After all, it is the first major Hollywood studio movie since “The Joy Luck Club” — which released 25 years ago — to feature a predominately Asian cast.
The actors told CNN in a recent interview that as proud as they are of “Crazy Rich Asians,” their idea of true inclusion means not expecting any one project to be all things.
“Box office still matters,” said Awkwafina, who portrays Goh Peik Lin in the movie. “But I think at the end of the day, the success of this film should not determine whether there should be stories of people of color. At the same time, we’ve seen stories perform super well at the box office and I don’t think [“Crazy Rich Asians”] will be any different than those.”
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, “Crazy Rich Asians” is the story of a dashing college professor who takes his girlfriend (also a professor) home to meet his mega-wealthy family in Singapore.
The cast of the romantic comedy is led by “Fresh Off the Boat’s” Constance Wu and Hollywood newcomer Henry Golding.
It’s easy to think of the project as the “Asian ‘Black Panther'” given the excitement surrounding its diversity. Though Santos, who plays Oliver T’sien in the film and is widely known for his role as Mateo Liwanag on “Superstore,” cautioned against comparing a romantic comedy to a Marvel superhero movie.
In an industry where the most valued color is green, the global success of films like “Black Panther” and “Get Out” have proven — yet again — that movies featuring casts of color can be extremely profitable. Santos is optimistic “Crazy Rich Asians” will further illustrate that fact.
“I hope [‘Crazy Rich Asians’] opens the floodgates for other people of color, for Latinos, for the LGBTQ community to be able to tell our own stories,” Santos said. “People are yearning for these stories, they are thirsty for these stories and these stories have value.”
Koh, who portrays socialite Felicity Young in “Crazy Rich Asians,” said the film, like “Black Panther,” is stirring feelings of pride in those anxious to see people who look like them in a blockbuster.
“Everyone is really excited to see an Asian point of view, but also Asian faces on the screen,” she said. “It’s a milestone movie in that sense.”
The movie comes at a time of debate over “white washing” in Hollywood (hiring white actors to portray Asian characters) and complaints — from some — that industry inclusion has become a black and white issue.
But Chieng, a stand up comic who spent several seasons on “The Daily Show,” said he disagrees with that framing.
“We promote Asian storytelling. Not just Asian stories, but Asian people in stories with the full spectrum of the human experience,” said Chieng, who portrays Edison Cheng in the movie. “When you say, ‘Oh, it’s not enough attention on Asians, it’s more black and white, that game becomes like you’re playing the discrimination Olympics.”
Awkwafina pointed to the diversity among Asians in the film.
“One of the main reasons for justifying white washing is, ‘Well, there aren’t any [Asians]. We couldn’t find any, so there aren’t any and let’s just proceed,'” Awkwafina said. “In this movie we have Asian Americans, we have Asian Brits, Asian Australians, Singapore locals. We are out here. It’s undeniable.”
Also undeniable? The mounting cultural expectations for “Crazy Rich Asians,” but Santos said the project shouldn’t have to be perfect.
“We should be allowed to fail,” he said. “How many chances do white people get? How many [crappy] movies do they get to make over and over again?”
“They get so many chances to fail at the box office,” Santos added. “This is our first chance, so let us throw the dart. If it doesn’t stick, then ok. Give us another dart.”