This Hollywood Exec Originally Tried to Make ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ About a White Woman
When Crazy Rich Asians hits theaters later this month, it will mark the first Asian American-focused studio movie in over 25 years — a laudatory and long-overdue accomplishment that has the film on track for an $18 million-plus opening.
But Hollywood, predictably, wasn't initially onboard. In a Hollywood Reporter feature published last week (August 1), writer Kevin Kwan, who also penned the bestselling novel upon which the movie is based, revealed a producer initially suggested he turn his leading lady into a white woman.
"It's a pity you don't have a white character," he was told.
That's par for the course in the industry, especially around the time Kwan began developing Crazy Rich Asians in 2013 — two years ahead of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and the slow but burgeoning push for more representation that's since emerged. But given both the concept of the story — Rachel, a Chinese-American woman, visits Singapore with her boyfriend only to discover he's one of the richest, most eligible bachelors in Asia — and its literal title, it feels especially damning.
“I tried to make Rachel’s story about identity,” Constance Wu, who stars as Rachel, told THR. “What does this say about the experience of being Asian-American, how it shapes you differently than the experience of being Asian-Asian? People think it’s the same, but when you grow up without your face being a part of dominant culture, it changes things.”
Had her character been white, it would've erased that visibility and voice entirely.
But Kwan was dedicated to his vision, and ultimately optioned his book for just $1 (with triggers in place for him to earn more as the project got made) so that he could remain involved with creative decisions.
"We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there's one example to point to, and that'll be us," director Jon M. Chu told THR. "To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that's what we asked for."