My family rarely goes out to watch movies together, but we did so for Crazy Rich Asians, on opening weekend.
Crazy Rich Asians. Surely, you’ve heard all the buzz—the first all-Asian Hollywood cast in 20 years since Joy Luck Club, a traditional romantic comedy, but with underrepresented faces. You’ve probably also read about the shockingly strong box office numbers: $135 million and still counting, topping weekend box offices for 3 weeks straight, including the 3rdlargest Labor Day weekend office of all time—undoubtedly surprising for a romantic comedy.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s worth a watch. Based off a bestselling book series, Constance Wu, who plays Jessica Huang in ABC’s Fresh off the Boat, stars alongside Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh of Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ken Jeong of The Hangover, Awkwafina of Ocean’s 8, Jimmy O. Yang of Silicon Valley, and more.
The characters in the movie are all Chinese-Singaporean or Chinese-American, yet the actors are Taiwanese, Chinese, Malaysian, British, American, more. Led by Chinese-Taiwanese-American Director Jon Chu, the cast is most certainly diverse.
The undeniable traction and buzz Crazy Rich Asians attracted has coined this past August as #AsianAugust. But in a landscape still rife with discrimination, what does the buzz of #AsianAugust really mean?
To me, it’s a signifier of representation. My family rarely goes out to watch movies together, but we did so for Crazy Rich Asians, on opening weekend. We were the first ones in the theater, a theater that had been struggling for years and often ran movies for only a few people, at most. But as the movie’s start time moved closer, more audience members trickled in—many like us, East Asian-American families, but also South Asian-Americans, Caucasians, African Americans, more—until the theater was suddenly full.
Seeing Chinese-American women like Constance Wu and Awkwafina, or even Chinese-British actresses like Gemma Chan, gave me a sense of belonging that I hadn’t realized I was missing, a sense of pride and recognition.
Seeing Rachel’s mother criticize her for wearing white, seeing Nick’s full family make dumplings together: it felt like my story was being told through the big screen, too.
I know not everyone felt the same. After the movie’s release, there was a fair criticism of Awkwafina’s potential ‘blaccent’, critics pointing towards the difference in how she spoke in interviews as opposed to in the movie, where her character is argued to be a disguised minstrel. Additionally, residents of Singapore point towards the racial tensions between Singaporean natives and Chinese immigrants, that were completely absent in the movie. Of course, many South Asians expressed frustrations over not being represented in the movie, either, which starred only Chinese characters.
Partial representation, though not ideal, may still be a good representation. As a Chinese-American, I’m perhaps the target audience of this movie. Perhaps, Crazy Rich Asians will inspire future projects that seek to capitalize on diversity as a trend, instead of representing Asian and diverse stories. But in a media landscape where such a film can have such monumental success, perhaps we’re on a road to diversifying the stories we get to see.
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