There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding the release of the movie based on University of Houston-Clear Lake alumnus Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book, “Crazy Rich Asians,” which premiered Aug. 15.
Fans of Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy have been flocking to see the rom-com, but according to UH-Clear Lake’s Associate Professor of Humanities Shreerekha Subramanian, who specializes in Asian American and South Asian literature and cinema, the movie’s impact on American entertainment culture will continue to resonate far beyond this summer.
“In the past, Hollywood has not paid much attention to Asians,” Subramanian said. “The last film that really reached the masses and capitalized on Asian actors was the 1993 film ‘The Joy Luck Club.’ That movie undid a century of stereotypes about Asian women who generally played the exotic ‘geisha’ type, or the exploited or maligned characters. That film rounded out the characters and for the first time, allowed audiences to see Asian women in powerful roles.”
Similarly, Kwan’s novel rendered into film by director Jon M. Chu spotlighting an all-Asian cast, are important for a number of reasons.
“His novel offers us a romantic, powerful Asian male hero figure who is super wealthy,” Subramanian said. “Rather than being tokenized, Asian masculinity is center stage on the Hollywood screen. Although the plot centers on the lives of a tiny group of ultra-wealthy Asian families in Singapore, they’re humanized. It offers Americans a new narrative about Asian lives.”
Until now, she explained, Asian literature in America has focused on the Asian immigrant narrative — their struggle to gain a foothold in a strange land and finding their place in the American Dream, all the while remaining somehow in the shadows.
“This novel and the movie break away from that narrative, which by late 20th century, almost became a cliché,” Subramanian said. “There was a real sense of joy in the theater. There’s a sense of empowerment and a feeling of belonging. As an immigrant people, you know you have arrived when the screen mirrors your face back to you. It’s important for children to see people who look like them in the movies.”
Things have certainly changed. Bloomberg reports that the world’s wealthiest individuals are rolling forward with Asian billionaires in the lead. In the last year, Asian economic expansion has created, on average, a new billionaire every second day.
“With that rise in capital, Asians are now driving the story about what we think about wealth and status,” Subramanian said. “This is a story about the lives of people told through the power of their money. That makes this story about Asian Americans even richer — pun intended.”