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Why Asian-led Hollywood Blockbusters Matter

I’m sure we’ve all seen at least one of the two hit movies “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.

Did you picture yourself as one of the characters ? Imagined yourself fighting off the forces of evil, or having an epic main character moment battling your crazy future mother-in-law at m

Would that be a lot harder to picture if Constance Wu and Simu Liu weren’t cast in the role of the main character, but Scarlett Johanssen (cough) and Noah Centineo had the roles instead?

Representation in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while, at least on social media, where fans have been calling for there to be more than just a token character of colour meant to appease audiences of colour.

Asians tend to be slotted into the stereotypical ‘math nerd’ or ‘computer nerd’ or maybe even ‘hot nerd’ category for many Hollywood movies, or worse still, the ever-attractive exotic Asian femme fatale whose only purpose is to showcase the usually-white male main character’s irresistible charm.

For years, Hollywood producers have been hesitant about casting people of colour in main roles, with the excuse that they didn’t think it would appeal to the masses. In the case of the Asian population, since two-thirds of the world’s population actually reside in Asia, so we are in fact, the masses.

Prior to the release of these two movies, Asian audiences were rife with excitement of having a predominantly Asian-centred film. Fans were eagerly picturing their favourite Asian actors and actresses in the vaunted roles.

With the eventual over-the-top success of Crazy Rich Asians, the world’s first ever all-Asian Hollywood blockbuster set in our quaint little city of Singapore, it showed the world and Hollywood especially, that audiences did in fact want to see more than just Euro-centric content.

This ensured that more of such movies could possibly be in the works in the future; not just Asian films, but movies centering around other racial groups.

By having an all-Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians allowed for East Asians across the globe to feel a sense of connection to the characters on-screen; the suave, handsome guy being with the smart, beautiful girl, no longer portrayed by guys with startling blue eyes or girls with flowing blonde hair, but rather much more familiar faces.

The film also utilised the popular Chinese game of mahjong to illustrate the key point of the film; being able to sacrifice one’s personal happiness for the sake of one’s family.

Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, an American economics professor, playing in an intense mahjong game against her boyfriend's disapproving mother, played by Michelle Yeoh

There’s been white heroes, black heroes, female heroes, but this year’s Shang Chi in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Asian superhero to grace the big-screen, bringing to life the dreams of little Asian children across the globe.

Understandably, Shang Chi is only representative of the East Asian population, but considering Hollywood’s history, we’ll take what we can get for now.

This movie seamlessly weaved mentions of traditional Asian culture into the film. Katy’s grandmother burning offerings to her deceased husband as well as Wenwu’s mention of the Qing Ming Festival (清明节) or the Tomb-sweeping day, was a passing but nevertheless noteworthy ode to the ancient Chinese tradition of paying respect to one’s ancestors.

With the casual introduction of Asian culture and traditions into mainstream media, it takes away from the relatively common notion that Asians traditions are all weird and without basis.

As Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu said, "We didn't want to give people an excuse to think of [the film] as some kind of obscure, exotic fantasyland -- this is a real place, with real culture, history and tradition, and instead of just giving them answers to their questions, we want them to have conversations."

The industry is taking baby steps towards racial and ethnic inclusivity, but the efforts so far have given younger generations a more inclusive set of role models and standards to live up to.

If you haven’t seen Shang Chi in cinemas yet, be sure to catch it; you won’t regret it !

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