Discussions about on-screen representation are as important as they’ve ever been, and for Asian Americans, these discussions are particularly crucial. Despite a nationwide population of over 20.4 million, Asian people are continuously given the short end of the stick when it comes to seeing themselves portrayed in media. Research shows that 1 percent (yup, a measly 1 percent!!) of lead roles in Hollywood movies go to Asian actors. Although depressing, knowing these statistics make a film like Crazy Rich Asians so radical—and so needed.
Director Jon M. Chu’s romantic comedy, an adaptation of author Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name, is the first major studio film in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast since 1993’s acclaimed The Joy Luck Club. In a genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by the narratives of white couples, the fact that this movie portrays typical (albeit extremely wealthy) Asian people navigating their relationships with their romantic partners and their families is groundbreaking. And it’s the thing that Crazy Rich Asians does so well.
At the heart of the rom-com is protagonist Rachel Chu (played by breakout Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu), a Chinese American economics professor with a humble upbringing who was raised by her single, immigrant mother. Her extremely handsome, charming, and seemingly-perfect boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), convinces her to travel with him to his childhood home in Singapore to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. It’s then that Rachel finds out that Nick is a part of one of Asia’s most richest families. (Not just rich. Crazy rich.) Of course, being a part of such a prestigious clan comes with certain familial and societal pressures, and throughout the movie, Rachel ends up taking on Singapore’s ultra elite (and sometimes cruel) social scene while trying to make a good impression on Nick’s fiercely protective and overbearing mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
These traditional dynamics can be found in many, many Asian cultures and, rich or poor, many Asian Americans can relate to having to deal with the judgement and expectations from people you’re related to (I know I sure did). Viewers hardly, if ever, get to see these dynamics displayed in Western films, and for Chu and Kwan to make that the focal point of the story is an amazing step towards more diversity in Asian American media visibility.
— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) August 1, 2018
Tweeting about the potential the film could have, Constance Wu quoted director Jon M. Chu in saying that Crazy Rich Asians is “more than a movie. It’s a movement.” And they’re absolutely right. Although the film did play out like a more glamorous, big-budget soap opera, as a self-professed lover of rom-coms and someone who grew up in a household where Filipino teleseryes where regularly played on TV, I found that uniquely comforting.
Asian characters deserve to be more than kung-fu masters or doctors. Asian characters deserve to do more than just stand in the background. Asian characters deserve to take up all of the dialogue in a film. Asian characters don’t deserve to be fetishized or emasculated. Asian characters deserve a cheesy rom-com. And Asian characters deserve to be in love! And with each other! Because if Asian viewers can see themselves portrayed in many different ways on screen, then they can believe that they can be many different things in real life.
Crazy Rich Asians hits theaters on August 15. Watch the trailer for the movie in the video below!