“This is a perfect example of what Hollywood should be like, what it needs to do”
Harry Shum Jr., actor in Crazy Rich Asians
In the fall of 2018, I wrote a blog post about going to dinner with the creators of the movie Crazy Rich Asians, to discuss what Asian Americans around the country could do to help rally support for the film. It was such an important cultural moment for our community as there had not been a Hollywood studio film featuring an all Asian American cast in 25 years.
Our inspiration for that meeting was watching how African Americans have been so vocal and committed in coming together to support black filmmakers over the years. Just a few months earlier, the amazing movie Black Panther premiered as the biggest budgeted comic genre blockbuster by a black director, screenwriter and cast. It would go on to be the highest grossing film of the entire year, not only because it was a great movie deserving of its huge success, but also because African Americans chipped in with their own superpower: a love for their community that’s beautiful, energizing, and infectious and drew people of all ethnicities, genders, and ages to their art. As Vanessa Kelly, spokeswoman for the Urban League of Greater Atlanta Guild, would say: “Everyone is claiming Wakanda”.
A month later, Crazy Rich Asians would become the highest grossing romantic comedy of the past decade, aided by a grassroots effort called GoldOpen that galvanized the Asian American community to buy out theaters on opening weekend. It was a brilliant tactic taken straight from the pages of cultural unity that African Americans set, and Asian Americans followed.
And then at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards the following January, this happened:
That photo was the perfect celebration of two of the biggest cultural moments of 2018. When diverse people told diverse stories and generated not only critical success, but commercial success. When that success was then celebrated at the highest levels for the entire world to see. Crazy Rich Asians actor Harry Shum Jr. would say of the picture: “It’s just a celebration of being there at this award show when so many faces have been erased or have been invisible.”
African Americans and Asians Americans were not invisible that night.
The world is very different now, unrecognizable even. With so much sadness around, I found myself escaping back to 2018 to find a little happiness, a little hope, and a little lesson that still feels relevant today: representation matters. Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians were reminders that to be visible matters. To fight for success not from the sidelines, but on the field, matters. To struggle for change not from the shadows, but under the spotlight, matters.
Asians Americans have long been viewed as staying in the shadows, remaining passive and reserved, leading to the model minority stereotype where our culture was praised for our “quiet perseverance”. There’s unfortunate truth to that stereotype. Asian Americans are 36% less likely to vote than non-Hispanic White voters and 42% less likely to vote than Black voters. We’re also less likely to volunteer for community service than both the White and Black ethnicities. But “less likely” doesn’t mean “less capable”, and it absolutely can’t mean “less willing”.
We may not have stood passionately and yelled loudly previously. But that doesn’t mean we’re not passionate and loud. And it’s time to stand and yell alongside a community that inspired us not that long before, and whose members could use our help, our voice, and our compassion today.
From Andrew Yang to Eric Yuan to David Chang, prominent Asian Americans around the country are supporting #BlackLivesMatter publicly. They aren’t just making a difference — they are representing how all Asian Americans can make a difference. To see our Asians American leaders standing together with the African American community, not from the shadows but under the spotlight, reminds us all just what good we can do, and what good we must do. That’s the power of representation.
The day after Crazy Rich Asians opened as the number one movie in the country, director Jon Chu said: “We were PROUD to be together not hiding in the corner. And we were surrounded by people of ALL communities out to support us!”
To all Asian Americans, across all communities, let’s step out of the corners and go make each other proud.
Black Lives Matter.