For years, Hollywood executives balked at casting Asian-Americans in leading roles, claiming, among other things, that minority leads were a financial risk. And yet, somehow, a film with an all-East Asian cast managed to rake in $34 million over five days, with nary an Emma Stone in sight! Wild.
According to Variety, Crazy Rich Asians has topped the box office, earning $25.3 million from Friday to Sunday, and $34 million in total since its release on August 15. That’s a pretty impressive showing for a summer romantic comedy with a $30 million budget—as the Hollywood Reporter points out, the most profitable recent opening weekend for a romcom belonged to Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, which earned $30.1 million over three days in July 2015. For comparison’s sake, Overboard, which debuted earlier this summer, earned only $14.7 million.
I haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians yet, but from what I understand, it’s a good time. It’s got a 92 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and reviews, including ours, have been fairly positive. There’s been some criticism—people have pointed out, for instance, that the film erases Singapore’s ethnic minorities in favor of focusing on the country’s wealthy Chinese population. And certainly, a significant portion of Asian-Americans won’t see themselves reflected in this one two-hour film, which Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu addressed on Twitter last month:
But over the last year or so, movie studios have learned minority-helmed films can and do make money, as evidenced by recent juggernauts like Girls Trip, Get Out, and Black Panther. People will often pay to see big movies that are good. Aloha, the 2015 Cameron Crowe film in which the aforementioned Stone was cast as a character who was part Chinese and Hawaiian, was bad, hence why it pulled in only $26 million, despite the whitewashing.
Obviously, sometimes good movies don’t make money, and sometimes bad ones do. But a big name white lead actor isn’t the trick—though Henry Golding might be.