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November 29, 2018 at 12:00 PM EST

No offense, gentlemen: When it comes to 2018’s groundbreaking and box office-busting rom-com crown jewel Crazy Rich Asians, the ladies reign supreme.

“Who needs the boys?” Constance Wu quips during EW’s female-fronted Entertainers of the Year photo shoot. “We don’t.”

She’s joking, but it’s true. In the Jon M. Chu-directed film, which changed the game for Asian representation in Hollywood with its all-Asian cast and contemporary setting, the women defy definition — and stereotype. Rachel (Wu) is no “China doll,” but rather a woman who learns to maneuver a seemingly impossible situation. Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is no conniving “dragon lady” or “tiger mom,” but a mother who has given up plenty to care for her son. Peik Lin (breakout star Awkwafina) delivers equal parts comic relief and emotional support, with one-liners to spare. Astrid (Gemma Chan), in a searing speech, refuses to be the timid wife who squirrels away her possessions so her husband can feel like a man. After all, who says a gilded culture-clash romance can’t also be a story about women discovering — or rediscovering — their power?

Ruven Afanador for EW

“I love the fact that all of the women are agents of change in their own lives,” Chan, 36, points out about the film’s quartet of heroines. “They’re not waiting to be rescued by anyone.” Adds Awkwafina, 30: “If you look at it, men almost do play a supporting role to the woman’s power.”

Wu, 36, also agrees. “We all make quiet sacrifices,” she says, “and we don’t need to be patted on the back.”

Definitely not — but they were anyway. Crazy Rich Asians (adapted from Kevin Kwan’s best-seller) topped the box office for three weeks in a row and has raked in more than $173 million domestically so far, making it the highest-grossing rom-com in 13 years. It proved, once and for all, that Asian movie stars exist — and that audiences will flood theaters to see them. “It was validation and confirmation that a movie like this is important,” explains Awkwafina. “It moved people.”

Encouraged by the film’s success, Warner Bros. began moving forward with a sequel only a week after Crazy Rich Asians’ release in August. (Kwan’s novel is the first in a trilogy.) Though the follow-up is unlikely to begin production until after Chu shoots In the Heights, Yeoh says she’d like to work on a second and a third film in 2019. “Hey,” Yeoh, 56, teases, “wishful thinking, okay?” Well, crazier things have happened.

This is a version of the Crazy Rich Asians story in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. For more on Crazy Rich Asians and EW’s 2018 Entertainers of the Year, pick up the issue when it hits stands on Friday, or buy it now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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