'Audiences have been ready for this for a long time,' producer Brad Simpson tells EW.
A version of this story appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday. Subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Crazy Rich Asians is off to a dazzling start. Far exceeding initial projections of $18 million, Warner Bros.’ romantic comedy earned $35.3 million over its opening five days, topping the box office and making back its $30 million budget in less than a week. “I refreshed my page three times,” producer John Penotti, whose Ivanhoe Pictures helped finance the film, recalls of the first time he saw the headline. “I had to make sure I was looking at the right thing.”
He was. Buoyed by stellar reviews, Crazy Rich Asians won over audiences early: Warner Bros. held screenings for Asian organizations months before release, while Asian community leaders campaigned on social media using the hashtag #GoldOpen to rally moviegoers. Word of mouth — and support from A-listers like Ava DuVernay, Chris Pratt, and Reese Witherspoon — encouraged further turnout, to the tune of $26.5 million the first weekend.
Numbers aside, the film’s success marks a much-needed win for representation. As the first major Hollywood production in 25 years with an all-Asian cast and Asian-Americans in lead roles, Crazy Rich Asians had to shoulder proving that a film about contemporary Asian characters played by Asian actors, sans whitewashing, could dominate the box office. It did — and it’s been long overdue. “Audiences have been ready for this for a long time,” says producer Brad Simpson, who with his Color Force partner Nina Jacobson acquired the rights to Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book in 2013. “Nina and I, as white producers, never fully understood the power of representation [until now]. We’ve been blown away.”
“The desire to be seen and heard has been really humbling to see,” Jacobson adds. “It’s been the decision-makers who have been a little slow to hear that audiences want more diversity and more choices.”
Thanks to Crazy Rich Asians, that may be beginning to change. “We’ve been pitched terrific Asian-focused films [at Ivanhoe], and it’s incredibly heartening,” Penotti says. “We’re making sure there’s not another 25-year delay.” In fact, Penotti announced Wednesday that SK Global Entertainment — which counts Ivanhoe as its international label and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment as its domestic label — has partnered with Crazy Rich Asians star Michelle Yeoh and her production company, Mythical Films, in an overall first-look deal. The agreement grew out of Yeoh’s collaboration with Penotti’s company for Crazy Rich Asians, and it involves producing, directing, and select acting opportunities for the Malaysian-born actress and producer.
And with a Crazy Rich Asians sequel already being planned at Warner Bros. (two novels remain in Kwan’s trilogy), a 25-year delay definitely won’t happen. The sequel awaits an official green light, but as Penotti told EW before the news broke, “This weekend has given us terrific momentum to see more Crazy Rich Asians in the world.” Given those box office earnings, they’d be crazy not to.