We may, in fact, be in the renaissance of good romantic comedies (think the 90s, not the early 2000s). The latest in this slowly evolving new trend is Crazy Rich Asians, based on the book by Kevin Kwan.
It is, once more, the love story of a heterosexual couple, but its diversity and focus on a culture that is decidedly not white or European demands LGBTI people support it.
Directed by Jon Chu, the film stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, and more.
It follows a young Asian-American woman, Rachel Chu (Wu), who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young (Golding), to meet his family. Once there, she finds out they’re one of the richest families in the country.
Crazy Rich Asians has all the hallmarks of a good rom-com — a scene-stealing best friend, montage sequences, a killer soundtrack, and lots of feelings — all while putting diversity and discussions of class, nationality, and identity front and center.
When diversity succeeds, we all win
So why, when the movie tells the story of two straight people, should LGBTI people actively support it?
Because intersectionality helps all marginalized communities, especially when we’re supporting each other.
Intersectionality is the examination of connected systems of power and how they affect and oppress marginalized groups.
It first originated with the feminist movement. As bell hooks wrote in her book Feminist Theory: from margin to center, intersectionality ‘challenged the notion that “gender” was the primary factor determining a woman’s fate’.
In other words, the feminist movement must acknowledge and understand how things other than gender affect a woman’s life — such as race, class, religion, and more. It is why movements like Black Lives Matter, or trans equality and advocacy, are just as much feminist movements as they are black and LGBTI movements.
Crazy Rich Asians is the first all-Asian Hollywood film in 25 years.
This is a feat for an under-represented group of people, both in media and elsewhere. It is also a win for all diverse groups who struggle with representation and that is why its success is so crucial, not unlike Moonlight’s Best Picture win last year.
When Hollywood is an industry dominated by straight, cis, white men, it matters that movies which don’t look like that do well. It proves to audiences, creators, and executives alike that diverse stories — all diverse stories — are worth telling.
Plus there is LGBTI representation
Even better, there is, in fact, LGBTI representation in Crazy Rich Asians.
Nico Santos, an openly out actor, plays Oliver in the film. Oliver is a member of Nick’s family who describes himself as the ‘rainbow sheep’ of the Young family.
Oliver slightly toes the line of a stereotypical gay male character — a fashion designer, flamboyant, etc. Though it’s worth remembering this is only stereotypical because it’s the most common way gay men are depicted on screen, not because it’s not realistic for some people. He is also depicted as a supportive, family-oriented, compassionate character.
It’s also worth noting that Oliver is — presumably — out to his family and that is important, given the culture and location.
There have also been some readings of Awkwafina’s character as queer.
In Singapore, there are no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI people. Both same-sex sexual activity and adoption are also both illegal in the country.
Further, queer people of color have demonstrably less representation than their white peers.
GLAAD’s recent Studio Responsibility Index revealed of all major studio films released in 2017, 43% of LGBTI characters in the film were white. Another 28.5% of black and Latinx characters, each, were LGBTI.
Last year, there were zero Asian LGBTI characters.
It’s also a good film
And you know what? Crazy Rich Asians, quite simply, is also a really great film.
Chu, known for films like Step Up 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Jem and the Holograms, tackles a new genre for his filmography effortlessly, relying on old rom-com tropes with a fresh spin. The pace of the film moves well, as you get sucked into the glamorous world of the most elite in Singapore.
Audiences will all at once be swept away, and grounded by Wu’s performance. More of a wallflower than her wealthier counterparts, Wu is instantly likable as Rachel and even easier to root for.
It’s Chan, though, who gives perhaps the best performance of the film as Nick’s cousin, Astrid, whose never-ending kindness is both endearing and awe-inspiring.
Rom-coms absolutely need more queer love stories. They are a beloved genre in the world of film and there’s no reason beyond old, tired, stick-in-the-mud attitudes, why they shouldn’t tell sweeping stories about queer people falling in love too.
This doesn’t mean, however, we shouldn’t be supporting and celebrating Crazy Rich Asians for what it’s individually accomplishing.
Championing our own rights and equality means nothing if we are not intersectional allies to other marginalized people.
Crazy Rich Asians comes out on 15 August in the US.