By Elizabeth Roberts
My feelings about money generally range from guilt for splurging to anxiety about not having enough. But last week, I confidently stepped into the box office and bought two tickets to “Crazy Rich Asians” – a romantic comedy starring a majority Asian cast. More surprising, the leading actors are both Asian: Constance Wu (“Fresh Off The Boat”) is Taiwanese-American and Henry Golding identifies as British-Malaysian. Despite the odds, “Crazy Rich Asians” was #1 at the box office, making $35 million in its opening weekend Aug. 15-19. This exceeded industry expectations of $25 million in sales according to CNN Money. Why is this such a big deal? Why not save the money and wait to watch until it’s on Netflix?
Because the movie industry needs to know its outlier choice to choose a diverse cast is worth it. Your opinion doesn’t matter to Hollywood if you solely watch movies on a streaming service.
When you buy a ticket in a movie’s opening weeks, it’s making a statement: you want to see more of what you’re paying for. Without the public “voting” with their ticket stubs, Hollywood is unlikely to make another “risky” choice to show people of color as the main actors.
When I watch movies, I rarely see myself (a biracial Asian-American) represented on-screen. Most times when I see Asians in movies, they’re extras or in supporting roles. They have to put on “Asian” accents although they don’t have one normally. They’re in uniform as part of the service industry. “Crazy Rich Asians” broke stereotypes. It showed that a leading man could be a hot Asian, Asians can be real estate moguls and accents can be authentic to one’s origin if applicable, rather than mandatory. A romantic comedy experience is diverse in 2018, when it hasn’t been historically.
Hollywood’s idea of a successful romantic comedy usually involves a Caucasian couple. There are a few exceptions like 2017’s “The Big Sick” based off of comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s real-life love story and “Hitch” starring Will Smith and Eva Mendes – but that film came out in 2005. What about films with a majority Asian cast? “Joy Luck Club” broke the mold but it came out 25 years ago.
My Japanese mom was planning on seeing “Crazy Rich Asians” next week when she got back from vacation. She changed her mind to see it earlier when she realized she needed to add to the movie’s momentum. My mom wanted to do her part to make diverse casting a movement, not a moment. It may be more cost efficient to watch a streaming movie, but the movie industry will take low theater numbers and track back to what they think sells – and that means less diversity in films.
I saw “Black Panther” within the first two weeks of its premiere for the same reason – to cast my vote. I was already excited to see it because I like superhero movies, but I also wanted to prove wrong that representation can’t sell. “Black Panther” made $218 million in its 2018 President’s Day weekend debut, making more in four days than the $200 million it cost to make, according to Variety. The only reason I didn’t watch it opening weekend is because most theaters were sold out in New York City! What did that tell Marvel? Public demand is high, and a sequel is in order.
How can you afford to make your vote count when movie tickets can cost as much as dinner?
Instead of paying standard prices, consider using a subscription service that pays the movie theater directly – while you get to pay less.
- MoviePass: I bought an annual subscription to MoviePass in Dec. 2017 so I’m able to watch unlimited movies until Dec. 2018 for a total price of $90. MoviePass now offers 3 movies a month for $9.99 – still a cost-effective option when a movie ticket in NYC is $15 on average. You get what you pay for though with inconveniences such as being unable to book tickets in advance and a limitation of one movie per day.
- AMC Stubs A-List: For $19.95 a month, see up to 3 movies a week at any AMC theater. This is a great deal if you miss the “unlimited” aspect of MoviePass, want to book your seat online and are an IMAX fan. But at a higher price point, your closest movie theater should be AMC to make it worth it.
- Sinemia: Movie plans vary by city; in New York users can see 3 movies a month for $14.99 – which includes 3D and IMAX films in this “elite plan”. Or watch one movie a month for $3.99. At its face, Sinemia seems like the more flexible option – but you need to do some movie research ahead of time to justify the price point you’re paying for each month.
Money is powerful not just for its economic value, but how it can affect industry standards. Your movie ticket, and your vote, matters.