By Sonaiya Kelley Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) According to a July study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, of the top 100 films of 2017, only 4.8 percent featured a character of Asian descent with a speaking role. The Success of 'Crazy Rich Asians' could be a game changer.
Warner Bros.' highly anticipated "Crazy Rich Asians" dominated the box office this weekend, making history for Asian-American representation and becoming the highest-opening romantic comedy since 2015's "Trainwreck."
The first contemporary English-language Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast since "The Joy Luck Club" 25 years ago, "Crazy Rich Asians" grossed $25.2 million over the weekend and a cumulative $34 million since its opening Wednesday, according to figures from measurement firm ComScore. Analysts predicted that the film would collect $29 million through Sunday.
"It's a well-made movie, and it's tapped into the zeitgeist culturally as an important touchstone across the domestic marketplace," said Jeff Goldstein, the studio's distribution chief.
According to Goldstein, 38 percent of audience members over the weekend were Asian, 41 percent were white, 11 percent were Latino and 6 percent were black. "We started on Wednesday with a 44 percent share for the Asian audience," he said, which represents a rare trend. "The shift illustrates the broadening of the movie, which will continue as time progresses."
The movie appeals to everyone, he said: "I think it just looks like fun. The people are handsome and pretty and the locations are exotic. It looks like a nice diversion from life."
For author and CNN contributor Jeff Yang, whose son Hudson stars on the ABC sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat," the film marks a sea change for Asian-American representation in mainstream culture.
"Certainly for Asian-American audiences, this is a signal moment for us," he said. "It really is the first time that we've seen in a contemporary setting an all-Asian cast with an Asian-American protagonist light up the screen.
And the storyline itself, I've likened it as the first real Asian-American Disney princess story. At its core, this is a story about an immigrant Asian-American woman who finds herself essentially in a fantasy land from which she couldn't possibly have imagined coming herself."
It's this universal story that appeals to audiences outside of the Asian community, Yang said.
"Asian-Americans, we simply aspire to see a story from our community, from our perspective told, period. But I think it's that Disney princess element that any viewer can key into. And we're seeing already that many beyond the Asian-American community are responding to that tried-and-true 'tale as old as time' kind of context of this film."
The romantic comedy, which cost $30 million to produce, is based on the bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan about a Chinese American woman who learns her boyfriend is from one of Singapore's wealthiest families.
Starring Constance Wu, "Crazy Rich Asians" was shot in Malaysia and Singapore and will be released in international markets, including most Asian countries, in the coming weeks.
According to a July study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, of the top 100 films of 2017, only 4.8 percent featured a character of Asian descent with a speaking role.
With the success of this film and others like "Black Panther," "Get Out" and "Girls Trip," studios may soon be looking to change that.
Goldstein said the lesson for major studios here is to take risks and try things that are outside the box. "We're always looking to do that, it's often hard to find that right project that you really believe in. And it takes a lot of work to execute effectively and professionally a project like this and we're proud that we were able to do it."
"As someone who's watched Hollywood undermarket and assign low expectations to uncompromising works by creators of color for all my life, to see films like this breaking out beyond expectations is incredibly satisfying," Yang said. "At the same time, it does underscore the fact that this is not a new phenomenon.
"We've seen works by filmmakers of color and stories that feature performers and characters of color consistently outperform expectations," he said. "That's great, but it also means studios are not doing enough. If you are surprised by how well your movie did, you left money on the table and that I think is one of the lessons that needs to be learned from this. If you believe in the work that you're putting out there and you get it in front of the audiences that are most primed to consume it, the results will be there."
"The Joy Luck Club," which broke ground in 1993 as the first major studio movie to depict Asian-American contemporary life, earned $32.9 million, $57 million adjusted for inflation, over the course of its entire run.
"Crazy Rich Asians" is on track to surpass that by next weekend.
Period films like "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" are the most recent Hollywood studio films featuring all-Asian casts.
"Crazy Rich Asians" earned positive reviews from audiences and critics, with an A rating on CinemaScore and a 92 percent "fresh" rating from review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.