A few years back, Jon Mertz scribed an article on Thin Difference about principles that lead to a life well lived.

They were these two simple statements:

What you do in your present matters.
What you pass forward matters.

This goes along with the idea that, for me, the most important thing we need is positive self worth. It’s not money, not even family … but how we feel about ourselves. And of course, how we make others feel about themselves.

The way we go about our days and what we are putting out in the world, are the things that inspire others and sustain for future generations.

How Representation Impacts Self Worth

This entire thought process has come to mind with the recent release of “Crazy Rich Asians,” (CRA) the first motion picture, with an all Asian lead cast, to be released by a major Hollywood studio since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993. It’s worth noting in 2002, the smaller yet still significant MTV Films, released “Better Luck Tomorrow,” which also included an all Asian cast.

representation mattersCRA is a really good movie. While I’m not a qualified film critic, there are those that are giving it praise and even the Star Lord himself, actor Chris Pratt, tweeted “Holy crap, what an awesome movie!! Haven’t seen a movie that good in a long, long time.”

Not that box office receipts translate into Oscar statues, but it did rake in more than $25 million in its opening weekend, so the court of public opinion must also be pretty favorable.

All this fuss over a romantic comedy. It’s not a period piece, documentary, or a film with the million dollar special effects. The film is a simple love story, as cliché as Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan, Cameron Diaz or Jennifer Aniston getting the boy, then losing the boy and then getting the boy again.

But what is the difference this time around? It’s the actors on the screen —all of them. The leading roles, the extras, even the setting and the city. They are all Asian.

And that is really something special to see.

An entire cast of Asians is carrying a $30 million, big-studio film. You also won’t see one scene of kung fu fighting, not one gangster, not one stroll through a red light district. All the typical portrayals of someone of Asian descent on the silver screen.

Representation Matters Because it Inspires

About halfway through the film, I was genuinely moved by what I was seeing, and it had nothing to do with the story. It was the actors — all Asian. They had American, British and Chinese accents.

They were not token characters. They were the movie. Watching a film like this, as an Asian-American is refreshing. Watching it, as a Caucasian, is eye-opening — I would hope.

We’ve heard of the aspiring black politician who said he was inspired because Barack Obama “looked like me.” Or the aspiring Asian American journalist who was inspired because Connie Chung “looked like me.”

Constance Wu, who plays the lead female character, said this: “Before CRA, I hadn’t even done a tiny part in a studio film,” she said. “I never dreamed I would get to star in one because I had never seen that happen to someone who looked like me.”

Who knows what a film like “Crazy Rich Asians” will do for aspiring Asian American actors? Or just anyone dreaming of a life better than where they are now.

It’s hard to put into words what it was like watching the film and having these thoughts unfold in my mind.

Representation Shapes Opinions and Attitudes

Like it or not, what is put in front of us for our entertainment contributes to the opinions we have of people, places and cultures. When there is a lack of inclusion, there is a lack of empathy.

What we consume as entertainment contributes to the opinions we have of people, places and cultures.

But inclusion needs to be positive. It cannot mean the same thing over and over: the black teenager in a gang, the Latino drug dealer, the Asian karate teacher or the weak white female.

What happens to our self-worth if we are only exposed to negative portrayals of our culture? What legacies are we passing forward?

A film like CRA is doing what we need in the present exactly. It’s doing something that not only matters today, but is likely stamping a significant impact for years to come.

Despite having an all Asian cast, CRA is not an “Asian movie.” It’s just a good movie. A story about love and how much culture and upbringing factors into the personal decisions these characters make. A cliché storyline? Perhaps. But this time, finally, Asians were telling it.

As noted earlier “Better Luck Tomorrow” and “The Joy Luck Club” were the last films released in America with an all Asian cast. Those were 16 and 23 years ago respectively.

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait so long for the next one. And hopefully a positive portrayal of diversity and inclusion will just be the norm and not the occasional, once every couple decades thing it is now.

Featured Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Inspired the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, Justin Kanoya shares how representation impacts self worth and why that's so important.</div)