Crazy Rich Asians: Breaking Stereotypes in Hollywood
An all-Asian cast in a Hollywood movie?! Is it finally happening? Released just days ago, Crazy Rich Asians is Hollywood’s latest romantic comedy, a two-hour escapade showcasing the lifestyle of the “Gods”. The idealized love story is a Jon M. Chu-directed depiction of the international bestseller novel by Singapore-American author Kevin Kwan. It’s the first major Hollywood project in decades to feature a mostly Asian-American cast. The last one was the Joy Luck Club way back in 1993. With positive feedback and lots of media coverage, Crazy Rich Asians managed to make a whopping $5 million on its opening.
Set largely in the city-state of Singapore, the film is a pure escapist fantasy. It’s a Cinderella story about an Asian-American woman meeting her man’s “crazy-rich” family in Singapore. It also boasts a relatable Rom-com heroine, opulent set pieces and witty dialogue. It has already won over critics: the film has a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is “an unabashed celebration of luxury and money, with hints of class conflict that have more to do with aspiration than envy or anger, set in an Asia miraculously free of history or politics,” the film critic A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times on Wednesday.
Crazy Rich Asians is likely to appear as a ritzy rom-com or chick-flick at first sight. But taking a closer look reveals the larger social context in play. The movie’s brilliance doesn’t merely lie in the racial and stereotypical prejudices it attempts to emphasize and erase. It’s also structured around social class differences within the Singaporean society. The character, Rachel’s back-ground is working-class, while her college roommate Goh Peik Lin, a Singaporean native, appears as filthy rich and upper-class.
The film’s ability to represent the profound tensions within the Asian experience—especially the differences in identifying with mainland Asia vs. the diaspora is what makes it so powerful. Rachel is part of a group that isn’t the dominant culture; when she goes to Singapore, she’s surrounded by people who look more like her, but the way she grew up makes her an outsider. In this way, the movie serves as a message to educate its audience on the social and cultural issues faced by the Eastern society.
Moreover, it breaks free of the obvious Asian stereotypes. 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 avoids all of these, instead showing the nuances of Asian women’s experiences across generations.
In the days leading up to the film’s release, Chu told the Hollywood Reporter that “we can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there’s one example to point to, and that’ll be us. To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.”
The Asian-American cast and even the audience seem desperate for the movie to hit off. They have faced a history of marginalization in society. They know that opportunities like these don’t arise often in today’s world.
Kwan’s novel, which is loosely based on his own childhood in Singapore, had already printed a million copies when Warner Bros. acquired it for production. It is said that Kwan turned down a pretty lucrative pay-offer from Netflix over Warner Bros., which guaranteed it a higher-profile release.
This mattered, both for fans of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book series, which inspired the film, and for Asian audiences all over the world. They have waited a long time to see themselves represented onscreen in all their diversity. Director Jon Chu wants the movie to convince Hollywood bosses that there’s plenty of money to be made from Asian-led projects, opening the door to greater representation.
Moreover, Crazy Rich Asians has the potential to revive the genre of romantic comedy in the film industry. Rom-coms have seemed to decrease in popularity lately. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians can create a new twist to the same old love story for a massive general audience. By representing Asian people so vividly, the film could set a precedent for many more stories like this one to be told.
Everyone involved in this film says they hope it will pave the way for a Hollywood that allows many more stories about Asian Americans, with different perspectives, body types and ethnic backgrounds. At the time Kwan sold the rights to Crazy Rich Asians, he was already tasked with writing its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend. So let’s hope that this Hollywood venture turns out to increase Asian representation in the industry. As Crazy Rich Asians has proved, Asian actors and actresses have immense potential that need not be wasted. The film industry must expand its horizons for more amazing future films!