At the Movies

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A scene from the movie "Crazy Rich Asians" where two women and a man wearing formal attire converse with one another

Q: It’s been 25 years since a majority Asian cast played on the big screen, with The Joy Luck Club. Will Crazy Rich Asians change Hollywood?

We probably won’t see another movie like this anytime soon, says Lori Kido Lopez, a UW associate professor of communication arts and an expert in Asian American media representation. Hollywood holds assumptions steeped in racism, she says, namely that mainstream audiences aren’t interested in Asian American stories. Because studios invest millions into movies up front, the industry tends to be risk averse and gravitates toward “safe options.”

When minority filmmakers move from independent cinema to the mainstream, they’re often forced to make compromises to appeal to white audiences, such as adding white characters or de-politicizing plotlines. In recent years, Asian Americans have used Twitter campaigns to spark a national conversation. For example, #whitewashedOUT criticized Hollywood for casting white actors in Asian roles. Lopez notes that Asian Americans have campaigned for greater representation for decades, and progress is slow. “The way the movie industry came to those assumptions is just something that’s so deeply baked into our culture that one movie is not going to shake it,” she says. “But this movie could be a stepping-stone for other big changes.”

Published in the Fall 2018 issue

Tags: Film, Research

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