Crazy Rich Asians (“zhai’jin’qi’yuan摘金奇缘”) is perhaps one of the most highly-anticipated Hollywood fashion movies this summer – not only for its adaptation of the namesake best-selling novel by Singaporean-American writer Kevin Kwan, but for its cultural significance to the Asian American community.
The movie is the second in Hollywood featuring an all-Asian cast after the release of The Joy Luck Club (“xi‘le’hui 喜乐会”) 25 years ago. To mark this huge progress, big Asian American names from the world of luxury have rallied around in support of the movie. From fashion designer Phillip Lim, who has been helming chic luxury label 3.1 Phillip Lim for more than a decade, to fashion editor Eva Chen, who works as Director of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram, many high-profile Asian American creative talents are using their influence to spread excitement before the film’s official August 15 release date.
In big markets such as China, Warner Brothers, producer of Crazy Rich Asians, certainly has high hopes for the film to succeed. Currently, the studio is anxiously waiting for a China release to be confirmed.
On July 27, a special early screening was hosted by the Nepalese American fashion designer Prabal Gurung in New York’s Chinatown-adjacent indie film theater Metrograph. Alongside Lim and Chen, a host of core forces of the Asian American fashion community showed up.
Attendees included Joseph Altuzarra, Laura Kim, Carol Lim, Jason Wu and Dao Yi Chow — as well as editors Radhika Jones, Michelle Lee, Kathleen Hou, and Diana Tsui.
A “Wake-up” Call for Diversity and Inclusivity
Over the past decade, Asian American luxury designers have walked a long road to improve their status and reputation in the white-dominated fashion industry. Their efforts seem to have paid off in recent years, as evidenced by the success of the likes of Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, and Jason Wu.
THIS IS ONLY JUST THE BEGINNING. My entire life I’ve been eagerly awaiting a time when I could turn on the television or go to the movies, and see someone who looked like me on the other side of the screen. And not just one token character, meant to fill a gap or satisfy affirmative action in film. I’ve wanted to see myself, and want my nieces and nephews to see someone like them portrayed in a desirable and aspirational way. For the longest time, we have not had Asian representation in Hollywood in this way. I’ve seen type casting, I’ve seen mis-casting of white actors and actresses made up to be Asian, I’ve seen Asians othered and exoticized, but it wasn’t until ‘Joy and Luck Club’ came out 25 years ago that I’ve seen Asians visually represented in Hollywood. While that film was a big success, there has been no progress since- no new projects and more importantly, no change in our industry. Therefore, when I heard about ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ coming to the silver screen about a year ago, I couldn’t have felt more anticipation and excitement. And while the movie is optimistic, fun, witty and glamourous- everything I want in a film- it is also so much more for me and our Asian community. This is the first film in 25 years that is written by, directed by, and starring an Asian cast. For this reason, I am thrilled and honoured to host a screening for our fashion industry with my friends and colleagues- Hanya Yanagihara, Radhika Jones, Michelle Lee, Eva Chen, Phillip Lim, Humberto Leon, Carol Lim, Dao-Yi Chow, Laura Kim, Joseph Altuzarra, Fei Fei Sun, Diana Tsui, Kathleen Hou and Tina Craig- so we can come together in solidarity among ourselves and you, our allies, to use our voice, demand a change and shift the needle in the right direction towards a more inclusive and a more visually representative Hollywood.
To organizer Prabal Gurung, the screening was meant to showcase the solidarity of the Asian community in the United States, using his own influence – and that of his high-profile friends and colleagues – to raise public awareness. On his personal Instagram account, he called for his peers “to use our voice, demand a change and shift the needle in the right direction towards a more inclusive and a more visually representative Hollywood.”
Kevin Kwan was also closely involved in the development and production of the film to ensure Asians were presented in an uncliched way through a proper medium.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kwan and the film’s director Jon M. Chu turned down an enticing offer of a greenlighted trilogy with a “gigantic payday” at Netflix, to make sure the film would be seen on the big screen with the potential to reshape the Hollywood landscape.
Meanwhile, Warner Brothers has hired IW Group, a marketing and communications firm that specializes in reaching the growing multicultural market in the United States, to promote the film within the Asian American community and beyond.
And the American audience’s enthusiasm appears to have been successfully ignited. In the lead-up to the launch day, an increasing number of Asian American community leaders in all kinds of industries have voluntarily come on board – buying out theaters and promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag, in hopes of helping the film succeed at the box office on opening weekend.
An Eye on Attracting Overseas Viewers
Today, Hollywood studios increasingly rely on foreign markets to increase their bottom lines. As recent reports have demonstrated, the luxury fashion industry, too, relies heavily on the influence of the Chinese and Asian markets. As such, a movie like Crazy Rich Asians with its high production value, engaging storytelling, solid acting – and a host of dazzling brands and canny product placements – has the potential to be engaging to audiences from all cultural backgrounds.
Our guess is that if this film is released in Chinese theaters, the biggest selling point will not be its all-Asian cast, as audiences in mono-ethnic countries, such as China, usually care less about racial representation. This has also been indicated by the lukewarm performance of Black Panther in the middle kingdom. But hey, everyone can enjoy a well-made romantic comedy telling the tale of “Meet the In-laws.”