A romantic comedy in which a bootstraps middle-class woman finds herself in love with a billionaire family. Entertaining, humorous, well produced, and creative, with one thing in particular that stands out – almost the entire starring cast are of Asian, primarily East Asian, descent.
The entertainment media has been abuzz as the Warner Brothers-distributed film that hit theatres the past few days is said to be the first of its kind in decades. In a Hollywood in which it has been widely covered on how actors of every kind of diverse background have faced a much tougher path to the red carpet due to studio worries over whether the market will accept it, “Crazy Rich Asians” is another in a line of films smashing down those barriers.
We saw with the groundbreaking film “Black Panther” back in February of this year how the all-African-American and African cast showed Hollywood that there was audience interest for a film where actors of diverse backgrounds commanded the starring roles, as the film grossed over $1.3 billion.
The stakes are also high for “Crazy Rich Asians.” Directed by Jon Chu and starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, and more, while it is doubtful it will hit Marvel-like box office numbers, nonetheless a strong showing will be essential for whether entertainment studios will pursue more films like it in the future as well as open up more movie roles to those of Asian and other diverse backgrounds.
The entertainment industry is fundamentally still a business and with particularly high up-front capital investment costs in producing movies to completion before seeing revenue, thereby leading to the risk-averse nature of studios towards anything outside of proven marketability.
Hollywood is but one sector but is essential for its cultural influence. Scenes from popular movies are replayed for decades to come and standout characters become immortalized in our societal lore. The ways narratives and casts are designed shape our collective imagination and have tangible impacts on the lives of all.
Giving equal opportunity and representation to the incredible array of people of every background and characteristic in this country is vital because it shows that we are all part of the American story and have an equal chance in it. Furthermore, doing it rightly – in a way that avoids derogatory stereotyping – is another key step where progress too is slowly being made.
The actual plot of “Crazy Rich Asians” both speaks to those of an Asian or Asian-American background in particular but also is understandable and enjoyable for broader audiences. As a romantic comedy it combines humor and intense relationship drama in a fascinating way, as it really is a modernized “Cinderella” story with its own unique twists and turns.
It seems 2018 is a year in which many cultural ceilings in the entertainment industry are coming down, This is great news for all, as this will allow an environment in which all people, whether producers or actors, can compete and work together on level ground and more focus on the best talent and product rather than other factors. Our broader culture gains from this as it is removing what has been shown to be an unnatural market barrier, at least in recent years, as we benefit from more stories and talent on screen.
The point of much of this experimentation is showing that films with diverse casts both can speak to a particular audience as well as speak to the general public too. As with many things in our country, if there is a buying market there will be sellers to it. It clearly took some executives at these entertainment companies to decide to take on some risk and explore these new paths, but as the box office numbers have shown it has been successful both immediately monetarily and in terms of a broader cultural shift.
I look forward to a future in which we see a wider array of films that feature our country’s entire lineup of people and communities – and undoubtedly films such as “Black Panther” and now “Crazy Rich Asians” are paving the way for that.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.