Reel Corner - October 2019

What’s Hot in Films? Asian American Stories

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What’s Hot in Films?
Asian American Stories

October 2019 Issue
by Donne Paine

It took the successful release of the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, a global phenomenon that raked in $238 million at the box office, to reinforce the idea that diversity could also mean good business. Now the door is opening a little wider for Asian Americans and their stories. Prior, most Asian American actor roles were delegated to parts that required accents and rarely reflected their actual experiences.

Awkwafina, (born Nora Lum) one of the actresses in Crazy Rich Asians, has joined several movie franchises (Angry Birds and Jumanji) and earned rave reviews for Lulu Wang’s The Farewell since her role in the film.

The shift isn’t just a matter of gatekeepers finally saying yes; it is changes in the gatekeepers themselves. Over the past decade, Asian Americans have become showrunners, studio executives, lead agents and producers. They have formed tight-knit groups to champion one another and their stories.

As a new wave of stories arrives from The Farewell to Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe to the Japanese American horror series The Terror, Hollywood is shifting away from the mirage of diversity toward more specific and lasting forms of representation, and it is working. The new wave of Asian American films are refreshing, with strong messages full of traditions and heart.

A gradual shift is taking place. Movies starring and directed by African Americans, including Creed, Get Out and Black Panther, were critically acclaimed blockbusters, altering the idea of what a hit could look like. And a new class of diverse executives at major studios are starting to greenlight projects that may have been considered risky in a previous era.

Writer/director Lulu Wang was equally persistent when it came to The Farewell. In the semi-autobiographical drama, Awkwafina stars as a Chinese-American woman struggling to say goodbye to her grandmother, who doesn’t know she has terminal cancer.

Wang insisted on preserving each detail, even if it meant the story would never be told. She eventually found producers willing to give her creative control, and in January 2019, The Farewell premiered at Sundance to rapturous acclaim and was picked up by A24, which has distributed films, including Moonlight and Lady Bird. Then Gold House—the Asian collective that helped propel Crazy Rich Asians—will launch a campaign to buy out theaters, host VIP screenings and spread awareness on social media. The improbable result of this concerted effort is that an Asian-American movie that nearly never saw the light of day has a chance to compete at the 2020 Oscars. My vote is …it is worthy.

Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao (Nai Nai)
Directed by Lulu Wang

The film follows a Chinese family, when they discover their beloved Grandmother has only a short while to live, to decide to keep her in the dark and schedule an impromptu wedding to gather before she passes. Billi (Awkwafina), feeling like a fish out of water in her home country, struggles with the family’s decision to hide the truth from her grandmother. There is something special about the traditions of Asian cultures. This film offers powerful messages about life, death, truth, respect and timing. The Farewell is one of those small-film gems that is worth searching for.


ReelCorner DonneHeadshot0318
Donne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Wells Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts­—especially films—she travels to local and national film festivals including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film goers to support Hilton Head local theaters—Coligny, Park Plaza and Northridge theaters. To support her habit of frequent movie going Donne is a retired executive recruiter and staff development consultant. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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