Added Chu: “We were able to say, ‘We’re making this, and you’re either in or you’re out,’ and that’s a very privileged position to be in.”
That privilege is one Chu, Lim, the creative team, and the cast all recognize as coming with a large responsibility too. Along with they hype of “Crazy Rich Asians” has come backlash as some say the film doesn’t accurately represent the ethnic diversity of the Asian-American community. At a Los Angeles screening of the film in April, Chu told a crowded theater that he hoped the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” would enable more films like it in the future — films that can show the real diversity of a community long under-represented in Hollywood.
“It’s not a movie,” Chu said to the audience. “It’s a movement.”
DIVERSITY VS. REPRESENTATION
In the 25 years since “The Joy Luck Club” brought an all-Asian cast to a major Hollywood production, the dearth of Asian-American representation on the big screen has been hard to ignore — though not for the community’s lack of effort.
“A lot of the things that are optioned are these immigrant, transnational stories,” said Nancy Wang Yuen, one of the authors of a 2017 study that examined Asian American and Pacific Islander representation on television.
Pointing to “The Joy Luck Club” and the current ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” Yuen noted that immigrant narratives were part of many Asian Americans’ lived experiences, but it was rare to see “second, third, fourth generation stories.”
“Every ‘big’ Asian-American film has been an immigrant, first generation story,” she said. “We get annoyed with being conflated as being from Asia, but all the representation that’s been big still has the ‘Asian foreigner’ label. It’s a legitimate story, but there’s a glut of those.”
One theory, she suggested, was confusion over Asian versus Asian-American stories. “That conflates us with foreignness, that our story isn’t an American story and therefore won’t sell in America,” she said.
For “Crazy Rich Asians,” Wu — who stars as Rachel Chu — said that the theme of identity was not lost in the storytelling, despite the film mostly taking place in Singapore. At the start of the film, Rachel is shopping in New York with her mother when a conversation about being from Asia versus being an Asian American surfaces.
“I think Americans are really into creating their identity not based on wealth, but based on internal meaning,” Wu said. “I think Rachel really does that, and she goes to Asia with the man she loves, and she also lets that part of her journey inform the identity she’s creating for herself.”