To explain his cinematic masterpiece, Jon Chu stated “it’s not a movie, it’s a movement”—and there is no better phrase to describe the legacy of Crazy Rich Asians. One of the main goals of a film, besides bringing in revenue, is to change the viewer's perspective of the world, and I believe that Crazy Rich Asians does not disappoint.
Crazy Rich Asians grossed $34 million in opening weekend alone, and it continues to top the charts over a month later. The film chronicles the journey of Rachel Chu as she travels to Asia for the first time to meet her boyfriend’s insanely wealthy family. After seeing this movie, Americans across the country exit the theater in tears, feeling stunned and moved.
So why has this film in particular captivated viewers across America? At first glance, the story seems perfectly ordinary—I mean, it’s nothing that has not been seen before. It’s just a typical rom-com, right?
The national fascination with the film has to do not only with the charming and relatable characters, but also with the “otherness” of them. The reason people are obsessed with the movie has everything to do with a simple concept: representation. Crazy Rich Asians is the first major Hollywood film in 25 years, since The Joy Luck Club, to feature an all-Asian cast, which is striking and, frankly, quite shameful.
What's not to love about the stunning visuals, fantastic storyline, and, of course, a representation of my culture that has never occurred in my lifetime?
Before the release of Crazy Rich Asians, the lack of representation of my Asian heritage had never been an issue to me. Sure, I had written a research paper about the misrepresentation of Asians in the mainstream media and how nearly zero Hollywood movies featured an Asian American lead. But did I really consider how these statistics affected me? The answer is no, seeing as I have never really claimed the title “Asian American” as my own.
How could I? When I was younger, all of my white friends had these famous idols they could look up to, and I never understood how they could relate so much to a pixelated image of a person whom they had never even met. I understand now. At 18 years old, I finally found idols in actresses Constance Wu, Gemma Chan, and Awkwafina and the characters they played. Seeing strong actors and actresses that looked like me was nothing short of extraordinary.
I only speak English, have never been to Asia, and struggle immensely when using chopsticks. Like Rachel Chu, I will never be considered “truly Asian.” Though raised in America, because of my appearance, I will never truly fit in here either. I will always notice when I am the only person of color in a group, and here at Boston College this happens daily.
Juggling both my Asian and American identities has been a lifetime struggle, and no matter how hard I try, I can never fully assimilate into either part of my cultural identity. So seeing Rachel live out that struggle on screen was nothing short of a miracle for me. Tears streamed down my face in the theater as I realized everything that this movie stood for. I was not even aware of how the lack of representation of my culture affected me and my perception of self until I got a taste of it through Crazy Rich Asians. And I have to tell you, it felt damn good. For once in my life I felt validated, not invisible. For the first time in my life I did not feel like a foreigner in the country I was born in.
But the movie has done more than just help me. The film touched millions of fans, and the numbers speak for themselves. People want to see diversity in Hollywood.
It is imperative to keep the momentum of Crazy Rich Asians going. With the release of movies such as Black Panther (2018), To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser (2018), representation for previously underrepresented and misrepresented groups now seems like an achievable goal. And just like As Crazy Rich Asians director Jon Chu eloquently said, this movie really is a movement.
Crazy Rich Asians, while a revolutionary film, is only the beginning. The film is not the be-all and end-all of Asian American culture; Rachel Chu should not bear the burden of representing all Asian American women. It should be a stepping stone for Asian American actors, filmmakers, and artists to further the conversation of representation in America. Asian Americans are integral to the diversity that makes America special. It’s time we use our voices and claim our equal place in America. We will no longer be the quiet and submissive “model minority.” It would be shameful for another quarter of a century to pass without a film featuring Asian cast members.