I’m thinking of going to see "Crazy Rich Asians" — again. I won’t be alone. Fans of author Kevin Kwan’s 2013 book- turned-movie have been packing theaters everywhere. I first enjoyed it from a neck craning seat in one of Martha’s Vineyard small cinemas — the only spot available. Sales reflect the fervor — upwards of 76 million for the first two weekends alone. The romantic comedy grabbed number one at the box office toppling all competitors including hugely financed films predicted to be blockbusters. Entertainment moguls have expressed their happy surprise that Crazy Rich Asians and the all Asian cast is a smash hit. But I wasn’t surprised. And neither are the millions of Asian-Americans who were excited to see themselves — probably for the first time — in a big screen feature that embraces familiar cultural experiences and positive images.
I know how they feel. I spent months in anticipation of the "Black Panther" movie, part of a series of action films based on Marvel comic superheroes. I started counting down to the opening the moment the all black cast was announced. I went to the theater dressed in African garb and for more than two hours reveled in a story that honored customs and culture from across the African diaspora. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler infused the fantasy plot with present day issues and triumphs of real-life black folks. "Crazy Rich Asians" is set in contemporary times, too, allowing for a story with relatable characters who are Asian-American and Asian. I’ve turned to Asian writers Jenny Korn, Phil Yu, and Shirley Leung to learn details about the production, cast, writers and director and about what the movie means writ large. For so many, it’s about much more than a happily ever after romance. It’s long overdue representation, and a powerful sense of belonging. Writing for the Nerds of Color website, Melissa Slaughter wondered, “Is this what white people feel like all the time?”
Right about now I bet somebody is saying, why did you have to bring up race? Why isn’t this just a story about class, family expectations and love interrupted? It is, but perspective matters, how the characters play out the themes matters. The storytelling in "Crazy Rich Asians" is based on the lived experiences of the Asian characters in a way that is very different from, say, “Bridesmaids.” I enjoyed “Bridesmaids,” too, and even though I am not Asian, “Crazy Rich Asians” resonated with me as a person of color. Plus, I know the relief of enjoying a movie free of offensive racial stereotypes, which remain stubbornly embedded in many otherwise harmless movies.
Nearly 20 years since the promise of “The Joy Luck Club,” the last Hollywood movie to feature an all Asian cast, there is now cautious optimism that the bamboo ceiling may be cracked at last. John Cho will soon debut as the lead in “Searching,” a thriller with a predominately Asian cast. Meanwhile, development plans are underway for a sequel to “Crazy Rich Asians.” I can’t wait! In the meantime, on this Labor Day holiday, it seems like a good day for me to see the original one more time.