A Producer Wanted to Whitewash the 'Crazy Rich Asians' Movie, But the Book's Author Wasn't Having It

When producers originally began approaching author Kevin Kwan about making his bestselling book Crazy Rich Asians into a movie, some of their pitches were off base, to say the least. He specifically remembers one producer who wanted to cast the lead female role, Rachel Chu, as Caucasian. Just based on the title of the book, you should be able to tell that would change the entire narrative. Not surprisingly, Kwan was having none of it. 

“That was their strategy,” Kwan told Entertainment Weekly. “They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl. I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.’ I said, ‘No, thank you.'” Changing Rachel into a white protagonist wouldn't make much sense considering the story is about a Chinese-American woman returning to Asia. 

Whitewashing—casting white actors in non-white roles—is already a massive problem in Hollywood. The Crazy Rich Asians movie now has an all-Asian cast, with Henry Golding (Nick Young) and Constance Wu (Rachel Chu) playing the leads. Hollywood obviously wisened up to the fact that part of the book's power is in its representation of modern Asian culture.

The cast is proud of how the film represents Asians. Michelle Yeoh, who plays Nick's mother, noted how exceptional this cast is. “It’s been too long since there’s been an all-Asian cast,” she told EW

Constance Wu thinks it's important "to see Asians and Asian-Americans and Asian-Australians and Asian-British in a context that isn't like a period piece, like a dated piece—like contemporary people with contemporary problems, and not just the idea of an Asian but their real lives."

"The story itself is colored with so many characters and each character could have their own spin-off book or movie, just because they're so rich," Henry Golding said. "That has never really been explored identity wise for Asians in cinema. They've always sort of been typecast as the, you know, sidekick or have a very sort of bit role." 

Kwan said fans of the book seem supportive of his decision to turn down a whitewashed film adaptation. Even though Hollywood might seem stuck in its ways, when Kwan told readers how that producer wanted to whitewash the protagonist, they were just as upset as he was. “You should’ve heard them scream,” Kwan said. “They were like, ‘Nooo!’ I remember one woman saying, ‘What makes these people think that all we want to do is see the same white actors or actresses on screen?’ To hear that reaction really confirmed for me what the audience wanted.” 

Kwan eventually found a producer and director who supported his vision, which gives him hope that all of Hollywood will soon catch on. "I do think the tide is turning, and my personal experience as far as I’m concerned has always been a very positive one, from the very beginning,” he said. “I had one of the top producers in Hollywood come to me wanting to make this movie and wanting to do it right, so I think the culture is shifting." 

Let's hope the momentum continues. Crazy Rich Asians is set to be released in August 2018.