What 'Crazy Rich Asians' Means For 29 Asian Writers Who Wish They'd Had The Movie Growing Up
It's often said that August is one of the slowest times for movies, with most summer blockbusters having come and gone and fall's Oscar season picks not yet out. But August 2018 is not your normal time at the theater, thanks to the release of a little movie called Crazy Rich Asians. The Singapore-set rom-com is not only one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year, but a groundbreaking project due to the fact that it's the first major Hollywood movie to star Asian actors in 25 years. To put it simply, this film matters — for adult audiences who've frustratingly waited decades to see a movie with lead actors who look like them, and for the kids and teens who can look at Crazy Rich Asians and consider its representative cast the norm.
With the movie out in theaters as of Aug. 15 and predicted to gross over $30 million in its first few days, according to The Wrap, millions of people will get to witness a truly barrier-breaking film and feel its incredible effects. Yet for many of those who've waited to see a Hollywood movie putting Asian actors front-and-center, Crazy Rich Asians' release is bittersweet, if only because they wish the movie had existed when they were growing up. Here's what they have to say.
"Growing up, I rarely saw people who looked like me in movies or television. If there were Asian characters in a show or a film, they almost always fit a very narrow, cartoonish stereotype — the uptight nerd, the martial arts assassin, the loud nail salon owner, or the submissive girl working in a rice paddy, waiting for a white protagonist to save her. A lot of them were sidekicks. I think if movies like Crazy Rich Asians had been around then, it may have forced people to realize Asians can be romantics, single parents, petty mean girls — flawed and imperfect human beings. It probably also would've meant dealing with fewer jokes about how I was a 'bad Asian' for being bad at math."
"As a little girl, there was no assurance in media, film, music and popular art that Asian people existed, much less mattered. When you grow up without images of people who look like you, it's easy to diminish or forget your own presence, your own power in the world — that you, too, are a person with stories worth being heard. I hope Crazy Rich Asians moves Asian audiences of all backgrounds and experiences to advocate for their own stories and those of the most marginalized in our community — to prove, over and over again, that we too are part of the fabric of humanity."
"I’ve always put Western culture on a pedestal because even in the Philippines, we consumed so much of Hollywood media. My mom always had me watch the classics: Serendipity, You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, the list goes on and on. Because of that, I always had a Eurocentric mindset and thought that 'West is best' —it was THE place to be. If Crazy Rich Asians was around when I was a kid, I would’ve taken more pride in my Asian heritage at an early age. I would’ve known that a love story set back home is just as good as ones set in the US or Europe, and that all places and cultures are equally beautiful."
"Imagine that the year was 2005 and I'm 11 years old and Crazy Rich Asians is out. Since my mom and dad are a suckers for rom-coms, I can imagine that movie would be playing all over again on the VHS and I'll be very annoyed as a kid. As Vietnamese refugees, though, they would've liked Asian faces leading a mainstream movie."
"It's actually kind of hard to put into words what it would've meant to me if Crazy Rich Asians had existed when I was growing up. I'm 33 so I saw All-American Girl come and go and I watched Joy Luck Club (even though I was probably too young to see it), but a mainstream Hollywood rom-com starring all Asians still would've blown my mind. I saw myself as the friend — not even the best friend — in other girls' stories and I especially loved movies like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. To see someone like Constance Wu play the romantic lead in a major Hollywood movie would've shown me that I'm not only the leading lady in my own life, but that other people might see me like that too. Feeling that I could be loved and not fetishized would've dramatically changed my adolescence."
"Watching rom-coms as a lovesick Korean-American teen, I internalized a gnawing fear that no one could fall for me because I didn’t look like those blonde, wide-eyed women leads. If Crazy Rich Asians had existed, perhaps I would have recognized my black hair as ebony rather than coal, my almond-shaped eyes as marquise-cut gemstones rather than bitter pills."
"Being Filipino meant seeing someone like me was incredibly rare, and so I’d cling tightly onto any tenuous piece of representation I could find. I grew up with Lea Salonga’s Mulan as my only source of representation, and I would always question if the world had a place for me. If I had Crazy Rich Asians as a kid, I think I would’ve seen myself as desirable, as the hero, as someone capable of achieving success."
"Growing up, I knew I wanted to be in entertainment, but not only was it hard, but nowhere in mainstream media did we see the average Asian American. I always got asked about what my culture was like because no one was aware. No one was aware of pho until it became trendy to eat it. Strangers were shocked, because I didn’t speak with an accent. Ignorance fueled stereotypes. That’s why telling stories with Asians is so important. They may be fiction, but it’s at least introducing the world to a perspective they may not know about, simply because we’ve been lacking proper representation for decades.... [Crazy Rich Asians is] more than a movie. It’s a door. A door that lets Asian storyteller wannabes like me dream and dream big."
