Constance Wu on Why Crazy Rich Asians Is a Modern-Day Feminist Fairytale
Jon Chu’s highly anticipated, barrier-breaking romcom Crazy Rich Asians opens with a quote from Napoleon: “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” It nods to both the cultural importance of the film — the first in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast — as well as its unlikely heroine: Rachel Chu, a morally upright Chinese-American economics professor (played by Constance Wu).
Quietly self-assured and slightly goofy, Rachel wins the heart of Nick Young, a handsome history professor with a posh British accent who, despite using her Netflix password and co-opting her dessert, just happens to be Singapore’s most eligible bachelor. When Nick invites Rachel to travel home with him for his best friend's wedding and to meet his family, she quickly discovers that the Youngs are rich. Crazy rich.
Then the fun begins. Rachel, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and single mother, is unceremoniously thrown headfirst into the glitzy, glamorous world of the Singaporean elite, complete with first-class flights, no-limit shopping sprees, and bachelor parties on industrial-sized yachts in the middle of the ocean. Things come to head with just about everyone in the Youngs’ inner circle, especially Nick’s stone-cold, status-obsessed mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who deems Rachel unworthy of her son’s affection from the get-go.
For Wu, who was born and raised in Richmond, Va., to Taiwanese immigrants, Rachel’s socioeconomic plight is extremely relatable. “Rachel has a lot of pride in her mother’s working-class roots,” she tells InStyle. “She understands the courage and sacrifice it took for her to come to the United States to give her daughter a better life, and so do I. The difference between Rachel and the rich people in the movie is that their wealth is part of their identity — her identity is self-made.”
Essentially, the story unfolds like a fairytale: Rachel’s best friend and college roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina) is the fairy-godmother-like coach; there are evil stepsisters in the form of snobby, smartphone-addicted Chinese girls; and, of course, there is an all-powerful, disapproving matriarch. “It’s a Cinderella story,” Wu adds, likening the courtship of Nick and Rachel to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's. “What happened there was born out of love, and the story we tell was born of love — and the act of making this movie was a project of love for the cast and crew.”
It’s hard not to rally around the Asian community’s giant diversity win after years of being largely underrepresented in Hollywood; one can only hope that Crazy Rich Asians signals the beginning of more inclusivity onscreen. “It’s not a movie, it’s a movement,” Wu said. “There are a lot of great Asian-American actors, but they’re rarely the star. When you center on their experiences alone, it assures people that their stories are worth telling.”
VIDEO: Crazy Rich Asians Stars Constance Wu And Henry Golding Reflect on Asian Representation in Media
That’s not to say Wu believes her Asian-American counterparts are doing themselves a disservice by taking stereotypical roles. “You have to have equity before equality,” she says. “To point a finger at somebody who’s just trying to pay their rent would be dismissive of the whole population. Stereotypes are only harmful when they’re one-dimensional: The second you give someone their own story, then it’s just another facet of their life. Like, ‘I happen to be good at math and science, but I also love bunny rabbits.’”
Though she definitely did her part to squash stereotypes in this project, even going so far as to remove a section from the Kevin Kwan book it’s based on, which underscores that Rachel doesn’t typically date Asian men. “I thought it emasculated Asian-American men,” she says. “I didn’t want to perpetuate that stereotype by putting it out there in the universe, because it’s not true. Any man is worthy of someone’s love and capable of inspiring love and attraction.”
Whether or not Rachel nabs her prince and lives happily ever after, what makes the story resonant today is that there's a hardworking, take-no-bullshit woman at its center. Rachel proves — to herself as much as to everyone else — that she’s enough. And that’s a fairytale we can get behind.