2018’s Crazy Rich Asians was a fun, funny, feel-good movie, and a blast to watch. But one of the reasons it was such a big deal was that it successfully pushed back on Hollywood’s typical stereotyping of Asian actors. We don’t have to get into the specifics, but suffice it to say the film industry tends to employ Asian talent to fill a few typecast roles, which can overall contribute to a belittling, offensive, and notably inaccurate societal perception of an entire race or ethnicity. With Crazy Rich Asians though, we saw something different: a fairly conventional romantic comedy, with fairly ordinary roles that just happened to be filled by Asian actors because of the setting and specific subject matter.
It was a very progressive step for Asian and Asian immigrant activity in Hollywood. But what’s made it even more special is how key members of the cast have continued the fight, parlaying the success of Crazy Rich Asians into further success in non-stereotyped roles.
Previously known mostly for her work in Fresh Off The Boat, Candace Wu starred Crazy Rich Asians‘ lead, Rachel Chu – the spunky girlfriend to eligible bachelor Nick. The American-born actress recently opened up about being the child of immigrant parents, and how tough it can be. And it certainly appears as if some of those emotions are driving her career decisions, to wonderful effect. With her upcoming role as Destiny in Hustlers, Wu will continue her work to dispel stereotypes in the acting industry. The movie, in which she stars alongside Jennifer Lopez, is about former strippers who join ranks to get back at the businessmen who were their clients. It should be another interesting performance, and we can surely look forward to more excellent work from Wu in the future.
Awkwafina had breakout roles in Ocean’s Eight and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. But it was her work as Peik Lin Goh, Rachel’s best friend from college in Crazy Rich Asians, through which Awkwafina (born Nora Lum) really showed her potential. More recently, the actress made good on that potential with a stellar performance as the lead in The Farewell, an impactful film about family and the immigrant experience. It’s a little bit early for Oscars odds, but online sportsbook sites in the U.S. are likely to post them around this time of year, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Awkwafina with reasonable odds for a Best Actress nomination. She may be a slight long shot, but even the fact that it’s a conversation shows how well a young Asian actress can do with a role that doesn’t stereotype her.
As Nick’s cousin Astrid Young Teo in Crazy Rich Asians, Gemma Chan proved a force to be reckoned with. Her natural charm jumped off the screen, and yet she also portrayed a complex, realistic modern woman who frankly was deeper than so many of the characters we tend to see written for Asian actresses in American films. Beyond Crazy Rich Asians, Chan’s entry into the Marvel movies as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel made a splash as well. But she’ll really take a step forward in continuing to side-step stereotyped roles when she stars opposite Meryl Streep in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh comedy, Let Them All Talk.
As the eligible bachelor, Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding took Hollywood by storm. He broke through barriers not as a martial arts expert or high-strung goofball (two roles Asian men are asked to fill over and over again), but as a sort of high-end version of the typical rom-com heartthrob. Golding will make good on this image with another romantic comedy role in the upcoming Last Christmas, in which he stars with Emilia Clarke. And he’ll also appeal in the new Guy Ritchie crime comedy, The Gentlemen, about an Oklahoma drug lord trying to sell off his business to a group of rich men. Acting alongside other big names like Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant, Golding may just propel himself into elite Hollywood circles.
It seems these film stars have something to prove, and they’re on a roll doing so.