How 'Crazy Rich Asians' movie is bringing attention to Asian Americans in Hollywood

PHOTO: A scene from the movie "Crazy Rich Asians."PlaySanja Bucko/Warner Bros.
WATCH How 'Crazy Rich Asians' could change film-making for good

For the stars of the upcoming romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians," working on the film was more than just a job -- it was an opportunity to make history.

The movie, based on the international bestseller of the same name by Kevin Kwan, is the first major Hollywood studio film to feature an all-Asian cast since "The Joy Luck Club" hit theaters in 1993.

Actor Nico Santos, who plays Oliver T’sien, Nick Young's cousin in the movie, called that lapse "a lifetime," noting that full-grown adults have never seen themselves represented on-screen.

But all of that could be changing, star Constance Wu told "Good Morning America."

“I think Asian Americans are done with that, with asking for permission," she said. "We are stating our passion, our dreams, and our stories."

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"Crazy Rich Asians" tells the story of Rachel Chu (played by Wu), who is shocked to learn that her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), comes from one of the wealthiest families in Asia and is the heir to his family's fortune. During a trip with Nick to Singapore for his best friend's wedding, she's forced to win over a number of haters, including, of course, Nick's mother (played by Michelle Yeoh).

The fact that the film is directed, written and portrayed by Asians and Asian Americans means a great deal to both the actors and audience alike. Director Jon Chu told "Good Morning America" that he turned down Netflix's offer to stream the content in order to bring the story to the big screen.

He explained he wanted to show “Asian faces in romantic leads and heroic positions are worth your time and energy to go to a movie theater, to fight traffic, stand in line and sit in the dark and say ‘tell me a story.'"

Added Ken Jeong, who plays Goh Wye Mun: “Even if I wasn’t in the movie I would still be here on the carpet giving my love and support."

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To that end, fans of the movie have started using the hashtag #GoldOpen on Twitter to remind people to buy a ticket to its opening weekend in order to ensure its financial success. According to Variety, the production company behind the flick, Warner Bros., is hoping the project brings in $18 million to $24 million over five days.

That means, of course, it will need to appeal to a broad audience -- which many argue that it should. Though the movie centers on an Asian American narrative, cast members and filmmakers argue this is a universal story.

For example, John Penotti said that when he read the script, the characters reminded him of his own "just as crazy" family in Sicily.

“I felt like if I could be moved by a culture and a story that I didn’t have a familiarity with, lots of other people will, too,” Penotti said.

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The making of “Crazy Rich Asians” joins the list of movies to feature minority cast members including “Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther,” and “Love, Simon” in recent years, making an apparent shift towards inclusivity. However, Hollywood still has a long way to go. A new study by the University of Southern California Annenberg found little change in the amount of diverse portrayals and creators in popular movies from 2007 to 2017. Hollywood is still largely white and male, the study concluded.

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When asked what else needs to be done in the industry to propel this change further, Kwan said, “Hollywood in general needs to start taking more risks and open itself up to really curating and nurturing talent, again.”

“Everybody hopes this movie will be successful and I hope that but if it’s not it shouldn’t matter we should be telling and making movies like this every year,” Santos added. “Do you know how many movies white people get to make? If we throw the dart and it doesn’t stick, we should be given another chance to throw another dart, and throw another dart after that just give us a chance.”

With more opportunities to create content, more people will get to see themselves in mainstream media, Awkwafina, who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s best friend, said.

“I see Asian Americans, they leave these screenings and they’re in tears. I had a conversation with one and she said, ‘I don’t know why I just needed to cry,’" she added. "It was a joy she couldn’t put her finger on and it was the feeling of representation.”

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