"Are you sure you can do this?” my mum asked me in late-’90s London when I told her I wanted to be a journalist. “You don’t see Chinese faces on TV or in magazines.”
Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu, who plays the lead role in Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood Studio film in over 25 years with an all-Asian cast, can relate. “Before Crazy Rich Asians, I hadn’t even done a tiny part in a studio film. I never dreamed I would get to star in one because I had never seen that happen to someone who looked like me,” she admits. “Crazy Rich Asians is changing that.” She continues, “What all this could do means so much to me. It's why I advocate so much for young Asian-American girls, so they might not spend their life feeling small or being commanded to be grateful to even be at the table."
Based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book, Crazy Rich Asians tells the story of New York-born Rachel Chu who – on travelling to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family – discover he’s basically the “Prince Harry of Asia”. Director Jon M. Chu declares, “This is more than a movie, is a movement.” And not content with an all-Asian cast of established stars, he decided on an open casting via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube seeking Asian characters of different ages, sizes, shapes and talents to be a part of the film. “It’s a huge step for representation, and a great opportunity to showcase all the great Asian actors out there. I know how much undiscovered talent there is in the world,” he acknowledges. “We really just wanted to open up the process because we know how hard it is to get a foot in the door of a movie.”
Someone who’s learnt that the hard way is iconic Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, whose CV includes Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, who plays Rachel’s boyfriend’s mother Eleanor Young. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for a movie like this,” she admits. “I wish for personal reasons that it happened when I first started my career. But the important thing is it’s happening now.”
An early screening of the romantic comedy in New York brought the Asian fashion fraternity out in full force, with attendees including Phillip Lim, Prabal Gurung, Joseph Altuzarra, Kenzo Creative Director Carol Lim, Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Head of Fashion for Instagram Eva Chen. “It’s about supporting the community,” Phillip Lim observed. “It’s important to show up.” Prabal Gurung added, “It means visibility, representation, the way we want our community to be shown: beautiful, flawed, like any other human beings. For the longest period of time we haven’t had this representation in this big way, with a mainstream Hollywood film come out. So it means a lot to us.”
However Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t speak for everyone. As Singaporean journalist Kirsten Han writes for Medium.com, in addition to coming purely from an Asian-American experience, the “stated goal to have an all-Asian cast, but focus specifically on characters and faces of East Asian descent (as dictated by the book) is already a misrepresentation of Singapore at the most basic level, obscuring the Malay, Indian, and Eurasian (and more) populations who make the country the culturally rich and unique place that it is.” And as Constance Wu concedes, “I know Crazy Rich Asians won’t represent every Asian-American, so for those who don’t feel seen, I hope there is a story you find soon that does represent you.”
As for me? Next year I’ll be celebrating 20 years in the industry, my mum went from worrying about whether I’d make it to being fussed over in the local shops whenever I appeared on TV, and today any girl standing in front of her parents with dreams like mine can point to Crazy Rich Asians.
Crazy Rich Asians is released in the UAE on 16 August 2018
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros