Unless your still using dial-up internet in the backwoods of Montana, you must have heard about the new movie Crazy Rich Asian. Based on the book by Singapore-American Kevin Kwan, it is the first all Asian cast in 25 years and is a big step for diversity in Hollywood.
By all accounts it is a great movie (it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it is rightfully being seen as a landmark moment much like the success of Black Panther. Because Asian are, and have always been, a marginalized group in western pop culture where they are reduced to bad accents, small penis jokes and being “the smart friend.”
Crazy Rich Asian was created by an Asian, starring all Asians and depicts a culture and a story not through a white lens but through the lens of their own experiences. They eat food, use slang and live their lives as rich Singaporeans and Asian-Americans do, not as a white person *thinks* Asians do.
I wish it every success in the world, but I’m not sure when I can see it. That’s because it’s not coming to China.
While Asia is a huge region covering many countries, cultures and languages, China is the most dominate Asian culture these days. And from a consumer standpoint China is the biggest movie market outside the US (and is poised to be the #1.) You’ve probably heard about this, and heard how Hollywood movies have begun
pandering catering to Chinese audiences. (Notably in movies like The Martian where the Chinese government saves the day, or how Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing is being put in minor background roles in Hollywood action movies. She’s an unknown in the west, but Chinese people love to see her in any movie.)
So what about Crazy Rich Asian? Well, like I said, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see it simply because it’s not being released here.
What?! How could that be?! I hear you say. The ONE major Hollywood movie with Asians not being shown in China? Impossible, you might think.
But the thing is, as groundbreaking as it is in the west it’s nothing special here. Because an all Asian cast? Story told through the eyes of Asian creators? Well, that’s 90% of the movies here.
The Chinese government, careful of not letting western culture encroach too much on China only allows 34 Hollywood movies to be shown in theaters per year. Yep, just 34. The rest are all home grown movies featuring, well, an all Asian cast and crew written and directed by Asians. See what I’m getting at?
If you ask my college students which actors they like the most, almost none will say a white person. Dreamy Chinese and Korean actors are their phones lock screens, not Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course my students know these heartthrobs (and they they think they are *soooo handsome*) but they don’t obsess about them like they do Chinese and Korean stars.
So you can see how one of the major draws from the western point-of-view (diversity on the screen) is lost in China. They don’t need it since the majority of pop culture here in China is Asians and Asians have been heartthrobs and rich and successful in many movies.
So what about the story? Because Crazy Rich Asian isn’t popular just because of the Asian cast. It has a great story as well. It uses food, culture, a mix of languages that Asian-Americans can relate to.
But Asian-American culture, and Asian culture, are very different. Honestly, there really is no such thing as “Asian culture” as China, Korea and Japan are very different much less India, the Philippines and so on. And in China, the story doesn’t play as well. This is a movie clearly made for a western audience and as such has humor and dialogue that Chinese people just won’t get.
And that’s okay. Asian culture and Asian-American culture are two different things (as they should be). But the experiences of one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other and this movie is much more marketed towards Asian-Americans which won’t work for Chinese audiences.
(In fact, one criticism from the Chinese community I’ve heard is not that this is a movie about an Asian shown through a white person lens, but it’s a story about Asians shown through an Asian-American lens.)
It has no release date in China, and unless some high government official decides that he (and they are all men so that pronoun is correct) loves it, it seems unlikely that it will be released in theaters here.
As for my own personal opinion I am super excited about this movie and am looking forward to seeing it someday. I want to support it and believe it is as important to support in the same way I thought it was important to support Black Panther. So it doesn’t represent China, so what? There are a lot of other movies that do. If the only point of view it represents is the Asian-American one, than so be it. That is a long underrepresented voice and it’s good to finally get that into a mainstream Hollywood movie.
So if you are in a country where it is playing in the theaters PLEASE go and see it and support it with your dollars. And how about watching it once for me too, eh?
(Edit: It was finally released in a China a few months later, but only for a short theatrical run as it didn’t do very good here.)