This weekend’s box office success of “ Crazy Rich Asians” and critical acclaim for Netflix’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” are part of a profusion of movies and TV programs featuring Asians launching this month, celebrated in the social media hashtag #AsianAugust.
It has been a gratifying experience for Asians to see themselves reflected on-screen in American pop culture, judging from the stream of social media posts throughout the month.
With fortuitous timing, Netflix added the Canadian TV series “Kim’s Convenience” to its streaming service last month. Though the sitcom — about a working-class Korean-Canadian family in Toronto — premiered in 2016, it has gained fans over the last few weeks, in part through social media.
Hitting movie theaters this Friday and expanding on Aug. 31 is “Searching,” a thriller starring John Cho as a father looking for his missing daughter, using her social media posts and web history, the first mainstream U.S. film in that genre with an Asian-American lead.
In a show of solidarity, “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu announced Wednesday that he and the film’s star Henry Golding plan to buy out a theater for a screening of “Searching.”
“I hope it’s Asian August. I think this is the start of a new movement,” Chu told Reuters this month.
“The audience needs to decide. If they show up on opening weekend, that sends a very clear message to the studios that more will be made. They are sitting at their desks right now with movies that have not been greenlit.”
Audiences showed up for Chu’s film, which boasted major box office numbers in its opening weekend, earning $35 million over its first five days — the biggest debut for a romantic comedy since the 2015 Amy Schumer movie “Trainwreck,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
While Netflix does not release its streaming or viewership data, the widespread praise and positive reviews for “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” coming from a wide range of viewers, are a good indication that the film is also resonating with audiences.
All this is hopefully a sign of progress that Asians in pop culture will stop being reduced to stereotypes and caricatures.
But it’s up to Hollywood executives to recognize that these successful and popular projects are not an anomaly but the norm — and to stop perpetuating the myth that movies with diverse casts don’t make money at the box office, especially among international audiences.
This is often the reasoning applied to movies featuring black casts, despite a spate of commercially and critically successful movies like “The Help,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Hidden Figures,” “Get Out,” “Girls Trip,” “Black Panther” among many others.
They are often treated as exceptions, and as a group of UCLA researchers wrote this year after studying the entertainment industry’s “missed opportunities” on diversity, suggest that “Hollywood is leaving considerable revenue on the table.”
“Audiences want to see diversity on the screen,” UCLA social psychologist Ana-Christina Ramón wrote. “Our reports have continually shown that diversity sells, but the TV and film product continues to fall short. So audiences are left starved for more representation on screen that reflects the world they see in their daily lives.”
The #AsianAugust phenomenon is a promising sign, featuring a range of three-dimensional depictions of Asians with complex backstories and showing characters living their lives and grappling with a wide range of experiences, with their heritage only part of the story.
For example, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a smart and sharp romantic comedy and coming-of-age story that happens to be about an Asian-American girl. The main character, Lara Jean, goes through some fairly universal experiences, dealing with the boys she likes, peers who are mean to her and a lot of other teenage drama.
And Hollywood might be getting the message: Warner Bros. is reportedly developing a sequel to “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Hopefully, this wave of projects will usher in other movies and television shows that tell even more kinds of original stories about Asians and Asian-Americans, because true progress will come when having a whole month of new movies and TV shows about Asians isn’t unusual or remarkable — it’s just normal.