Is Crazy Rich Asians the Asian Black Panther?
Oh, I have to argue this with actual cogent thoughts even though I haven’t read the book.
In that case… maybe.
This movie is based off a book that is part of a Crazy Rich series much like how Black Panther is based off a comic book series that is now part of a crazy rich movie franchise. If Crazy Rich Asians can rake in the cash, much like how Black Panther did, then you can expect crazier rich sequel(s). Also, judging from the trailer, it seems that money was no object, so let’s hope the movie at least makes its wardrobe budget back.
Notably, this film seems to clearly distinguish what many non-Asians (wypipo) don’t seem to acknowledge, which is that Asians from Asia and Asian-Americans are quite different. Now, with Black Panther, there is a world of difference in power dynamics and culture because of history (wypipo), so it’s rather incomparable.
Many Asian-Americans are a result of their parents’ choice to come to America, although one could argue it wasn’t much of a choice if one’s country was falling due to political unrest. However, most African-Americans did not have a choice at all when coming to America. The only aspect we can really compare here is that Africans and African-Americans are different. T’Challa and Erik Killmonger represent some of these differences, and although, I’m an Asian-American, I found myself empathizing and siding with Killmonger during the film — which speaks to the level of character work director, Ryan Coogler and writer, Joe Robert Cole, did — because, for better or worse, I identified with the American antagonist.
To speak frankly to my Asians, there is a clear distinction between FOBs and Twinkies (or bananas). Twinkies seem like bastardized Asians to a FOB, and FOBs sound like younger versions of our parents to a Twinkie. Neither are very appealing dynamics. So when in Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel, an Asian-American, goes to her boyfriend Nick’s motherland of Singapore, she meets her FOB (oh how the roles have turned for Constance Wu) nemesis in Eleanor Yang, Nick’s Crazy Rich mother. I’m not saying that if T’Challa brought an African-American woman home to meet Ramonda, there’d be hell to pay, but after what happened with Killmonger, she’d be skeptical. Also, sequel idea with Tiffany Haddish. Black Panther: Guess Who’s Coming to Wakanda. You’re welcome.
Now, will Rachel win over Eleanor in this international rom-com? I’m assuming yes because much like superhero movies, most rom-coms have happy endings. But that isn’t the point of Crazy Rich Asians. Much like Black Panther, it’s to show the world, especially Asians and Asian-Americans, that we exist. Despite our differences in culture and language and upbringing, we’re people too with real problems. Although, you could do worse than your boyfriend’s rich mother not liking you.
This is obviously where the comparison falls flat. At face value, Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther couldn’t be further apart. But if you look again at face value, it coincides quite a bit.
Black Panther wasn’t the first black superhero movie (shout out Meteor Man, Blade, and hell even Steel), but it is the first to make over 1.3 billion dollars worldwide, with over 680 million of that made in North America. It is also the first good black superhero movie. Now, I’m a fan of Blade as much as anyone and you could argue that Shaft is a superhero as well, but those movies/shows do not come close to the quality of film Coogler made. No offense, but those previous movies/shows don’t even come close in the quality of actors and actresses in Black Panther.
I bring this up because it’s very possible that for all the lavish budget and for all the Asian and Asian-American talent in front of and behind the camera for Crazy Rich Asians, it may turn out that the movie isn’t of the highest caliber. Obviously, it remains to be seen and I could be (happily) wrong. But we have to remain open to the possibility and I think this is where the movie falls in line with both Black Panther and its predecessors. For all the victories Crazy Rich Asians has already lined up in terms of representation and specific cultural storytelling, it can still fail at the box office and on the critic’s scorecards.
And that’s ok.
Black Panther’s success wasn’t overnight. It took many black filmmakers and talent to open the door to making films about black people, for black people, and by black people.
Not all films are created equally in terms of quality, but all filmmakers should be given equal opportunity to try.
This is where Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther are most similar. People of color were given the opportunity to make a movie for people of color about people of color.
Circling back to the superhero aspect, Crazy Rich Asians is obviously not that because we’re still new to the game. We still have yet to make any kind of blockbuster let alone a superhero movie. But we’ve been quietly making strides in American cinema. I can list out movies like The Joy Luck Club, Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face, The Motel, The Namesake, Spa Night, Seoul Searching, Gook, and Columbus as indications of the turning tide. To be honest, I can list them out because these are the movies I’ve been waiting for and have been fortunate to see in my lifetime.
The chances of me seeing an Asian-American superhero movie doesn’t seem so out of reach, but we still have to reach for it and work towards it.
So is Crazy Rich Asians the Asian Black Panther?
No, but it sure feels like it.