How Asian American Storytelling Is (Finally) Moving Forward In 2019
How are Asian American stories moving forward?
The release of rom-com Crazy Rich Asians last year was a game-changer for Asian American representation in film. With a host of the other Asian American led material recently released like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Always Be My Maybe, it looks like this may be snowballing into a movement. Here are three ways Asian American representation is making giant leaps forward.
1) There is a market for Asian American material.
There has been a hesitance in the entertainment industry to create material about the Asian American community for fear that there is not a profitable audience for it. Crazy Rich Asians smashed those concerns by breaking box office records with a cast of largely unknown Asian American actors. In a movie and television landscape where star power often carries projects, that was an unbelievable coup without household names. Nancy Wang Yuen, sociologist and author of Reel Inequality, notes, “There is a financial profit to be made; the Asian American audience is robust. Crazy Rich Asians showed us Asian American source material with Asian American directors can work.”
Even the film’s stars have noticed things changing within the industry because of this film. Gemma Chan, one of the stars of Crazy Rich Asians, told Deadline that she thinks things are shifting permanently, ”I couldn’t imagine them being made about five years ago. I don’t think studios would have taken the chance. So I’m really happy that things seem to be shifting, and it feels like it’s not just a trend; it feels like we’re here to stay.”
2) There is a need for behind-the-scenes community and authenticity.
Community and cultural authenticity are being recognized as important for creating this new, Asian American inclusive content. Randall Park and Ali Wong, co-creators of Always Be My Maybe, met while studying at UCLA, immersing themselves in Asian American studies. This allows for creative source materials to be built on the foundations of stronger Asian American identities.
Finding that community of Asian American creatives wanting to work and make things together is key. Nancy Wang Yuen emphasizes that “The talent has been there. There is more support, more platforms, [people are] more nurtured. There are more Asian Americans behind-the-scenes working on Asian American projects…a desire for Asian American writers to tell the story.”
Even on the business side, Asian American representation can be vital to getting underrepresented stories told. Phillip Sun, a talent agent, told The Hollywood Reporter, "The creator side is already fighting, but there's so many brave voices that need to be fought for on the business side…We're going to use it to catapult as many people forward as we can, not only on the artist side, but also the executives and producers who have been banging the drum for underrepresented voices."
3) There is universality in the specificity of the Asian American experience.
One of the most heartwarming things that seems to be becoming mainstream is the idea that the very specific Asian American experience can still be felt universally. We’ve seen this in other underrepresented communities, but it has been a bit more rare for Asian American creatives. Crazy Rich Asians worked because it is a classic romantic comedy through a very specific lens. Nancy Wang Yuen elaborates, “In the specificity, there’s universality. You can tell that it’s real because it’s so specific; that’s the beauty of this movie. Even if you don’t get all of the references, there’s a lot of different intersectionality — different class, generational, we are a multicultural society with different levels of wealth and backgrounds – there’s everything to relate to.”
Always Be My Maybe creator and star understood the same thing. Randall Park told The Washington Post that the cast’s diversity, “Was a reflection of our lives and a very real thing, especially in a city like San Francisco. It made sense to reflect the community in the story."
With the blockbuster success of Crazy Rich Asians, up-and-coming behind-the-scenes Asian American creatives and business people working together, and the growing recognition that there is a universality in the Asian American experience, one can only hope that we are in a golden age for new Asian American creative content.
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