"I had so very few Asian-American role models on the big screen growing up. Now, with so many, from Kelly Marie Tran to the cast of Crazy Rich Asians to Chloe Bennet, I am overjoyed for all the little girls like me who wondered how they could ever fit in."
"As a kid growing up in the West, I longed to see Asian representation in mainstream culture. Like others, I saw poorly written Asian characters whitewashed, reduced to racist tropes and our stories almost never made into big Hollywood films until now."
"As a mixed race Asian kid growing up in LA, I always wanted to stay as far away from talking about culture as possible because I wanted to be seen as 'a normal American'. But after watching Crazy Rich Asians, I feel inspired to put culture into everything."
"Growing up as a film-obsessed Asian man meant only seeing faces that looked like mine typecast in the same roles. Since childhood, I was groomed by the media I consumed to believe that I could only be the nefarious villain, the wacky sidekick, or the undesirable nerd at school. If I had seen Crazy Rich Asians in those precious, formative years of my life, I would have known a lot sooner that I could also be the Prince Charming of the story."
"I hope Crazy Rich Asians helps other Asian Americans realize that being Asian isn’t something to be ashamed of. Growing up I’ve met way too many people denying being Asian in order to 'fit in' with the crowd. I feel like no one gets how important of a movie this is for Asian Americans. Not only is it about representation but it is a stepping stone for us to be more vocal about problems we are facing. For far too long we have been silent."
"Growing up, I constantly wished I wasn't Chinese because I felt invisible and like I didn't fit in anywhere (especially in pop culture). This movie means more to me than I can put in words, because representation matters."
"I was used to seeing casanovas like James Bond be cool AND get the girl. But Jackie and Jet Li? Nope. So I didn’t connect with the fact that they were just badass fighters. Not at all. I connected with the humanity in characters and the romantic connections in Western movies. I cried at rom coms! But Asian males were never the ones being the romantic leads in Hollywood — ever. I couldn’t go to school and gush about a male Asian actor because the choices were limited. Asians didn’t have an Antonio Banderas or Wesley Snipes. We had sexualized women and guys that never got the girl. It wasn’t externally realized, but it affected my internal confidence. So when a movie like Crazy Rich Asians comes along, it makes a difference. It’s a romantic comedy. It has heart. It’s got an incredible and strong performance by Constance Wu It’s got a romantic male lead in Henry Golding. It’s got everything I never saw in Hollywood growing up."
"I want to watch Crazy Rich Asians again. Truly, it was something I never knew I needed. Although I root my identity in God, I never felt fully affirmed in my own heritage growing up and seeing Constance Wu on screen with the rest of the cast gave me that sense of pride I never had."
"Growing up, I used to be embarrassed to listen to Chinese music in my school dorm room. Today I listened to the soundtrack of Crazy Rich Asians, which includes a Chinese take on Coldplay song, 'Yellow.' I can't describe how good it feels sing the Mandarin lyrics. I want to karaoke it from the rooftops."
"If Crazy Rich Asians existed when I was growing up, it would hopefully be understood that creatives of color deserve to have their labor seen as big budget. Our representation and the diversity of Asian cultures is far beyond the Model Minority myth or Madame Butterfly complex. Crazy Rich Asians belongs on the screen, likewise Asian-American history, our contributions, and our narratives deserve to be read history books, taught in classrooms, seen in museums, and represented in political offices. Asian-Americans have been here, will continue to be here, and so will our stories. Because who and what we represent shapes our diversity. And maybe, just maybe, if Crazy Rich Asians existed when I was growing up, I would have received less of, 'No, where are you really from?'"
"If this movie existed when I was growing up, I feel like it would've alleviated some of the stereotypical harassing I got in school. There would have been a wider perception of Asian Americans that non-Asians could aspire to and maybe, just maybe, the other kids wouldn't assume I knew kung fu — which I don't."
"As a kid and even as an adult, I always felt so pressured to be read as perfect and to fit into the high-achieving model minority stereotype assigned to me so that I didn't 'disappoint' people around me. Being perfect was how I justified my existence to myself in this country, since I didn't find any other justification reflected in American media growing up. The joy of Crazy Rich Asians for me was getting to see, hear, and deeply feel that Asians don't have to be polite, polished, and perfect to exist in space as valid. They can be brash, crude, conceited, self-aggrandizing, fickle, threatened, outrageous human beings. And it's OK for me to exist as I am — a flawed, ugly, triumphant, and veritably alive human with huge wants and dreams and needs. If I had been able to see this movie as a kid, I think I'd have a lot less shame and come to that realization a lot sooner!"
"Growing up with a movie like Crazy Rich Asians would have meant people valuing Asian stories as much as Asians Americans were taught to value theirs. We were always outside, looking in on Hollywood stories that never featured us as the lead characters (outside of the tired martial arts stereotype), and that sort of marginalization can affect your self-esteem and sense of place in society. The movie would have given me more confidence throughout middle and high school to stop downplaying my culture whenever someone teased me for it."
