Asian-American creatives gathered Saturday night at the Long Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate strides in Asian representation in food, fashion and media.
The Austin Asian American Film Festival hosted the event to highlight “Crazy Rich Asians,” an upcoming film adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. Festival board President J.D. Chang said the event sought to bring together and uplift the voices of Austin’s diverse and fast-growing Asian-American community. The film will open in Austin on Aug. 15.
The night included a VIP soirée fundraiser featuring Houston-based fashion designer Chloe Dao, the Season 2 winner of “Project Runway,” and “MasterChef” Season 3 winner Christine Hà, who drew inspiration for the event’s menu from dishes in Singapore, where the film takes place.
“We want all Asian and Asian-American creators to come together and say, ‘Hey, we can throw something together and we can do beautiful things,’ ” Chang said.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo kicked off the evening’s festivities by proclaiming “Austin Asian American Film Day” to recognize the nonprofit festival’s contributions to the Austin community.
The proclamation said the festival, which began in 2004, “serves the public by sharing authentic Asian and Asian-American stories through film and media” and “strengthens the city of Austin by supporting the creative talents of underrepresented media artists and bolstering the city’s cultural landscape that is vital to our economic and social well being.”
Asians were the fastest-growing ethnic group from 2010 to 2015 in Bastrop, Hays and Travis counties, as well as Texas as a whole. Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian populations are the three fastest-growing Asian groups in the area, with engineering and technology jobs driving much of the growth, Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce leaders have said.
Even within the business community, Central Texas saw a 142 percent increase from 2002 to 2012 in the number of Asian-American-owned businesses, according to recent Census Bureau data. The Austin Asian chamber in 2016 estimated that there were 13,000 Asian-American businesses in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.
Chang said it’s important for the Asian-American film industry to tap into a new market like Austin, which isn’t a traditional Asian city like Los Angeles and New York, and create more exposure for the community.
“When you have the mayor’s office and pro tem coming and announcing a day, that means a lot to the diversity of Austin,” he said. “It also means a lot to Asian-Americans. We want to bring more movie premieres and events like this here, and the mayor’s office is going to help that.”
A panel featuring “Crazy Rich Asians” cast members Ronny Chieng and Chris Pang, along with the film’s screenwriters, Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, discussed why Asian representation matters and the work that still needs to be done.
They pointed out that the movie is the first major Hollywood film to feature an all-Asian lead cast since the 1993 release of the “The Joy Luck Club,” another film adaptation of a best-selling novel.
“An entire generation has grown up without seeing themselves represented on screen, and I think that’s quite sad,” Pang said during the discussion. “If you’re not validated by what you see on the media and on screen, you don’t feel accepted.”
Lim said she jumped at the opportunity to write a story centered on an Asian family after spending most of her career trying to write stories that fit the mainstream American mold and writing about more visible minorities.
“I remember thinking I am never going to get a chance to write about my people for a major Hollywood movie,” she said. “I thought I’m going to make this happen somehow so it’s really dear to our hearts.”
She said the film captures the complexities of Asian-American families and breaks stereotypes, especially around Asian male masculinity. Movies like “Black Panther” and “Get Out” have changed the perception that movies without a white lead would not do well, she said.
“They did gangbusters because it’s not just about minorities showing up to watch somebody else’s story,” she said. “We’re American. This is our story. We want to see stories that we haven’t seen before, and we want true authentic voices.”
Chieng said the film presents issues that anyone can relate to.
“There’s layers of Asian-Americans rediscovering their heritage back in Asia,” he said. “Even if you’re not Asian, introducing yourself to the family of someone you love, all those things … It’s a very universal theme.”