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Exploring Asian Diversity and Culture On The Big Screens

The U.S. - China Entertainment summit explores the intersection of culture and business in entertainment

2018 was a big year for the conversation about Asians, Asian Americans, and U.S. – China relationships in the entertainment industry. With successful movies starring Asian American leads like Crazy Rich Asians and Searching to movies co-produced by both U.S. and Chinese productions companies like The Meg, this was a historic year for diversity in entertainment, especially for Asians.

Asia Society hosted their 9th annual U.S. China Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles focused on that exact topic, sharing industry and cultural shifts as well as honoring leaders in the space.

The 2018 honorees were:

  • Kevin Tsujihara, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros

  • Michelle Yeoh, Actress, Producer and Writer

  • Elizabeth Daley, Dean, USC School of Cinematic Arts

  • Xu Zheng, Producer, ‘Dying To Survive’

Two films were referenced throughout the event as pioneers both culturally and financially in the U.S. – China conversation.

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians made the waves as the first Hollywood studio film starring a majority Asian cast in 25 years, earning over $100M and breaking a number of records, including the highest grossing romantic comedy since 2009. Crazy Rich Asians has been adored by fans from all over the world with outpourings of support on Twitter and through fanfiction.

Two of the honorees at the U.S. China Entertainment Summit Gala had a hand in the making of Crazy Rich Asians, Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who’s studio greenlit the film, and actress Michelle Yeoh, who played Eleanor.

CEO of Warner Bros, Kevin Tsujihara illustrated the intersection of this cultural phenomenon and business success in his speech at the event: “Diversity feels good and is good for the bottom line. It helps bridge differences, bring people together, and have a lot of fun doing it! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Crazy Rich Asian, even for a day?”

Warner Bros CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, accepting his award

He referenced The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians as examples of recent examples of hits to the cheers of the crowd.

Michelle Yeoh, the star actress in Crazy Rich Asians and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers by the Gala audience.

Michelle Yeoh reacting to a standing ovation

Yeoh emphasized the importance in the fight for diversity and conclusion and called the Asia Society, the event’s organizer, “the real bridge builders.”

A sequel to Crazy Rich Asians is believed to be in the works already.

The Meg

The Meg was referenced throughout the summit as a symbol of future success for co-productions between U.S. and China. The Meg was a co-production between Warner Bros and Gravity Pictures, becoming the highest grossing U.S. – China co-production of all time, grossing $527.8 million worldwide.

An entire panel was dedicated to talking about The Meg, exploring its inception, success, and future plans.

Belle Avery and the team behind The Meg

Belle Avery, the producer that initially acquired the rights to the series, explained that she spent years living in China to understand the characters and cultural elements before approaching a company. “Getting characters and cultural elements right before going to a company was so crucial. It was ridiculous to see companies just throwing actors in. It had to be culturally sound.” The producers hinted at potential sequels and even amusement parks.

Co-productions are particularly difficult because of those cultural elements that need to be done well. Ben Ji, one of the co-producers, also spoke about the future of U.S. – China co-productions by saying, “For successful China – U.S. co-productions, we need to be looking forward. Forward-looking projects targeting young audiences will do well. Stories about current young people. Things that are fun, happy, family friendly.”

Promotion of co-productions also has their own unique challenges because of some cultural differences. “To market The Meg in China, in the first stage, we didn’t emphasize that it was a co-production. We just explained that it was a big blockbuster film because people in China didn’t want to see co-productions”, explained Gravity CEO Catherine Xujun Ying. “Only after it was a success did we emphasize that it was co-production in the marketing.”

Where do we go now?

Tsujihara ended his speech by challenging the entertainment industry as a whole: “We say certain genres of film don’t travel well or that international audiences aren’t open to diverse leads. It’s incumbent on the entire entertainment industry to stop making excuses for self-fulfilling prophecies.”

With big successes this year, we should expect to see many more co-productions and diverse casts with Asians and Asian Americans!

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