Is it just me or is everyone talking about Crazy Rich Asians?
My social media feed is flooded with adulation for its crazy talented beautiful cast. And damn right it should.
Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio-produced movie with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, nabbing the top spot at the box office two weekends in a row and raking in $34 million in its first 5 days. Not only did it exceed expectations and blow past its projected earnings (by more than double), it’s the top opening comedy of the year and the highest grossing romantic comedy debut since 2015.
I couldn’t be happier that the film is making history. It sends a strong message that having diverse and authentic stories PAYS. But what I really love about Crazy Rich Asians is the story it tells behind the veneer of glitz and glamour. Of course there’s a lot of the fun over-the-top banter that comes with rom-com territory. But the theme that is uniquely powerful for Asian Americans is the one that speaks to our experience of straddling two cultures, and it’s portrayed with stinging effect in the film.
Astrid is my favorite character. She’s stunning, smart, and elegant — someone I’d probably be envious of in real life — but her struggle is surprisingly relatable. Though she comes from a family of prestige and has her own set of impressive accomplishments, she takes a second seat to her husband and tries hard to not make him feel inadequate. In the process, though, she hides from her own light. You don’t have to study at Oxford or come from a privileged Asian family to relate to this fear of shining too bright. While Rachel, the film’s main character, also battles her own set of insecurities (especially after meeting Nick’s super rich family) her character comes with a bit more of an independent streak.
Witnessing these power dynamics flip and evolve between couples and generations is fascinating. I’m in awe of Astrid’s character because, unlike the matriarch Eleanor who is entrenched in Asian tradition or Rachel who espouses more American confidence, Astrid is somewhere in between, a character that grows and takes ownership of her power while straddling the demands of her Asian family. She’s also kind, one of the only women to befriend Rachel genuinely. Though she’s far from an underdog, I found myself rooting for her throughout the movie.
Crazy Rich Asians has all the stamps of approval: the backing of a major Hollywood studio (Warner Brothers), an attractive and talented cast, and a well-written contemporary narrative based on Asian and Asian American characters. So it’s not hard to throw support behind it. Supporting the movie is kind of like supporting your beautiful popular friend for Class Council president. Funny, mainstream, and totally palatable. What a nice (and somewhat foreign) feeling to walk out of the theaters and think, “Heck yeah! I’m proud to be Asian American”!”
And yet, there’s still a long way to go. On opening night, I was reminded of what a rare privilege this kind of representation means. My friend who is of Egyptian descent came to watch Crazy Rich Asians with me. She is a filmmaker and currently studying animation while writing her own screenplay on the side. Her dream is to create the first animation series featuring an Arab American family. She told me that there has never been an all Arab American cast film produced by a major Hollywood studio. I had no idea. And it goes to show that sometimes we can be stuck in our bubbles. So I hope that just as Crazy Rich Asians has shattered several myths about who we are across the colorful diaspora of Asia, it can also help pave the way for our brothers and sisters in other minority communities. Beyond box office numbers, success should be measured by the breadth of diversity, beyond our own, that we can help bring to the table.
“We know that the representation, or lack thereof, of not just Asians but also other minorities in the media and in popular culture directly affects how those minorities are treated in everyday life. And that’s why it means so much to me that this is a Hollywood studio making and promoting this film… and I hope it opens the doors for more diverse and inclusive storytelling across the board, not just for Asians.” — Gemma Chan
Apart from the success of Crazy Rich Asians, many of the actors themselves have rocked the boat in their own lives. Gemma Chan who plays Astrid (my now not-so-secret girl crush) studied law at Oxford and auditioned for drama school in secret. Her parents were skeptical. “My Dad said to me it doesn’t matter how good you are, how talented you are, but how many faces do you see on the screen that look like ours,” she said in the LA Times.
Other cast members navigated similarly zigzag paths. Kenneth Yang went to college as an economics major because it was the closest major that could please his Asian parents, to only then become a standup comedian after college. Ronny Chieng also studied law in Australia before entering the standup comedy circuit. And Ken Jeong who plays Awkwafina’s Singaporean dad started on the pre-med track when he was at Duke.
“I got Koreaned into being pre-med and I got Americaned into being an actor— Ken Jeong
It’s stories like these that my co-host Lucia and I seek to tell in our first season of Rock the Boat. The pursuit of one’s dreams requires huge leaps of faith; seeing these actors on the big screen is a reminder that their story is ours. That’s the privilege of representation. And that’s why we’re so excited to be part of this movement.
As director Jon Chu said, this isn’t just a movie or a moment; it’s a movement. In order to sustain it, we must have wave, after wave, after wave.
This post was originally published on Medium.
The more often you create and share ideas, the better you get at it.
My friend Alex and I have decided to gather a few women every other week to brainstorm business plans, passion projects, and entrepreneurial ventures together. Our 20s are a critical period for growth and at a time when commitment to ideas is especially hard to find, we believe a group like this is necessary.
The goal is to compile ideas and follow through with ones that resonate. Some will be interesting, most will be lousy, one or two may even work. The point is to simply hold ourselves accountable to doing work that really matters. Ultimately, we want to find an idea that sticks and matches our unique strengths with the needs of the world.
What this group is not: a think tank or discussion group. Ideas are a dime in a dozen; money lies in execution. We’ll craft plans to make ideas happen. Some will fail but hey, failing isn’t as bad when there’s a group of other smart, motivated girls experiencing it with you.
