Despite opening at #1 in the US and exceeding box office expectations, there have been viewers in mainland Asia that have taken a more sceptical stance towards the Crazy Rich Asians hype.
The argument generally goes something like this:
“This isn’t groundbreaking, we have our own film industries here.”
“How can a movie with Asian in the title claim to show the experiences of people from an entire continent?”
“It’s just a win for Asian-Americans and nothing more than Hollywood hype.”
Though I see where they’re coming from, these points are missing the forest for the trees. China and India are the 2 most populous countries in the world and have film industries that reflect that, but what are the exact numbers? The highest grossing Chinese film of all time is WOLF WARRIOR 2 (2017), which brought in around US$870 million worldwide. India’s highest grossing film, DANGAL (2016), has a worldwide gross of just over US$300 million.
When placed on a list of the highest grossing films of all-time, however, these films land at #61 and #438, respectively. To compare, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, BLACK PANTHER, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, and THE INCREDIBLES 2 were all released in 2018 and have already reached the top 20.
The rest of this list is populated with giant Hollywood franchises. Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, Harry Potter, Jurassic World…you get the picture. The fact is, Hollywood still has the most powerful global marketing and distribution network.
So how does this affect mainland Asians? We have our own film industries and don’t need to worry about the lack of representation that Asian-Americans face. Or do we? These massive blockbusters make their way to countries around the world, but when a film like INFINITY WAR is about Earth’s mightiest heroes protecting the planet against an alien threat and the heroes don’t reflect the demographics of the actual Earth’s population, is that truthful representation?
No groups of Chinese or Indian superheroes were available to fight Thanos? On that note, why haven’t we seen a Middle-Eastern Tony Stark? A Southeast Asian Harry Potter? Though well represented in local Asian cinema, there is still much progress that can be made for Asians (and others) on the international level.
Enter Crazy Rich Asians. It’s the first film produced by a Hollywood studio with a modern, all-Asian cast in 25 years and it’s being given a wide, international release.
People from across the globe will experience all different types of characters without martial arts, refugees, or prostitutes.
Is it representative of every Asian perspective and demographic? No, and it would be impossible to fit all that into a single film, but its success is the gateway to more projects with more representation.
Films do have an impact on society, and the more we can see people from all different ethnicities and cultures portrayed as humans and not stereotypes, the easier it will be to humanize, learn from one another, and grow. At the very least, maybe we can get some more Asian superheroes.
James Tang is an actor/filmmaker with an international background based in Los Angeles, USA. You can follow his adventures on social media: @jamesthetang