Will ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Ignite More Diversity in Hollywood?
The romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians topped the box office this weekend, exceeding expectations—but is it too soon to speculate that it heralds more diversity to come in Hollywood?
The Warner Bros. romantic comedy made $34 million over its five day opening, exceeding industry expectations that predicted it being closer to $25 million.
Intense media buzz led up to the film’s premiere—discussing its watershed moment for on-screen representation: it was the first major studio film since The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago to feature a predominately Asian cast.
The film, which is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, tells the story of a college professor who meets her boyfriend’s wealthy family in Singapore.
The strong opening for Crazy Rich Asians was also historic for romantic comedies. It was the first time that a rom-com has topped the box office since June of 2014. The genre, which was once one of the Hollywood’s most reliable, now thrives on Netflix rather than the cineplex.
The creators of Crazy Rich Asians reportedly turned down a big payday from Netflix and opted for a theatrical release to give the film a chance to be seen by audiences in theaters.
Indeed, the film faced several challenges in its development, often because of its unprecedented representation: before selling the novel’s rights, author Kwan was told by one producer that the role of Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, would have to be played by a white woman.
The film’s director, Jon M. Chu, was also told that he wouldn’t be able to find enough actors to fill the ensemble.
“‘You’re not going to find an Asian cast that can step up to the plate for this,’” Chu recalled being told. “I thought that was ridiculous. I just knew that we had to look harder because there weren’t systems built for people to find roles like these. We just had to go one layer deeper, and then we found all these talented people and they’re ready. They’ve done the work.”
The title of the novel alone was problematic to studios as well.
“People wanted to change the name of the movie,” Chu said. “But the book is called ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. It’s a provocative title. I think it creates conversation, which I think is good.”
Naturally, several articles have sprung up in the wake of the film’s success, wondering if Hollywood will turn over a new leaf and fund more diverse projects such as these, but does history tell us otherwise?
Consider that the last major U.S. film to feature a predominately Asian cast debuted 25 years ago, The Joy Luck Club. Although it earned rave reviews and commercial success, the film did not spark a market for more on-screen representation, perhaps because it stood alone then and was seen as an exception.
Constance Wu, the stars of Crazy Rich Asians, also currently stars in ABC’s comedy series “Fresh Off the Boat”, which debuted in 2015—two decades after the first and only other Asian American-led T.V. series. It is currently the only T.V. show that features an Asian American cast on a major U.S. network.
In terms of other representation, 2011’s comedy Bridesmaids with its female-driven cast became a box office hit, earning rave reviews and Oscar nominations for writing and acting. Nonetheless, subsequent films featuring predominately female casts are still often seen as novel or met with scrutiny, as seen with 2016’s remake Ghostbusters and this year’s Ocean’s 8.
It’s no secret that Hollywood is a commercially driven business, and therefore it still abides by stringent rules to maximize mass market appeal—at the cost of on-screen representation. With such a staunch business model, it must take consistent proven success to elicit any new trends in the industry.