"If Crazy Rich Asians existed when I was growing up I could've been more honest about what my dreams really were. I wouldn't have forced myself into jobs I knew weren't for me just because I was Asian American. I would've been more fearless with my pursuit towards a career in media instead of just now getting started."
"Growing up, the only Asian-led Hollywood film I saw was The Joy Luck Club. I remember watching it as a kid, but not really relating to it that much. To be honest, I was more excited when Lucy Liu was cast in Charlie's Angels and Disney made Mulan years later. I think if something like Crazy Rich Asians had existed when I was younger, that might have changed a lot of the way I saw and felt about myself. It's validating seeing someone who looks like you on screen. I completely relate to the struggle Rachel Chu feels caught between two cultures — maybe not looking 'American' in America, but not being 'Asian enough' to people living in Asia. Crazy Rich Asians might not reflect my story exactly, but it shows young Asian-North Americans watching the movie today of the possibilities out there for the myriad Asian stories waiting to be told."
"I didn’t know what I wanted to be growing up, because there was no one on screen to show me the possibilities of what I could become. I could aspire to be a doctor in the background of a scene, or a nurse in the background of a scene, or a nameless ninja that got killed by Chuck Norris, or Steven Seagal, or Jean-Claude Van Damme. I knew that I could be a fighting clown like Jackie Chan, but still never find love, even if I were Jet Li in Romeo Must Die. If I had seen Crazy Rich Asians growing up, I would have known that I could be anything I wanted to be: an economics professor, the owner of a business, a supermodel, a singer, dancer, an actor, or even be what took a long and winding road to get to, a storyteller. But more importantly, I would have been taught that I could be more than what I ever dreamed I could be. I would have been given permission to be intelligent, vulnerable, empowered, shrewd, empathetic, jealous, angry, hurt, I could be limitless. That is the power of media representation. That is the power of Crazy Rich Asians."
"If Crazy Rich Asians was around when I was growing up, I would've felt like it was normal to see more than four Asians in a room (the number of my family) — plus, they weren't all related! I didn't really have Asian friends until I was in college, so I would've been excited to see that I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life feeling like the odd one out. Until I left my hometown, I was always the token Asian in any given situation, and had Crazy Rich Asians come out years ago, I would've seen that I can be Asian and myself, not just 'the Asian one.'"
"If Crazy Rich Asians had been released when I was a child, it would've made the pursuit of a creative career more feasible, realistic, and accessible. Growing up in the 1990s, even though this is still prevalent today, there was much focus and pressure to pursue a career in STEM, which there is nothing wrong with. However, representation of Asian identified folx in the media and on the big screen would have sparked more self expression and passion for the arts. Throughout the film, there were many conversations focused on money and the overarching theme of capitalism. I think Constance Wu's character, Rachel Chu, really set things into perspective by highlighting her experiences coming from a working class background, pursuing a career in education, and not being driven by capitalism. I would have greatly appreciated seeing someone coming from a similar background in a major motion picture."
"My mom is a Chinese-American born in Hong Kong and my father is Italian-American — and, much like the ethnicity checkboxes on forms, I grew up feeling like society (friends, teachers, college applications) was always asking me to pick a side. And the side society usually makes me pick is 'White' because I look more like my father and I don't speak fluent Chinese. But I've always hated it when society makes me choose one or the other, because that means not acknowledging one of my parents. I love that Hollywood stuck with Henry Golding and showed that a hapa can be both Asian and white — not one or the other."
"I would have been SO excited if a movie like Crazy Rich Asians came out when I was a kid, because it would have normalized seeing Asians on screen. Growing up, I didn't think I could be an actor — not because my immigrant parents said it was impractical, but because it didn't even seem possible. The roles were too few and far between, and I thought you had to be a powerhouse Lea Solanga-type to make it as a singer. I'm so glad this movie is out now and I'm hopeful that present and future Asian kids will feel like every door is open for them.Also, teenage me would have really appreciated all this Asian hotness. Just saying :)"
"It's hard to imagine what it would have been like to have a movie like Crazy Rich Asians when I was growing up. I think that what it would really have given to me, as an Asian American who doesn't have a strong connection to my Chinese roots, is the sense that it's OK I don't have this connection to the history of my family. A lot of American films about Asians are about connecting to the past, or discovering an immigrant story, but in Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel's worth and her journey isn't about that at all. It also would have been nice to see a movie where an Asian American woman is portrayed as desirable, but not over sexualized. I think it might have given me a bit more room for self love to see a movie full of a diverse group of Asian women.... My story is not Rachel's. I'll never live anything close to the Asian American/Asian experience shown in Crazy Rich Asians, but there's no doubt in my mind that seeing a movie like this one in theaters as a young girl would have changed how I thought about my family, my self, and the possibilities of American cinema."
Thanks, Crazy Rich Asians.