1994. The Joy Luck Club. 2000. The Debut. 2002. Better Luck Tomorrow. 2018. Crazy Rich Asians.
The number of movies directed by and starring Asian Americans that got a theatrical release is distressingly low despite decades of being told: “your time is almost here.” Ming-Na Wen gave an interview in 1994 after starring in The Joy Luck Club about being an Asian in Hollywood and in a far more recent interview got a chance to speak on how little has changed “I feel so disheartened sometimes when these questions are still being asked 30 years later.”
The early 2000s seemed like things were starting to shift when within two years of each other we were treated to a teen rom-com and a crime-heist film directed by and starring Asian Americans. Better Luck Tomorrow had everyone talking about the new age of Asian American cinema. Everything seemed so close to breaking through and then, nothing.
And nothing. And nothing.
Until 2015 when Asian American tv sitcom Fresh Off The Boat went on the air and the world was forced to see weekly how being Asian American is distinctly different from being mainland Asian and that yes we are here too. But even then, right before season 4 started last year star Randall Park gave an interview saying how he’d expected there to be more roles for Asian Americans by now.
And this summer, after 30 years of soon, we promise, that door is about to be knocked all the way down. 30 years of almost times. Of build-up and disappointment and whitewashing. Of always being seen as inferior to mainland Asians. It’s time for diaspora Asians to rise.
Based off the book by Kevin Kwan about a New Yorker being thrust into the life of the rich and messy in Singapore this movie is diaspora down to its core with the director, John M. Chu, and the majority of the cast identifying as such. This may seem like an unimportant distinction but when you have a live-action Mulan being directed and written by white people changing the story as they please and starring mostly mainland Asians, this means everything.
I honestly started tearing up at the trailer because that sense of not belonging, banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside, is something most diaspora Asians know intimately. Going to Asia and feeling so out of place when surrounded by people who look like you? For some reason people insisted that an Asian American Iron Fist could never feel out of place in Asia like a white Iron Fist could and diaspora Asians know just how false that is.
The buzz around this movie has been encouraging with EW giving it a stunning first look cover issue and it helps that the book is a delight and the story is one that’s universally appealing. But if people don’t show up for Crazy Rich Asians in the theater this could end up being like the broken promises of the early 00’s and no one wants that. The landscape is changing and the conversations happening now about diversity and representation are fresh in everyone’s mind so hopefully, this won’t be seen as just a film for Asians because it is for everyone.
At its heart, Crazy Rich Asians is a Meghan Markle and Prince Harry type story. The American Girl navigating a rich established family who doesn’t think she’s good enough. It’s old school family matriarch thinking no one will ever be good enough for her son. It’s a return to the earnest romcom that so many people have been wanting in the age of cynical and ironic everything. And it’s the burst of light that Asian Americans have been waiting for.