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Author Jenny Han on the ‘abundance’ of an all-Asian movie cast

It's one of the hits of the summer, a romantic comedy set in Singapore--but it's generating special attention for its casting. “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first major studio film with an all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club,” released 25 years ago. Jeffrey Brown speaks with "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" author Jenny Han about how it feels to see greater ethnic representation on screen.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is one of the feature film hits of the summer, a romantic comedy set in Singapore.

    But it's getting even more attention for its all-Asian cast.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look at the reaction and how other writers and filmmakers are fighting for greater representation.

  • Actress:

    These people aren't just rich, OK? They're crazy rich.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    "Crazy Rich Asians" opened number one at the box office last weekend, based on the bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan.

    It's the story of a not-so-well-off young woman in love with what turns out to be a very wealthy young man and a visit to his family. So far, so familiar. But the film is getting much attention for its casting, an all Asian ensemble with actors from the U.S. and around the globe.

    It's the first major studio film with an all Asian cast since "The Joy Luck Club" in 1993. Recent years have seen television and streaming video opening more to Asian actors and themes. A new Netflix film, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," stars an Asian-American actress.

    It's based on the novel by Jenny Han, who joins me now.

    First, does it surprise you at all that "Crazy Rich Asians" is getting this attention, that its casting is still a thing worth noting?

  • Jenny Han:

    It doesn't surprise me at all.

    I think that, at its heart, it's a story that we all know and love, which is a Cinderella story. And so I think that, to me, it makes sense that people are just hungry to see that kind of romantic comedy on the big screen again, because it's been a while.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And in terms of the casting, though, what did you see or feel when you watched it? Does it — did it feel different and important somehow?

  • Jenny Han:

    It felt like a banquet to me. It felt like such abundance to see so many Asian-American actors on the screen at once.

    I think it's been a really long time since I have had that experience. And after a certain point, I think you kind of forget as you're watching it, and you just get so into the story, and it feels just like a natural love story.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For those who haven't seen, it's not — it's not about average Asians. It's not about average Asian-Americans. It's not about average anybody, really, right?

  • Jenny Han:

    Right.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's about very wealthy, beautiful people.

    So, why do you think it strikes such a chord?

  • Jenny Han:

    I think that people have been waiting for so long to see faces that look like theirs centered on a Hollywood screen. And so I think we're just all kind of hungry for that experience and happy to have that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Your own book, your main character is Asian-American, but I understand you had to fight pretty hard to make sure that you found — that your — that an Asian actress played her.

  • Jenny Han:

    I did have to fight really hard.

    There was interest early on. And the interest would die away as soon as I explained to them that the lead was going to have to be Asian-American. The argument was, they didn't understand why they had to cast an Asian-American actress, when there's nothing in the story that required her to be Asian-American.

    And, for me, it was like, I wasn't going to justify that decision. It was just, she was Asian-American. And so that's how she was written, and that's how she should be. That's her identity.

    And I think that, for so long, it's so rare to see a story centered around a person of color. And, usually, that story is all about the person of color's struggle with being a person of color, and it's all about their pain and the challenges that come with that.

    And I think that's what we're used to seeing. And we're not used to seeing just ordinary situations like falling in love.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, there have been some comparisons to "Black Panther" and the impact that it's having.

    Do you think "Crazy Rich Asians," "Black Panther," films like yours, do you think it's going to make a big difference in diversity in films?

  • Jenny Han:

    I hope it's something that just continues and goes on.

    I think that, when there's so little, and when there's such scarcity, people will kind of rush towards whatever is being offered to them. But I think that there's no story that can represent everybody. And so my hope is there would just be more opportunities that come out of this.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, Jenny Han is the author of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," now a Netflix film.

    Thank you very much.

  • Jenny Han:

    Thank you.

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