‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is here to shatter your stereotypes

Asian actors are usually cast as quiet nerds, computer-hacking geniuses or martial arts experts. Rarely are they romantic leads in a major Hollywood film. When “Crazy Rich Asians” opens Aug. 15, the all-Asian cast is hoping the movie can break that long-held stereotype.

The movie is based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel, which follows Nicholas Young as he brings his Chinese American girlfriend, Rachel Chu, home to Singapore. Then Rachel discovers just how crazy rich Nick’s family is.

Cover photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Crazy Rich Asians,” both the book and film, is changing audiences’ perceptions of Asians. Here are five ways the story is breaking stereotypes.

1. Actors of Asian descent are the swoon-worthy leads.

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“Crazy Rich Asians” is the first non-action movie set in the present day from a major Hollywood studio to feature mostly Asian actors since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” It’s the first romantic comedy with Asian leads since 1961’s “Flower Drum Song.” Rarely are actors of Asian descent granted the same opportunities white actors, hence the viral #StarringJohnCho campaign which put Cho in place of other actors in movie posters. The success of “Crazy Rich Asians” may change how Hollywood views what ethnicity a leading man or woman should be.

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2. The books are written by a man.

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Kevin Kwan wrote two successful sequels after “Crazy Rich Asians.” The trilogy of novels could be described as “chick lit,” or those glossy beach reads that literary folks often look down upon. But in Kwan’s hands, the female characters are complex and funny. “Like August Wilson, Kwan is that rare male writer who understands women,” Constance Wu, who plays Rachel in the film, wrote for Time magazine. Throughout the series, Kwan explores the characters of Rachel; Nick’s mother, Eleanor; and his cousin Astrid Leong.

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3. It’s based (mostly) in reality.

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The opulence in “Crazy Rich Asians” might seem very foreign to the average American filmgoer sitting in a suburban movie theater. But it would not be as fun if it wasn’t at least a little bit true. Kwan based “Crazy Rich Asians” on the wealthy Singapore world his own family inhabits. “[H]e could easily reference the mental index of socialites, designers, artists, and architects he accumulated while growing up in his grandparents’ posh home in Singapore,” E. Alex Jung wrote in a profile of Kwan for New York magazine.

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4. The movie is aimed for a mass audience.

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“Crazy Rich Asians” could have been sold to Netflix — in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Kwan told the magazine that he “could have moved to an island and never worked another day” had he gone with the streaming service’s offer. But the strategy for the movie’s release was to go big. It was important for Kwan, the filmmakers and the cast to have a wide release and prove that audiences want to see it in theaters.

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5. The cast and crew are very aware of how important this movie is.

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The stars of “Crazy Rich Asians” are leaning into the moment. Wu wrote a long post on Twitter about how much the film means to her and her career. “Before CRA [“Crazy Rich Asians”], I hadn’t even done a tiny part in a studio film…I never dreamed I would get to star in one…because I had never seen that happen to someone who looked like me…I hope Asian American kids watch CRA and realize that they can be the heroes of their own stories.”

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