Crazy Rich Asians is gorgeous start to finish. The beauty of the movie’s set design, costuming, and cast is perhaps only rivaled by that of its soundtrack. However, the song that plays during one of the film’s most climactic moments, a cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” sung in Mandarin, almost didn’t make it into the movie. In fact, Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu wrote a letter to Coldplay in order to make that perfectly underscored moment happen.
Not only did the band reportedly initially turn down the request to include the song, Warner Bros. (the studio that distributed Crazy Rich Asians) was equally hesitant about using a song called “Yellow” in a film starring an all-Asian and Asian-American cast. (The word “yellow” has been used as an ethnic slur against Asians and Asian-Americans, dating back to the “yellow peril” of the late 19th century when people felt threatened by Asian immigrants “stealing” jobs.) According to an interview with Quartzy, Chu says Warner Bros. initially pushed back about the song choice. “They were like, ‘Whoa, we can’t do that, what do you think people will say?’” Chu says. “And I told them, ‘Well, a white director couldn’t do it.’”
Chu’s choice of the song “Yellow” was intentional beyond it being a pretty sounding song; he wanted to reclaim a word that had been used to hurt him, to recontexualize the song in one of the films most beautiful, triumphant moments.
Once Warner Bros. was on board, he needed to convince Coldplay.
Given past criticism regarding the band’s use of cultural appropriation, specifically in regards to Chinese and other Asian cultures, Coldplay rejected the initial request to use “Yellow” in movie. As The A.V. Club points out, when Coldplay actually said “yes” to Chu using the song is unclear. The Huffington Post reports they granted permission after seeing a screener for the movie while Quartzy reports their “yes” came an hour after reading the letter from Chu.
Regardless, Chu’s letter to Coldplay explaining why the song would be perfect for the film is not only a convincing argument for its inclusion, it gives fuller meaning to hearing “Yellow” play during that moment in the movie.
Here’s how Chu’s letter beings:
“I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song. For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.”
The Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of Chu’s full letter, which is well worth your time. It’s best read while listening to Chinese-American singer Katherine Ho’s cover of the song, the version which plays in the movie.
Katherine Ho is a 19-year-old college student and a former contestant of NBC’s “The Voice.” In a profile by the Washington Post, Ho says the response to her cover has been incredible. “I didn’t think it was going to get this much response,” she said. “So many people reached out saying it made them cry. I didn’t know I could have this kind of impact on people.”
However, Chu’s letter presciently predicted this response. “It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song,” his letter reads. “I know it’s recontextualized but I think that’s what makes it powerful. I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it the most.”
Excuse me while I happy-cry into some satay about all of this.