Shhh. Can you hear that? Way off in the distance, the word 'representation' is being shouted from the Hollywood hills, and people are actually starting to listen! It's becoming an increasingly prevalent measure of whether a new film is worthy of sincere celebration. And when Crazy Rich Asians hit American cinemas last month, we could feel the excitement reverberating all the way here in Blighty.
It's the first Hollywood film to boast an all-Asian cast in 25 years. Outrageous and overdue for sure, but a poignant breakthrough nonetheless. In the wake of films like Black Panther, which was also a milestone in hiring a predominantly black cast for a film with a black narrative, it feels like the cinematic powers that be are (slowly) starting to understand the importance of authentically telling diverse stories. A note worth making: both films absolutely smashed it at the box office and made a shitload of money, too.
British actress Gemma Chan (whom you'll recognise from Humans, Fresh Meat and Secret Diary of a Call Girl) stars as Astrid, one of the most glamorous, intelligent and, yes, wealthy, of the Crazy Rich Asians gang. Chatting to Chan ahead of the film's UK release, we asked whether the early excitement about the all-Asian cast put any pressure on how the film would be received. "Well, I certainly felt that the film could be something special when we were making it," she tells Refinery29. "But you just don't know. You don't know how people are going to receive it. You hope that it's all going to come together and it does feel significant and it is a milestone for representation but ultimately, it had to be a good movie for it to work."
Crazy Rich Asians is the quintessential rom-com. Without giving away any real spoilers, you could probably predict the film's story arc. Boy meets girl. Girl finds out boy is super rich and must find a way to navigate the dramatically different lifestyle into which she's not exactly welcomed. At its core, it's a love story, which is probably why it resonated with such a wide audience. That's not to say that the film hasn't been without its criticisms – some have said that it generalises a wide and varied ethnicity, while others have questioned why they didn't tell a completely new story instead of repeating a tired Hollywood formula – but the thing we risk forgetting is that Crazy Rich Asians is not the be-all and end-all for Asian casts and narratives breaking into the mainstream. It will hopefully be a stepping stone that will encourage an increasingly varied selection of stories to be told going forwards. The important thing here is legacy.
"I've been working now for 10 years and I do think things have shifted from then; even five years ago I wouldn't have imagined this film would've been made," Chan tells us. Each step towards normalising diversity in cinema paves the way for even more progressive stories to build on the success of the ones that came before. That, if you ask me, is the real magic of Crazy Rich Asians.
Ahead, we delve into the film a little bit more. We talk to Chan about why her character Astrid resonated with her, what it might take for 'diverse' films to become normal, and how representation in UK entertainment compares to our American counterparts. Watch the full interview below.
Crazy Rich Asians is in UK cinemas from Friday 14th September