produced outside the studio system or were co-productions with Asian companies.)
Representation matters; seeing yourself on screen is a major cultural force. But Asian-American casts have not been embraced by studios. Instead, we’ve seen companies look to Caucasian actors for major roles, even when the narrative calls for an Asian actor in a case such as Ghost In The Shell. It’s disappointing to see such “whitewashing” continue to exist; Hollywood should make more of an effort to honor cultures and represent them on screen. That’s where Crazy Rich Asians comes in.
The Jon M. Chu-directed film is significant, in part because it is not tied to genre conventions that are stereotypically associated with Asian films. It’s not a story about a hero’s journey, or a period piece. It’s a romantic comedy, the sort of thing that wouldn’t attract such attention with a Caucasian cast. Eventually, hopefully we’ll see the Crazy Rich Asians approach replicated with other diverse casts. For now, this one is a notable landmark.
The important thing is that the movie marks a significant step in the right direction, and hopefully Asian actors will now be given more opportunities to lead films as protagonists. In other words, they will hopefully be afforded the same opportunities as Caucasian actors. (Happily, this month also sees the release of Searching, which also focuses entirely on an Asian-American family. Star John Cho has enthusiastically applauded the casting and production of that film.)
Chris Pang, who appears in the film, spoke to the ABC about the importance of representation:
“When you grow up and everybody that you see on TV and on billboards, they all look like you, you’re accepted, your image is accepted, and you’re validated… but that’s not the case for ethnic minorities, it’s the opposite — you feel unworthy.”
Crazy Rich Asians isn’t an inspirational story, but the genre isn’t what matters here. The fact this film was made with this cast is what’s significant. It demonstrates that studios are finally making progress, and that they may be more willing to give Asian and Asian-American actors a lot more exposure in American films.
Crazy Rich Asians arrives on August 16.