“Crazy Rich Asians” has become a milestone for Asian American representation in film, exceeding industry expectations and bringing in $76.8 million in two weeks, showing an unprecedented hold in sales in its second weekend. As the first Hollywood movie to come along in 25 years featuring an all-Asian cast, the enthusiasm for the film reaches beyond Asian and Asian American audiences as positive reviews grow.
In Austin, more than 2,000 people turned out to the Austin Asian American Film Festival’s Crazy Rich Asians VIP Soiree and Night Market, Aug. 4 at the Long Center. VIP attendees met and mingled with actors and screenwriters from the film, while others enjoyed the free, family-friendly night market outdoors.
“Crazy Rich Asians” actors Ronny Chieng and Chris Pang, as well as screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, participated in a panel discussion moderated by actor and community activist Minji Chang of Kollaboration, and met with attendees afterwards.
“It’s my first time in Austin… I’m loving it so far,” Pang said. “I love the feeling on Austin. You feel instantly at home.”
The night market provided a rich experience including various Asian foods and drinks, live music by DJ KidStylez, voter registration, community booths and copies of “Crazy Rich Asian” were on sale by Kinokuniya, Austin’s newest Japanese bookstore. The variety of experiences also showcased the diverse contributions of Asian Americans.
“There aren’t a lot of Asian female artists,” said Houston artist Anna Vy, who created a mural on-site inspired by Constance Wu. “It breaks the stereotype.”
Chef and MasterChef winner Christine Ha created a special menu for the event. Designer and Project Runway winner Chloe Dao and celebrity hair and makeup artist Tiffany Lee of Studio Tilee also showcased their works.
“The film is all about high fashion.,” Dao said. “It’s about the crazy, rich Asians who can afford all the top designers. It shows how diverse we are as Asians.”
Overwhelmingly, the general sentiment of the evening was that it was time to see Asian Americans better represented.
“I think it’s great they’re showing us as people,” said Austin-based actor Roger Chan. “You never see Asian men and Asian women in a love story. They see us as [a stereotype] and that’s insulting.”
With the AAAFF event’s success as the largest activation event for the film in the country, Texas represents an important frontier in the Asian American community.
“This is a great opportunity to scale up to show Austin can be a bastion for media and arts,” said AAAFF board member Wajiha Rizvi.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE LARGEST US ACTIVATION EVENT FOR “CRAZY RICH ASIANS”
I had the chance to ask Austin Asian American Film Festival Board Members Andrew Lee, Christine Hoang and June Lien more about the event and how it came to be.
What does it mean to you for Austin to host the largest community-based event in anticipation for the movie premiere?
Hoang: It means that things aren’t just happening in L.A. and New York. Asian Americans in the South have a voice and can make an impact too. Austin is home to many passionate Asian American creatives and we make things happen here because we have talent AND we do the work. Hopefully our efforts will draw more focus on Asian Americans in the South and get folks interested in the stories we have to tell and the work we do.
Lee: AAAFF just became a non-profit organization in the winter of 2017, and while we’ve had 11 years of film festivals, I felt that AAAFF needed to match the scope of the national conversation through a calling card event that will help put our film festival on the map and that Austin will show up in a big way to represent Texas’s Asian population, the third largest in the nation.
Lien described the whirlwind pace in which the event came together with the celebrity guests from the film confirming attendance just four weeks ahead of the event. VIP tickets for the activation event were completely sold out.
Lien: We didn’t know we were going to be the biggest one. As we get closer to the event, the marketing group at Warner Bros. were telling us about other events. We were all floored but proud we were able to make it happen. It felt like it was our time.
What was the most memorable comment/discussion point you heard during the panel discussion?
Lee: Ronny Chieng had commented on the idea that there was nothing more emasculating than Asian men talking about being emasculated. He said that you just need to be masculine and that would be the best way to represent ourselves. The concept of putting aside our verbal/online complaints about representation and taking action TO BE what we want to be was a very affirming ideology that justifies our community to LEAD and not just be dissatisfied.
Hoang: I loved the entire panel discussion. CRA screenwriter Adele Lim spoke so eloquently about the struggle of being Asian American and not quite fitting in in America, and then not quite fitting in in Asia. There are huge societal and familial pressures on Asian Americans to achieve certain levels of success and “make it” because of our parents’ immigration sacrifices, and Adele said those specific pressures are unique to the Asian American experience as she did not see that when she grew up in Malaysia.
The event had so many different elements to it: live graffiti art, DJ, night market with local vendors, celebrity chef, voter registration, art display, fashion display, makeup, outdoor screenings, red carpet lineup, as well as the VIP event and panel discussion. What was the idea behind the lineup?
Hoang: The idea was to highlight the best we have to offer here as an Asian American community in Austin, in Texas, in the country, and in the world. We had folks from Houston and Dallas also come down to represent. We had VIP panelists who flew in from Manila and Los Angeles. The diverse Asian American representation you saw at our “Crazy Rich Austin” event demonstrates that we are more than the quiet, hardworking, “cause no trouble” model minority stereotype. We are artists. We are voters. We are activists.
Why is it important to support this film?
Lien: This is a big deal for us. The success of this one movie will greenlight six different movies [featuring Asian American lead actors] at different studios that are waiting to see how this does. The stakes are so high for this movie. This is a case of one equals six.
Hoang: Because it’s THE best Rom-Com of 2018. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Go read all the reviews supporting its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. And it’s also important to support CRA because #RepresentationMatters. We are mobilizing. We are doing the work. As director Jon Chu said, “It’s not just a movie, it’s a movement.” It’s time.
Tell me about AAAFF and how this event fits into your mission and what you are trying to accomplish?
Lee: AAAFF has been a volunteer-run film festival over the past 11 fests. It just so happened that the release of “Crazy Rich Asians” had the most perfectly aligned message with AAAFF’s mission: to tell Asian and Asian American stories via media arts and help Asian Americans explore opportunities in cinema. Representation in mainstream media encompasses both those pieces of our mission!
Learn more about the Austin Asian American Film Festival at aaafilmfest.org.