If your current routine isn’t cutting it, join us as we experiment with projects that lead to greater fulfillment, if for any reason because doing stuff on your own is hard. We’re looking for a group of 4-6 New York women in their 20s, curious with a desire to learn and do something more. Any industry, talent, or niche is welcome. Leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. We’ll likely be meeting on Sunday afternoon, so be willing to sacrifice Sunday brunch for this. In exchange, a supply of lady refreshments ie. wine & cheese, will be on hand.
If you’re not in New York, sorry- we’re keeping things local for now. But stay tuned!
Fairy godmothers do exist. Just meet the women at The Levo League, who are helping Gen-Y women define and achieve their dreams with a sprinkle of what they call ‘Levo Love.’
It is difficult to contain my excitement as I write about this thing called ‘Levo Love.’ Being a Gen-Y woman myself, I am grateful for the plethora of opportunities available to me today, and I reckon the majority of modern-day educated women agree. We are not interested in whining about the plight of gender inequality. The Levo League understands, which is why they stand at a unique position to tackle a new set of dilemmas facing ambitious women today.
Emphasis lies on the the word ambitious, for ambition these days can serve as a double-edged sword. While it allows women to advance further, how often does it also conjure images of suited-up, back-stabbing slave drivers who, by way of coercion, cattiness, and (dare I say?) canoodling, work their way to the top? Devil Wears Prada, anyone?
This cutthroat mentality is not quite what I get as I chat over coffee and delicious yogurt parfait with The Levo League co-founders Amanda Pouchot, 26, and Caroline Ghosn, 25, near their New York office. Pouchot giggles while she reads aloud quotes from her newly-madeTumblr. Meanwhile, Ghosn earnestly exclaims, “How cool is it that our new office is right across from the movie theater?!”
Both exude energy from the carefree California coast where they attended college. While Pouchot was heavily involved as a student leader at UC Berkeley with Panhellenic Council and academic organizations, Ghosn found her passion in social entrepreneurship and begged to take classes at the Stanford Design School (usually limited to graduate students) while she was a Stanford undergraduate.
Their paths crossed shortly after they graduated in November 2008. At their first day of training at McKinsey Consulting, they were the only two women straight out of college in a group of 30.
“I didn’t speak at our first meeting,” Pouchot said. “I was so intimidated.”
The two women gravitated toward each other and soon became each other’s support system. In the competitive male-dominated work atmosphere, they were limited in who they could reach out to for advice, so they started brainstorming ideas for a platform where women could find support. The Levo League was born.
“We wanted to create a platform that democratized mentorship so that women could have opportunities to meet established, successful women and receive advice,” Pouchot said. “Ultimately it was about Gen-Y women [us] building something for other Gen-Y women.”
Since its launch on March 20, The Levo League has created a multimedia website some would liken to a LinkedIn for women. It certainly helps that they have backers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on their side.
But The Levo League’s beautiful ‘virtual corner office’ interface does more than just connect. With the modern office as your ‘home page,’ you can navigate to various sections, including a job search and company database, unique content on young professional lifestyle issues, and a ‘file folder’ stacked with career advice.
Click on the cozy-looking couch and you’re led to one of their most popular programs to date, “Office Hours,” which facilitates a series of live video chats with some of the most powerful women. Speakers so far have ranged from Gilt Groupe chairwoman Susan Lyne toFoodspotting co-founder Soraya Darabi. With a strong foundation in technology, questions to the women can be posed directly on the website or through tweeting and texting. “Office Hours” speakers resonate powerfully with The Levo League’s members.
Maghan McDowell, a magazine editor from Gainesville, Florida, is one of them.
“It is an incredible chance to learn from amazing real women that leave me wondering, ‘Is this real life?’” McDowell said.”It makes them seem more real, and it’s very inspirational. If they can do it, then why can’t I?”
That is what co-founder Ghosn likes to hear. One of her favorite quotes is the famous Jonathan Winters saying: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim to it.”
She modified the quote saying, “Screw that, you don’t need a ship… just start swimming. You can swim toward an undefined goal, and you’ll figure it out as you swim.”
Levo, derived from the Latin root for ‘elevate,’ also aims to provide an upward financial trajectory for women, which is why the group is raising awareness about Equal Pay Day on April 17. On average, women make just 75 cents for every dollar their male counterparts makes.
“We want women to not be afraid to ask for more,” Pouchot said.
As The Levo League grows, more features are set to launch. One of them is The Levo Lounge, a conversation platform where members can message established women professionals on the network to individually connect for mentorship. Eventually, members will vote on “Office Hours” speakers in different fields. For now, anyone interested in becoming a member cansign up by submitting an ‘elevator pitch’ that describes her aspirations. Membership is capped at 10,000 for the month to enhance the experience for current users.
“Our short-term goal is to make these 10,000 women very happy,” Ghosn said. “Then we can focus on our long-term goal of becoming a generation-defining platform.”
Ultimately, it goes back to the simple Levo philosophy of women helping women.
“Our generation’s success will depend on individual successes, and the only way you can get those individual successes is to have a support network, a group that lifts you up,” Pouchot said.
Ladies, start showing some Levo Love. It’s a term you’re going to be hearing often very soon.