Special Briefing: What ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Could Mean
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Crazy Rich Asians might be a watershed moment.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? Based on the frothy 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan (which, by the way, has two sequels, Hollywood), rom-com Crazy Rich Asians exposes the lifestyles of Singapore’s so-rich-they’re-not-even-famous through the eyes of a Chinese-American outsider, played by Constance Wu. Gone are the typical Hollywood Asian stereotypes — computer nerds, schoolgirls, hardworking but hardscrabble immigrant families — replaced by the bling of a world so money-soaked it makes Trump Tower look like a hovel. The film, which opens today in the U.S., has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews so far and is predicted to earn at least $26 million on its opening weekend.
Why does it matter? Crazy Rich Asians is not just the first major film since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to focus on Asian-American and Asian leads; it’s also the first romantic comedy to do so since Flower Drum Song, which premiered in 1961. So there’s a lot of pressure on the film to succeed. Cast member Nico Santos says the weight on the film’s shoulders is a bit unfair. “We should be allowed to fail,” he says. “How many chances do White people get? How many [crappy] movies do they get to make over and over again?”
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Is this real life? While the plot itself is fictional, Singaporean émigré Kwan admitted he used his own family and cultural surroundings as inspiration for the book, which follows Chinese-American Rachel and her boyfriend, Nick … who turns out to come from an outrageously wealthy family in Singapore. “I just started spilling my truth,” he told an interviewer, “and then it became this fun, sprawling, crazy novel.” For the film the creative team meticulously researched the social environment they set out to capture, focusing particularly on how different tiers of wealth are stratified within the upper crust of Southeast Asia.
Not available to stream. Netflix really wanted Crazy Rich Asians. The streaming service offered the creators a trilogy on its platform, with complete artistic freedom and seven-figure paychecks up front. Those involved, though, were determined to get the project into theaters, where it could shine. “That a Hollywood studio is willing to risk millions and millions of dollars to convince everybody around the world that this is worth their time and energy,” explains director Jon M. Chu, “says a lot more than just the movie itself.”
It’s a megaphone. In 2017, 4.8 percent of speaking roles in Hollywood movies were played by Asian or Asian-American actors — and big films still whitewash Asian characters routinely by casting White actors in movie adaptations. The panoply of roles available in Crazy Rich Asians was a huge deal for Asian actors, and Chu found stars from Asia and the U.S., and even unknowns, to produce this film. Along with that, though, comes controversy: Some have criticized casting choices like Henry Golding, who’s half-White, as the romantic lead — which, Golding told The New York Times, indicates how closely people are watching the film’s process.
What comes next? While Chu says there are multiple Asian-American-led films waiting to be greenlit — as long as Crazy Rich Asians rakes in the dough — it’s not the only game in town. On Friday, Netflix will premiere romantic comedy To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring Vietnamese-born American actress Lana Condor. Meanwhile, Amazon Studios has ordered an as-yet-untitled drama series from author Kwan about the most influential family in Hong Kong and their business dealings. Oh, and Chu has said he’d be on board to direct a film version of China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, as long as the appetite is there for another chapter.
WHAT TO READ
How to Watch Crazy Rich Asians Like an Asian-American, by Jiayang Fan in The New Yorker
“In my teens and twenties, whenever I watched the few available movies about Asian-Americans — mostly indie productions — I felt refreshed but suddenly and awkwardly exposed, as you do when, after a shower in a hotel bathroom, you catch a glimpse of your bare body in a mirror that you had forgotten was there.”
The Problem With Crazy Rich Asians Is That It’s Not Actually About Us, by Connie Wang in Refinery29
“Following decades of Asian-American activism and agitation, this was the moment to prove our mainstream appeal was nigh: We just needed a proof of concept.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Jon M. Chu Lost Sleep Over Casting Crazy Rich Asians
“We told Warner Brothers from the very beginning in going after this movie you’ve got to spend way more money and way more time to go find these people … to learn who’s out there.”
Watch on YouTube at Kore Asian Media:
Awkwafina at OZY Fest Discusses Crazy Rich Asians
“As an Asian woman, I’ve never seen anything like it. And when I saw it recently … I wanted to cry. And every Asian-American that watches that movie, they want to cry and they don’t know why.”
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER
Dress the part. Despite widespread critical acclaim of the film’s depiction of Asians and Asian-Americans, an article in The Hollywood Reporter nonetheless quoted a member of the fashion industry who criticized much of the cast for failing to wear fashion items by Asian-American designers during the film’s Los Angeles premiere last week. Others have pointed out, though, that it’s unfair to say the actors aren’t supporting diversity and representation just because they aren’t doing everything to support diversity and representation, an expectation that’s not placed on, say, White actors.