The film adaptation of the bestselling book Crazy Rich Asians is underway. It stars Constance Wu, British-Malaysian-Singaporean actor Henry Golding, and Michelle Yeoh, and is set to premiere in August 2018. The book immerses the reader into Asia through an American (and, specifically, Asian American) lens, and it’s a really big deal that the movie will reflect that with an entirely Asian main cast.
Of course, a successful story featuring all Asian characters that was ripe for a film adaptation was too much to bear for some Hollywood producers. Author Kevin Kwan told Entertainment Weekly that a producer who had approached him for an adaptation wanted to make Constance Wu’s character Rachel a white girl. It’s not shocking for a town that’s virtually addicted to whitewashing, especially when it comes to Asian roles. Sigh:
During this early meeting, Kwan says, the producer asked him to reimagine his protagonist, Rachel (played by Constance Wu in the film), as Caucasian. “That was their strategy,” he remembers. “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.’”
The proposal to whitewash Rachel is already extremely inappropriate, but it’s especially dumb considering that the story is about an Asian American woman becoming immersed in Asian culture. That character arc of obtaining a new understanding of a culture you already have a connection with obviously doesn’t work if the character is white. But again, centralizing whiteness in a story about culture shock in Asia is in the very least an insult to the source material and a gross misunderstanding of the Asian American experience.
Besides, according to Kwan, even non-Asian fans (often used as the “mass appeal” excuse in favor of whitewashing) were against making Rachel white:
He recalls one stop in Texas at a book club made up of white women who were just as appalled as he was at the prospect of whitewashing Rachel. “You should’ve heard them scream,” he says. “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.”
Thank goodness that idea didn’t pan out.