- date of publication
- Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
- Jon M. Chu
Since the first day, Crazy Rich Asians has borne the burden of the first Hollywood film in a long time – 25 years, to be precise – to have been provided with an all-Asian protagonist with Asian Americans in leading roles. It is rare to see such a production, even more rarely to see that it is at the top of the box office.
The returns mark a historic victory for everyone involved, and although it is a proof that a film about contemporary Asian characters played by (real, non-whitewashed) Asian actors could dominate the box office, it remains to be seen whether the movement has an impact has had on the industry, and more importantly, will last.
For now, the team behind Crazy Rich Asians are optimistic. EW spoke to the producers on Monday about the issue this week, before the news broke that a follow-up is now under development, about what the debut of the big POS office means for the future of Asian and Asian-American LED films from a industrial position. The conversations below are compressed from two separate calls: one with John Penotti from Ivanhoe Pictures, who helped with the financing. Crazy Rich Asiansand one with Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson of Color Force, who first received the rights to Kevin Kwan's novel in 2013, on which the film is based.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your response to that final $ 35.3 million? How did you feel?
JOHN PENOTTI: I know it sounds trite, but I have renewed my page three times. I had to make sure I was looking at the right thing … I was trying to lower my own personal expectations because I just did not want to be disappointed.
NINA JACOBSON: Ecstatic. Overjoyed. Enthusiastic. Obsessed.
BRAD SIMPSON: It was an extraordinary experience. We wanted to be clear that we were ahead and could say when we chose this book, we knew somehow that this would happen. The word we continue to use is "joy" … Nina and I, as white producers, understood at an intellectual level but never whole understood the power of representation [until now]. We are astonished and sit with Asian Americans in the audience and say that they have experienced that they were on the screen for the first time.
JACOBSON: & # 39; Joy & # 39; was the word that Kevin himself saved as the mantra while writing the book, and it carried it over to the experience. It always felt like this had the potential to be a big hit commercial movie – we never saw it as a special movie, we never thought of it was not a big mainstream movie. The depth of feeling and passion that would inspire it because of the timing and significance of the growing frustration about money laundering, the wish that the audience is seen and heard, that was really humbling to see. It is humiliating to see what it means to see people, to be heard, to see themselves on the screen, not as the sidekick, not as the assistant person, but as everything in this film.
What were the keys to bringing about this successful opening?
JACOBSON: Especially the Asian-American community, the extent to which they have come together to give us the wind under our wings, to create all this excitement around the release of the film, and to make enough sound that brighten other ears, is so convincing.
Penotti: I think we understood very early that Jon had directed a genuine, compelling film. We even saw it in the earliest rough parts, but there was no doubt that the marketing and publicity challenge would make or break this, because we knew that the film was always the strongest feature. My concern always turned around, can we come up with the words to convince people that they should pay attention to them? … Warner Bros. made a film of it. They found a way to broaden the points of contact around what people now embrace, the idea of representation and Asians as protagonists.
Have you noticed in that context that more people are being encouraged to pitch Asian-led stories, while more projects are finally being greened? Is this a victory for representation?
JACOBSON: I certainly hope so and think that there will be a wrinkly effect.
SIMPSON: I hope that the ripple effect is not necessarily copy-cattying, but more opening up the conversation about what kinds of movies and TV shows a general public will see … We have all seen a lot of stories about, to be honest, the tasting white people, and I think people want something different, want cultural specificity. There are many stories that have not been told, so why do not we tell those stories instead of telling the same stories over and over again? I think our film is taxed in some ways, and it is only one story, one very special story and one specific journey. I hope it opens up to a multitude of stories that can be told as a result.
Penotti: It is easy to throw the words "turning point" around this, but I think it is exactly that. I will tell you that we have not only started this weekend, but the last four months as anticipating the movie, we are thrown some of the most amazing Asian-focused, global films [at Ivanhoe]and it is just incredibly heart-warming. We have hired another manager at my company that will focus for one hundred percent [representation]. We ensure that there is no further 25 years of delay. We just do not let it happen.
In your opinion, is there a clear impulse for inclusion?
Penotti: Yes. Let me be clear: it is not even babble. You will see announcements, even outside our company, but certainly in the coming weeks on films that are absolutely reality now, because this film has shown that there is a voracious appetite for various stories. Crazy Rich Asians is just a story. There are countless more.
SIMPSON: I think there has been a movement in the last few years, if you look Hidden figures, Get out, and The Big Sick, where you can see that the public has been here for a long time.
JACOBSON: The people who stay behind are not target groups. They have been decision-makers who have been a little slow to hear what the public is telling them, that they want more diversity, that they want more choices on the market.
To make it clear once and for all, are there Asian movie stars?
JACOBSON: Absolute, unambiguous, and we were fortunate enough to have a movie full.
SIMPSON: The amazing thing about this film is that all these actors wanted to be in this film, but the only reason we could get them was not only their enthusiasm for this film, but also because they underemployed. I have the feeling that we could get a group of actors in this film who, if the market was fairer, would not have been available, because they would have worked on 17 different films they had played at once. There is a wealth of talent that is not used.
Penotti: I have been involved in many films, but I've never seen the core of a movie – our director, our cast, our producing team – [like this], contacted every day since the cover. I speak every day, we have had contact in groups, shared moments and anecdotes and it has often become very personal, very emotional. This cast, this director, expresses the problems, worries and expectations of a gigantic population.