"You may or may not know that it is the first All-Asian cast for an American Hollywood studio in a long, long time," film director Jon M. Chu says into the camera in a video on YouTube where he request Asian actors to audition for a role in his upcoming feature project, Crazy Rich Asians.
The film, adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, is set to make history by, like Chu said, casting all Asian actors. The only other Hollywood movie to do the same was 1993's The Joy Luck Club, which was also based on the 1989 best-selling novel of the same name.
But, as a piece on Buzzfeed points out, this is a not so simple task. It's an uphill battle going against the prevalent and historic casting problem in Hollywood. Want an All-American blonde? No problem. A brown-haired muscular white twentysomething man? Sure thing. But a dozen or so Asian actors? Not so fast. Especially the "cream-of-the-crop Asian cast that Chu says he wants. An example of the ideal cast member would be the talented Constance Wu, who he had in mind to play the lead character, Rachel, from the beginning. She officially signed on earlier this month, after figuring out her schedule since she also appears on ABC's Fresh Off The Boat. She is "perfect" for the role, he says, and he needs more like her. Five more for the lead characters, to be precise.
In the interview with Buzzfeed, the director says that the biggest problem with finding the right people to cast in this film is that traditionally Asian actors are not given enough access to agents, managers, and casting directors. "When I do a ‘regular’ movie with Caucasian actors as the leads, actors are everywhere," he says. The problem, he explains, is that they're inexperienced because they are rarely given the opportunity to hone their work: "There are not parts for these people, and so … why would they have a manager?... It’s a systemic problem because there aren’t enough leading-man roles for people to cut their teeth on and learn how to be a leading man. As an Asian male myself, I feel like this representation is very important to me, and I want it to be a range of dudes that have a range of looks and feels, so it’s not just one-note either." To find those nuanced actors right for the roles takes time, and time means slower production, and slower production means more money spent.
Beyond that, Chu faces another issue: "One of the biggest questions now is: Do we have to hire a Chinese to play a Chinese? Can you have a Korean play a Chinese? Can you have a Japanese play a Chinese? Can you have a mix?" Chu asks. He has turned to many of his own Asian friends to figure out the answer to this question, but is still is unsure of the answer. "I mean, Meryl Streep can play any ethnicity that she kind of looks like. We have U.S. soldiers being played by British dudes and superheroes — very American superheroes — being played by other people, so why do [Asian-Americans] need to have that kind of restriction?"
Through his tireless work casting, then filming, the sure-to-be impressive film (it will also be the FIRST Hollywood rom-com with an Asian cast which is just... so long overdue), he hopes to usher in a new wave of films depicting diverse casts like the one he will (eventually) have in Crazy, Rich, Asians. And we can't thank him enough for it.