When the preview for Crazy Rich Asians came out this past spring, I watched the two-minute trailer on YouTube no less than 30 times. With a mixture of joy, excitement, and disbelief, I could not get enough.
As the summer’s most anticipated movie, we all know the facts by now: it is the first movie from a major Hollywood studio to feature an entirely Asian cast in a contemporary story since Hollywood Pictures released The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago. It is expected to make a lot of money. And, it is so, so much more than a movie to many people in this country. As the film director Jon Chu has said, “It’s not a movie. It’s a movement.”
I went to see Crazy Rich Asians with my daughter yesterday, and for the first time in my life, I sat and watched a movie where everyone, and I mean everyone, looked like me with nary an Asian stereotype in sight. I had become so accustomed to not seeing any Asian characters in American movies or to have them be a comedic punchline, I had not let myself think it was important to have such a movie until it was staring me in the face in that dark theater.
To see beautiful, glamorous, stylish (yes!), educated, successful, aspirational people who are all Asian? I laughed out loud, cheered, gasped, and cried. I don’t think I have been that audibly emotional during a movie — like, ever. Representation is powerful. What would it have been like to see this movie as a 14-year-old girl?
The story of Rachel Chu and Nick Young is fun rom-com romp. It is the age-old story of boy and girl fall in love and family gets in the way of that love. In this case, it is Nick’s ultra-wealthy family in Singapore — his mother in particular. Constance Wu’s Rachel is exactly what you’d want in a heroine. She is down-to-earth, smart, kind, but scrappy. If I were my young self watching this movie, I would want to be just like her.
I left that theatre a little teary and excited, holding hands with my daughter and suddenly the true significance of the movie hit me. “That was really awesome for you wasn’t it?” she asked me. It truly was. That movie is a love letter for Asian Americans like myself. Because she is 13, she doesn’t feel the movie’s significance in the same way I do. With this movie — and others we have watched recently — she gets to see herself falling in love, getting the boy, struggling with friends, dealing with family expectations…all in mainstream American society. She doesn’t have to shy away from “where she is from.” She is where she belongs. My hope is that she will not have to wait to see many more Rachel Chus in her life.
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