Editor’s Letter: Diverse films made major bank in 2018. Hollywood has no more excuses
February 13, 2019
I’ll admit it: I was one of those people crying in the theater during opening week of “Crazy Rich Asians” last August. And, no, it wasn’t out of longing for authentic Asian cuisine, or defending Rachel Chu when her beau’s overprotective mother delivers the callous line, “You will never be enough,” or falling for heartthrob Nick Young as he races onto a plane to propose to Rachel after finally securing his mother’s blessing (OK, I may have shed some tears there, too.)
I cried because, finally, there was a majority Asian-American cast backed by a major Hollywood studio, telling a story embedded with struggles and traditions that I knew all too well — and had never before seen on the big screen. It may not sound like a big deal to most, but I’d grown up imagining myself in the shoes of characters raised on ideas of independence that were foreign to me; these were people who didn’t look like me, and could never vaguely relate to my sense of family obligation (or even my ideas on food delicacies).
There’s no denying this year has been a game-changer for an often stagnant, formulaic industry. Along with “Crazy Rich Asians,” movies like “Black Panther,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Love, Simon” were heralded as 2018’s major wins for diversity as well. And not only that, most of these films were also huge hits at the box office; “Black Panther” alone raked in an astounding $700 million in the domestic box office, becoming the third-highest grossing film of all time in the U.S.
It’s worth noting many such films were far from perfect. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was criticized for its lackluster approach to telling a queer narrative, and “Crazy Rich Asians” came under fire for not including ethnic minorities like Malays and Indians, who make up about a quarter of Singapore’s population. I wholeheartedly agree with these concerns, and I’m glad they were vocalized alongside the widespread acclaim these films garnered.
In fact, the controversy and conversations that arose from these films may have the greatest impact on the future of Hollywood as we know it. And while many of these films promoted on the backbone of “diversity” fell short in many ways, that doesn’t mean we can’t praise their leaps toward the right direction. “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Love, Simon” have proven these stories can sell; now it’s a matter of finding and empowering the next generation of creative storytellers, and letting their voices be heard. These movies will likely open doors for these future filmmakers, who can point to them as proof that audiences want new perspectives that transcend traditional Hollywood.
So as we all tune in to this year’s 91st Academy Awards, let’s celebrate the milestones: “Black Panther” being the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture, “Roma,” a foreign language film, tying for most nominations, Spike Lee getting his first Oscar nomination for Best Director after snubs upon snubs. There’s much to celebrate about film and diversity in 2018, but we shouldn’t lose perspective: We still have a long ways to go.