Opening Doors: Henry Golding on “Crazy Rich Asians”
Cary Chow of ESPN’s The Undefeated speaks with ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ star Henry Golding about the pressure facing ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ comparisons to ‘Black Panther,’ and Hollywood portrayals of Asian men.
Cary Chow: You know the hype. This is the first major Hollywood film since 1993. [Director] Jon Chu called it a movement. Do you feel that “Crazy Rich Asians” and everything it entails has become more than a movie?
Henry Golding: It’s the possibility of having unique and authentic stories being told. We haven’t had this platform available to us, so this is a step in the right direction. Is it everything that Asians around the world want? No. There’s so much to be added to this. This is one story out of millions that could have possibly been told. And millions others will be told because of it. Is it a movement? Absolutely. Is it everything that we’re waiting for at this moment, the answers to all our questions? No. There’s so much to be said and shared, but I definitely think this is a step in the right direction.
CC: Because of the Asian American cast, because of the Asian American director, this movie is being called the ‘Asian Black Panther.’ What do you make of the comparison to ‘Black Panther?’
HG: It’s not the right comparison to make. That is the black community’s film and something the black community should be proud of. We should be proud of our own film and supporting our own things, not comparing it to other people’s stories. We have such different tales to tell. Is it in line with what ‘Black Panther’ represents? Yes. It’s about stories that have been buried in Hollywood. For us, it’s the first ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ or it’s the first contemporary Asian tale with two romantic leading actors in Hollywood. Get aboard that. I think everyone should be proud of their own projects, and we should definitely be proud of this one.
CC: You’ve been on the other side of press junket as a journalist, asking these questions. Why do you think it’s taken so long for Asian Americans to get this platform and have this opportunity?
HG: I think with the advent of technology everyone has a voice. Everybody’s able to tag a studio and complain to them about whitewashing. Everybody’s allowed to put opinion pieces out. Back then it never existed. So now we’re seeing a space where studios can be dictated by the masses. If [the masses] are unhappy with something, for instance Scarlett Johansson playing a trans character in a movie, there was such uproar that she stepped down, that was through the power of social media and people asking why can’t we tell our own stories?
CC: I love how this movie attacked the stereotype of the desexualized Asian man. What do you hope this movie does for the media portrayals of Asian men?
HG: It’s to give them the confidence that they’re can be leading men of all different shapes of sizes. Jimmy O’Yang played the Bernard Tai character with belly out, gold chain on, this obnoxious sort of laugh. You have the suave Ronny Chieng in his sharp suits. The guy next door [role] of Colin, [played by] Chris Pang. The flamboyant rainbow sheet of a character with Nico Santo’s character, Oliver. But one thing we all have in common within the film is that we own that character. It’s not a stereotype. That’s a character that’s been written into the story to be larger than life and the actors who were brought on to portray that, owned it so hard that it became so confident. You can see the confidence oozing out of every scene.
CC: What comes to mind when you think of Asian men in movies?
HG: I grew up a lot in Asia so my representation of the Asian story is very different from someone who grew up in America. I grew up watching old black and white Malaysian films, musicals, Hong Kong action stories all subtitled, so my perspective is slightly different. For me, whenever I watched Hollywood, it was always like — oh, this character only has 2–3 lines or he’s the goofy guy or the tech guy or those types of stereotypes, so I was very aware that was happening in Hollywood. But for someone who grew up a lot in Asia, it’s a different story.
CC: Jon Chu is obviously very aware of this Asian male stereotype of being emasculated and it seemed like he was trying to destroy it. As you were filming, did that go through your mind?
HG: We all knew this project meant so much to everybody. For Jon, he has an amazing brother Larry, who’s 6’3", super handsome, really gregarious. And I think [Jon] really put into these characters his experiences with his family and the hardships they endured. He tells this story about how Larry watched the film for the first time and cried [in the scene] when I stepped out in that white suit. He’s like: ‘I’ve never seen us as Asians portrayed in such amazing ways that it takes your breath away.’ It moved him so much. You can tell that this film does break those stereotypes.
CC: What have you made of the reaction from the community to this film? What does it say about the state of Asian Americans craving mass media content?
HG: It says they’re ready. They’re up in arms. They have their riots shields on, their helmets strapped, and they’re ready not to back down with something like this. I’m in San Francisco. We’ve heard of numerous cinemas being bought out. I can name at least 14, 15 people who’ve bought multiple cinemas and that’s showing support. They’ve seen the film. They know the impact it’s going to make. Hopefully with everyone who’s seen the movie and previews, they tell their friends, they come back, they bring people. They bring their best friend who’s not Asian, and they bring their family. It’s going to be a peer-to-peer movement.
CC: Do you guys find there’s additional pressure on this movie to be a hit because of the potential?
HG: Absolutely. There are so many critics who are panning it because I’m half-white, or panning it because it’s made of the rich population of Singapore. It’s not realistic. You have to keep in mind it’s a movie about a fictitious book and characters that are larger than life. It’s not meant to represent true Asians. It’s meant to open the door to true Asian stories. Having those roles made for us and those characters having voices. For people to be pressuring us or criticizing us, like — ‘That doesn’t represent my Asian.’ Of course it doesn’t. We’re opening the doors for other storytellers to tell their stories and be able to, whatever’s important for them, stand up for it. To say, ‘I have a valued voice and I’m willing to tell my story.’
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC is an advocate for fair and equal representation of Asian Americans in the media.