Bestselling author Kevin Kwan was once asked by a film producer to whitewash his book “Crazy Rich Asians” because, well, of course he was.
Kwan’s 2013 novel drew praise for its ability to bridge the gap between modern Asian culture and a Western audience. “Crazy Rich Asians” centers on an Chinese-American, Rachel, who travels with her boyfriend, Nick, to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and then struggles to find her place with his family.
Kwan told Entertainment Weekly that a producer who wanted to adapt the novel for film asked him to “reimagine” his protagonist as a white woman.
“I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely,’ ” Kwan told EW. “I said, ‘No, thank you.’ ”
Asians are extremely underrepresented in Hollywood, in television and especially in film. A report from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that there was little change in representation for Asians in the most popular movies from 2007 to 2015, averaging 3.9 percent of characters in that time span.
Even in films that come directly from Asian stories, white actors are typically cast in the leading role. “Ghost in the Shell” producers received backlash for casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead character, even though the movie was based on a Japanese manga series. And Emma Stone was the subject of criticism after she took on the role of the part-Asian character Allison Ng in the film “Aloha,” which was based on a true story.
Michelle Yeoh, the Malaysian-born actress who plays Nick’s mother in “Crazy Rich Asians,” remarked on how exceptional the film’s representation is for the minority group.
“It’s been too long since there’s been an all-Asian cast,” Yeoh told EW. “I’ve been very lucky to have worked on one before [2005’s "Memoirs of a Geisha"], but they’re too few and far between.”