From trying to pass off Emma Stone as biracial to allegedly testing out “CGI yellowface” on white actors in Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood is truly notorious for its tone-deaf attempts at whitewashing. But it doesn’t get more tone-deaf than this: Apparently, Crazy Rich Asians came thisclose to being whitewashed. There are no words that can fully capture how hilariously screwed up that is. “Asian” is in the name, folks.
Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan tells EW that producers scrambled to option his book even before it hit the shelves. But one potential buyer had a rather, uh, radical vision for the film. He wanted to make the heroine, who’s played by Constance Wu in the upcoming adaptation, white. Now, I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Producer: Listen, Kev, dollface, I love this, I love everything about this, it’s brilliant, it’s funny, it’s heartwrenching, it’s everything a corrupt, mustache-twirling self-parody like myself could hope for. But I have just one tiny suggestion that could make it even better. Just hear me out. What if…we…made…the crazy rich Asians…white?
Kevin Kwan: Complete silence because his brain has short-circuited from disbelief, followed by raucous laughter and a satisfyingly overturned table
To be fair, Kwan’s recollection of the events is a bit tamer. “I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.'” he told EW. “I said, ‘No, thank you.'”
Whitewashing is never a good idea (or even, as Hollywood likes to argue, economically viable), but in this case, it would have made even less sense than it usually does. The protagonist of Crazy Rich Asians is Chinese-American Rachel Chu, who goes through “reverse culture shock” when she takes a trip to Asia. To make her white would not only remove the nuances (and entire point) of the book but arguably make the plot incredibly racist: The story of a white woman Eat, Pray, Love–ing her way through the gawk-worthy lives of some ridiculous, inscrutable Others.
Thankfully, it looks like this producer was the only one who thought this was a good idea. Kwan told EW the reactions that he got from white readers convinced him the film would appeal to non-Asian audiences. Especially one group of white women at a Texas reading, who took extreme umbrage with the idea of whitewashing Rachel. “You should’ve heard them scream,” he told EW. “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.”
And Kwan says his interactions with other producers might mark a sea change in the way Hollywood views whitewashing. “I had one of the top producers in Hollywood come to me wanting to make this movie and wanting to do it right, so I think the culture is shifting,” he said. “They’re seeing the importance of this.” Hopefully, he’s right.
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Now, watch this: