• Luis Gomez

'Crazy Rich Asians' Rewriting the Rules For Asians in Entertainment

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ debuted at the top spot at the Box Office over the weekend. The romantic comedy brought in $26.5 million over the three day weekend, and $35.3 million on it’s five day debut. Although, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ directed by Jon M. Chu is inarguably a success for Warner Bros. Pictures, the real real winner is the visibility given to Asians artists and their stories.

Earlier this year we saw the huge box office success of ‘Black Panther’ that proved that an almost entire black cast, could go toe to toe with the success of other almost all white cast superhero movies. Similarly, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ makes a strong case on behalf of Asian actors and scripts. A non-white cast is not as big a gamble as it may have been previously perceived to be. You need only look at the biggest shows on TV, to see that ethnic actors can play not just substantive roles, but can lead a show. Hollywood for whatever reason has been hesitant to realize this.

To further put things into perspective, it has been twenty-five years since the last time there was an all Asian movie cast, 1993’s ‘The Joy Luck Club.’ In the past few decades, there have of course been a sprinkling of Asian actors working in Hollywood, but Asian representation is ridiculously miniscule and for no apparent reason since most fictional characters can be portrayed by a person of any racial background.

If we accept that for most projects in film and TV, racial background does not matter, then we must also conclude that the lack of Asian representation in entertainment stems from some antiquated pushback against using Asian actors and/or having a central story about Asian people or Asian culture. Which is precisely why the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is so important, because the argument that no one will see a movie with an all-Asian cast is invalidated since ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is the number one movie at the box office.

Although, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ has been generally well received by critics and moviegoers, there have been others who have interestingly been critical of the movie, specifically Asian critics. Some criticize ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ for not being an accurate representation of Singapore and it’s people. Other felt that the movie did not depict being Asian or Asian-American thoroughly enough.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ depicts the life and times of all Singaporeans the way ‘Gossip Girl’ depicted the life and times of all New Yorkers—it doesn’t. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ serves as a window into the life of a select few wealthy and privileged individuals in Singapore. Similarly, in ‘Gossip Girl’ the show centered around lavishly wealthy New Yorkers who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Yet, no one ever charged ‘Gossip Girl’ of inaccurately portraying all New Yorkers, it was understood that these individuals were but a small slice of a much bigger pie. More to the point, it is because so many movies are made about New York and it’s residents, that it does not matter if an entire movie or show focuses on just one group, because eventually another movie or show will tackle the stories of the other New Yorkers.

It may seem too big a task to expect ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to show the lives of everyone in Singapore, but can you really blame Asian critics for wanting more Asian representation to be included in this movie, since who knows when the next all-Asian cast film might be made. Twenty-five years is a long time to wait. If anything, the criticism of wanting more Asian representation from ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ serves to underscore that there is interest and a desire to see more Asian actors and stories.

It is time Hollywood stopped utilizing Asian actors and Asian culture in the narrow manner it has been, and opened the scope of contributions Asians can make in entertainment. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ demonstrated Asian actors can be cast effectively in projects like a “romantic comedy” about a boy and girl in love, and do not need to be relegated into always playing mostly stereotypical parts such as martial arts master. It’s time Hollywood let Asian actors put away the sword and instead pick up a bottle of red.

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures