'Crazy Rich Asians' sets new Hollywood standards by refusing to get whitewashed
'Crazy Rich Asians' is the hope for Asian Americans as well as Hollywood to prove that whitewashing is not a necessity for a blockbuster
'Crazy Rich Asians,' has garnered enough hype and in less than two weeks we will know if the hype was all worth it. Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling 2013 novel of the same name, the reason why the movie has generated excitement among the Asian Americans in particular, and Holywood in general, is because this particular flick has refused to get "whitewashed," which means there are no white actors for non-white characters.
The upcoming film qualifies to be the first Hollywood movie to feature Asian Americans in leading roles after 25 long years, its predecessor being 'The Joy Luck Club' starring Ming-Na Wen and Tamlyn Tomita. 'Crazy Rich Asians' has an all-Asian cast but more importantly, it's not just another Hollywood movie casting Asians on a side role. You are not going to see martial arts, a nerdy act or even a comedy act. The film, dubbed as a romantic comedy, follows the story of a Chinese-American woman, Rachel, who travels back to Asia to meet her boyfriend’s family before the wedding. A quintessential immigrant, Rachel is an economics professor and her boyfriend is her colleague, but little does she know that he is “the Prince Harry of Asia,” a royal son of one of the wealthiest families in Singapore.
The exciting fairytale-like story had perked the interest of many directors and producers, so even before the novel was a hit, many approached the author to turn the book into a film. However, there was a catch, something that Hollywood has long been accused of. The producers wanted to "whitewash" the story.
In many interviews, Kwan shares that one producer asked him to reimagine his protagonist as a Caucasian woman. “That was their strategy,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl. I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.’ I said, ‘No, thank you.” There was a general belief among the Hollywood elite that the American audience wouldn't be as much fascinated to see an Asian protagonist but the current hype proves otherwise. Now the Chinese-America protagonist is played by Constance Wu and fans are loving it.
It is also reported that after Warner Bros. beat out the other studios with a distribution offer in October 2016, Netflix came knocking at the door. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the crazy rich offer of the streaming giant stated "dangling complete artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront.” Needless to say, Kevin Kwan and director Jon M Chu were in a fix but they knew that they wanted to get Asian actors in the film. “Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose,” Kwan told the Hollywood Reporter. “We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.” In the end, Kwan chose 'The Hunger Games' producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner, Brad Simpson, because they believed that the movie needed Asian casts.
In the same interview, director Jon M Chu stated, “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,” he said, adding, "To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.”
So for it to be a reality, the cast, crew, and actors ensured the film avoided cultural cliches, from the preconceived notions, as well as from the book. There are some dialogues that did not make it to the film for the sole purpose of avoiding stereotypical blind spots.
As a result, the cast and crew of “Crazy Rich Asians” made an effort to ensure the film avoided blind spots or cultural cliches, even if that meant deviating from Kwan’s novel. According to the Hollywood Reporter, one of these changes, suggested by Asian American actress Constance Wu, was to remove dialogue originally in the book from the script when her character, Rachel Chu, “boasts about never dating Asian men."
Even though the change may sound insignificant, it is a giant leap for the community. The film as the title suggests 'Crazy Rich Asians' brings Asians to a new light altogether debunking the stereotype that Asian men are not romantically desirable even for Asian women.
The Washington Post reported that Sinakhone Keodara, an actor and entertainment executive once received a message from a white man on a dating app that read, “Asian, ew gross.” Studies and statistics conducted in the past have shown that Asian men were considered less attractive mainly because they don't fit into the norm of hypermasculinity preached by the west, according to a psychotherapist Sam Louie, who told the publication; “You don’t have an experience that an Asian American can be normal. We can be funny, we can make jokes, we can be witty. We can be everything underneath the sun. What you see on TV is such a sliver of reality.”
In Psychology Today, Louie wrote an article last year, stating that these stereotypes will continue to be perpetuated unless Asian men are cast in leading romantic roles in the mainstream media. And since that is finally happening, he believes that 'Crazy Rich Asians' can “generate enough buzz” and allow people to see "Asians and Asian Americans not as comedic relief, but in roles that showcase a full range of emotions."
Even till last year, whitewashing was a common practice in Hollywood with movies like 'Ghost In the Shell' to 'Annihilation,' but this year 'Crazy Rich Asians' is hopefully a game changer. In the previous interview, Kwan stated that the film coming to life is a proof that "whitewashing" is negative practice and not a necessity. “I had one of the top producers in Hollywood come to me wanting to make this movie and wanting to do it right, so I think the culture is shifting. They’re seeing the importance of this,” said Kwan.