How do we move on?
For decades, Asian Americans working in the film and television industry have carried the impossible burden of fixing a system that has tended to punish, stereotype, and ignore them. Is the future bleak for Asians in the American film industry? Well, perhaps not so bleak. Just a year ago, Crazy Rich Asians was a major hit on the screens with its all Asian cast. Moving onto the future, there are increasing opportunities in Hollywood and the American film industry for Asians and Asian Americans.
Crazy Rich Asians
What is Crazy Rich Asians about?
Crazy Rich Asians is the story of Rachel Chu (Wu), an American born Chinese economics professor who travels to her boyfriend Nick Holding's hometown of Singapore for his best friend's wedding. Before long, Nick's secret is out: Nick is from a family that is impossibly wealthy, he's perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and every single woman in his ultra-rarefied social class is incredibly jealous of Rachel and wants to bring her down. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must deal with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and Nick's disapproving mother.
Why is this movie influential?
Crazy Rich Asians is the first modern all-Asian cast movie in 25 years. To many in Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians may appear like a risky bet. After all, the last all-Asian cast was The Joy Luck Club in 1993.
This movie wasn't made easy. In fact, an early prospective producer suggesting casting a white woman as the lead. Later on, the filmmakers turned down a deal with Netflix to make the film with Warner Bros, which guaranteed it a higher-profile release. This mattered not only for the fans of Kevin Kwan's best-selling book series which inspired the film, but also for the Asian audiences of the world who have waited decades to see themselves represented onscreen in all their diversity. By representing Asian people vividly, the film could set a precedent for many more stores to be told.
In terms of representation, for decades, female Asian actors have been asked to portray stereotypes like the vindictive dragon lady, the submissive China doll, the nerdy overachiever, or the inert sex worker. Crazy Rich Asians, on the other hand, avoids all of these. In fact, the movie shows the nuances of Asian women's experiences across generations. Furthermore, the movie places an emphasis on the profound tensions within the Asian experience, especially the differences in identifying with mainland Asia versus the diaspora.
Constance Wu, who plays the protagonist in Crazy Rich Asians, mentions how before acting in Crazy Rich Asians, she never expected to get the lead role in a studio film because she had never seen it happen to someone who looked like her. Constance hopes that she and her Crazy Rich Asians cast members would be part of and even lead a new movement in Hollywood that gives a platform to all Asians and Asian-Americans and room for their stories to be told. As she acknowledges, Crazy Rich Asians won't represent every Asian American. Therefore, for those who don't feel seen, hopefully, there is a story that does represent them.
Criticism on Casting Choice
Given its ambitions, it is unsurprising that Crazy Rich Asians has been held to high standards. The movie was criticized before it was shot specifically for the casting of the British-Malaysian actor Hendry Golding as Nick and Japanese-British-Argentine actor Sonoya Mizuno as Araminta Lee.
Kwan, however, claims that although he understands the argument, it's ironic to demand blood purity of the actor when the character Nicholas Young himself as the character isn't completely Chinese. On the note of accuracy, Kevin points out an interesting note of fairness in the film industry. Actors like Brad Pitt, for instance, can play an Irishman, a Czech, a German, a Native American, and whatever he wants without anyone attacking him. Henceforth, why does someone like Henry Holding, who is half-Asian but has grown up, spent most of his life in Asia, is very much an Asian man, have to justify playing an Asian role? Connecting the arguments together, one would assume that people would fuss over accurate portrayals, because as Kwan notes, there has not been plentiful opportunities for Asian actors to begin with. This particular criticism on the movie highlights the lack of portrayal throughout the years, and the need to increase the representation of Asians and Asian Americans on screen.
Increasing Opportunities for Asians throughout the years
Below is a timeline depicting various movies that have increased opportunities and spotlights for Asian and Asian American actors. Although Crazy Rich Asians is appraised for its contributions, it is not the only movie that has increased opportunities for Asians and Asian Americans throughout the years.
The movie industry is quite reluctant to change. Movies take a lot of money to make. Although there are several movies listed in this particular timeline, the movies with the negative portrayal, whitewashing, or yellowface listed in the timelines of the other pages far outnumber the film on this list. Moving onto the future, it will be important for the list below to outnumber the two other list of movies.