The commercial success of the Hollywood rom-com Crazy Rich Asians proved to be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it propelled the careers of its stars—including Asian American actors Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and Awkwafina (The Farewell), and Asian British actors Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) and Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel)—in Hollywood, an industry in which Asian stars have struggled with limited visibility and opportunities.
On the other hand, the timing of its release in 2018 was a particularly touchy one for Vancouver, where anti-Asian racism has been an ongoing contentious issue in debates about housing and real-estate, money laundering, and more. A movie poster for Crazy Rich Asians in Kitsilano, for instance, was found defaced with racist graffiti, referring to those issues, and it followed a spate of anti-Asian graffiti and white supremacist, Sinophobic flyers in 2016 and 2017 found across the Lower Mainland.
However, it also did give voice to and carved out significant cinematic space for Asian diaspora stories within mainstream markets—something that has not occurred since the 1993 Asian American dramatic feature The Joy Luck Club. (Other Hollywood box office hit films since that time, such as Memoirs of a Geisha or The Last Samurai, have been based on Asian stories and characters, rather than Asian American or diasporic tales.)
Historically, mainstream success for representation of minorities has often come with the risk of employing stereotypes—but once commercial success has been established and proven, what can be done with the new opportunities available?
Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan will discuss how creativity and narratives can affect world issues in the virtual masterclass Represent, Represent: The Stories We Tell Change the World Around Us from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on March 4.
This UBC Connects talk will be moderated by UBC creative writing professor Doretta Lau, author of the short story collection How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?.
The event is free but those interested in participating are asked to RSVP online.