The APAHM Project Day 30: Crazy Rich Asians
Film: Crazy Rich Asians
Director: Jon M. Chu
Where to watch it: Available to rent or buy on all major platforms
Why it made the list:
I feel like this film needs no explanation, but let’s just say this was the first studio film to feature an all Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” (1993). The first film to kick off “Asian August,” CRA caused a ripple effect to help get other Asian-centric stories green lit and brought light to actors such as Awkwafina, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, and Chris Pang. The film also went on to win several awards including Best Comedy at The Critics’ Choice Awards and a Golden Globe nomination for Constance Wu for Best Actress - Musical or Comedy. She was the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for the award in 50 years.
A year before its release was the first time I had even heard of “Crazy Rich Asians” and that it was being made into a movie. I was so excited and began doing research on all the actors, director, etc. A full year later, and I was reposting every article, interview, photo I saw on to my Facebook page. I went to the Wednesday night premiere, which had only one screen in the back of the theater showing the film, and watched history unfold before my eyes.
I’ll share my Facebook post about CRA here instead of trying to paraphrase it:
“...I would like to share why it is so important to me that this movie is successful and that everyone goes to see it.
The obvious is that representation is important. Never have I seen a modern movie that featured an all Asian cast (just re-watched "The Joy Luck Club" last night and although I thought it was a great film, it was harder for me to relate to due to much older tradition and mature subjects). Imagine all the younger people who will be empowered to see a movie about them and growing up thinking that seeing Asian people on the big screen is normal. Hopefully this film will help bring an end to white-washing by saying "Hey, Hollywood, there are talented and bankable Asian actors in the world if you look hard enough."
The second is that there are currently several Asian American movies waiting on a green light to go into production. Studios are waiting to see how well CRA does before approving these other films. This film could be the beginning of a movement for Asian American media. (PS be sure to check out "To All The Boys I Loved Before" on Netflix this week)
Lastly, and most personally, if this movie does well it means that more movies like this will get made and that opens a lot of doors for the Asian actors and creatives like myself. I originally thought I would be satisfied being a film editor until I began really questioning why I wanted to be in film. What was my purpose? I switched to being a director so that I could tell stories where Asian Americans and women are more dynamic and not stereotyped. It's harder, for both women and people of color, to become a successful director, but I am prepared to take on the challenge. Jennifer Yuh Nelson ("Kung Fu Panda 2" and 3, "The Darkest Minds") has already proven to me that it's possible. But if this movie tanks, that already shuts a lot of doors for me before I even begin my film making journey.
I cannot wait to see this movie tonight. To show that Asian American characters and stories can be appealing to ALL audiences. I already know I'm going to cry because I'm going to be so proud and in awe that something like this got made. I highly encourage you to go and see Crazy Rich Asians this week (when box office sales are most important)!!!! Thanks for reading this Asian girl's drawn out post :)”
This excitement that I felt was rare and unlike anything I had ever felt before. I saw this movie 4 times in its opening week, each theater screening packed with a variety of people. This film had such a great ripple effect on feeling represented. And not because I’m crazy rich, not many of us are, but because we saw such a wide array of people.
This film definitely debunks the idea that Asians aren’t attractive. I am so tired of hearing “You’re really pretty...for an Asian person.” I even had someone take it a step further to tell me that the Asian race just isn’t attractive as if this statement made me a rarity. There are times when I do struggle with my appearances, particularly my wider nose and smaller stature. But since we live in the West, we have to remember that beauty standards and ads are targeted and designed for Western people with more European features. It is literally not possible to reach this standard as an Eastern Asian. This of course doesn’t make us any less beautiful as humans.
Let’s also touch on what defines someone as being “Asian enough.” As we discussed in the “Running For Grace” post, biracial people can often struggle with how they identify themselves. Henry Golding was a newcomer to acting, and is half Malaysian and half English. He was born in Malaysia, he grew up in Malaysia, went to school in England, and eventually chose to move back to Asia at 21. He was a food/travel host for an Asian television show before landing the gig of Nicholas Young in CRA. This caused some backlash, notably from Korean-American actress Jamie Chung. In an interview, Chung finds out that Golding got a lead part in the film, while she was passed up for not being Chinese. She calls BS and justifies her being casted as non-Korean Asian characters, etc. I get that it’s a hard issue to navigate. We want more representation, but we want it accurate, but we want an Asian over a non-Asian. Essentially, we’ll take what we can get. We want to be normalized, but also not lose sight of our cultural significance. We want representation over diversity. It’s a lot. This article can explain it better than I can, since I am not biracial, but Golding seems to identify himself as being uniquely him. I also just want to add that I have to constantly remind myself that Chung is not biracial and is married to white actor Bryan Greenberg. We know she wants the option to have children because she froze her eggs. So when she has biracial children of her own, what will she tell them? That they too aren‘t “Asian enough“ to play an Asian character? Chung has since apologized, but I think it stands to say that in a time when so many people are against us and other oppressed groups, we should be standing unified, not divided over who is and isn’t ”Asian enough.”
Lastly, I want to talk about who we are able to relate to in CRA. Rachel Chu is the non-rich Asian that this film kind of centers around. Many executives urged Chu and author Kwan to make Rachel white. Why? So she was more relatable and can still face the same kind of pushback from her boyfriend’s mother. But I don’t identify with Rachel because she‘s poor. I identify with her because she’s American. And just as Eleanor had issues with Rachel’s nationality, so do many other Asian people I encounter. There is this weird feeling I get when I am walking around an Asian populated city, such as Los Angeles or Vancouver. It’s like I’m too Western. I was born in America, I dress like an American, I talk like an American. These people are mostly immigrants and dress more in an Asian street style. But when I walk around Memphis, I stick out like a sore thumb and am their idea of what an Asian person is. I’m not really seen as being American when I walk around cities that are more black and white. It’s this subtly that makes it so profound. If we wanted Eleanor to disapprove of a white Rachel, it would be like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It would also come off as being discriminatory of Asians not liking other races. However, showing the differences between Asian and Asian American provides a much deeper story that we rarely see.
Does it deserve to stay on this list?
Absolutely, this film has done so much for Asian actors, stories, and directors. It helped Jon M. Chu get out of the sequel business. A lot of people had said CRA was to Asian people as ”Black Panther” was to Black people. While this isn’t true in the sense of representation, it is a similar comparison as far as milestones. CRA did a lot and it did it in an opulent, fun, heart-warming, emotional way. I wish I could tell everyone involved with the film how much this film means to me, as an Asian, as an American, as a filmmaker. I’m sure my praises are nothing they haven‘t heard before, and sometimes it’s hard to express what we’re really feeling. But maybe the best way to say thanks is to keep continuing on, keep making films, keep the conversation going. To never let the momentum die.