By Maya Butler | Reporter
This past week, I finally saw “Crazy Rich Asians,” and can I just say that it is worth all the hype that has surrounded it in the months prior to its release.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel, which centers on Asian-American Rachel Chu’s discovery that her boyfriend Nick Young comes from an extremely wealthy Asian family. And when I mean rich, I mean they’re practically Asian royalty in the eyes of the common people. The movie follows Rachel as she accompanies Nick to Singapore to meet his family and attend his best friend’s upcoming wedding. Of course, Rachel’s modest origins don’t mesh with the ostentatious living arrangements and extravagant spending of the rich in Singapore, and she soon gains the disapproval of Nick’s mother. The movie had its laugh-out-loud moments, emotional exchanges and stunning shots of Singapore, but what makes “Crazy Rich Asians” stand out from the rest is its representation of Asian actors.
In 1993, a movie called “The Joy Luck Club” premiered, which focused on the relationships between Asian-American women and their traditional Chinese mothers. It wouldn’t be until another 25 years that a major film— “Crazy Rich Asians” — would feature a predominantly Asian cast. With such a long gap in between these films, it’s no surprise that “Crazy Rich Asians” generated so much buzz. Here was a chance for Asian actors to take the spotlight from their white counterparts and a chance for Asian audiences to see actors that looked like them on screen.
In “Crazy Rich Asians,” you won’t find the stereotypical geeky Asian sidekick or that one Asian that’s good at martial arts that Hollywood is so fond of. Instead, every character gladly breaks free of past Asian tropes. In a hilarious part of the movie, a father tells his child to finish eating, reminding him to “think of all the starving children in America.” Of course, audiences still found things to criticize despite all the positive publicity “Crazy Rich Asians” brought to the Asian community.
I remember the controversy months back when people condemned the casting of biracial actor Henry Golding, who plays the male lead role. This was due to Golding’s British-Malaysian ancestry, and the fact that his character Nick is Chinese. Golding addressed the issue over his casting.
“There were sort of outcries of whitewashing, but, you know, I don’t have hate for that,” he said on “The View”. “I think it’s definitely a conversation that should be seen because it kind of just shows the studios that we’re watching [that] we’re very aware of how we want our films to tell authentic stories.”
Golding’s statement raises an important question: Exactly how Asian does one have to be to play a certain role? Yes, it would have been nice to have a Chinese actor play Nick, but I think Golding did a great job outlining his role with charisma. While I understand people’s frustration at Golding’s lack of Chinese background, I also realize how lucky we have been with the final casting decisions. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kwan admitted that back when film producers were still reaching out to him to adapt his novel, one of them pitched the idea of recasting the character of Rachel as Caucasian. “They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl,” Kwan said. “I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.’”
The film industry has a long way to go when it comes to representing other races and cultures. Remember “Black Panther” and how important it was to African-Americans? The film succeeded not only because it was entertaining, but more importantly because it culturally represented African-Americans in the form of the fictional country Wakanda and its inhabitants. What “Black Panther” did for African-Americans, “Crazy Rich Asians” achieves for the Asian community. As a Chinese-American, it felt so satisfying to walk into a movie theater knowing that I was about to see a movie that I had a racial connection to. Hollywood has stumbled and fallen many times in the past when it has come to representation, but that’s what baby steps are for.
Maya is a senior journalism major from Temple.