There’s been a boatload of anticipation for Crazy Rich Asians, which hit theaters this month. And rightly so: the film boasts a fantastical spin on the romcom genre with an Asian-American cast. While by no means a first, a movie of this size and scope in the genre hasn’t ever catered to that particular community. Many articles denote 1993's Joy Luck Club as being the last big ensemble cast to feature an East Asian crew of leads.
However, the drought of “Asian representation” wasn’t exactly a drought: many films have shown Asian-Americans and Asians in America running the show—from the Harold and Kumar series to Revenge of The Green Dragons to The Namesake and Gook. None approached the coveted and nostalgic formula of the romantic comedy—a genre often overpopulated with white faces, storylines and culture, which is probably why The Drum’s U.S. staff writer Bennett Bennett flew down the Twitter timeline with this:
I love that what's considered the best in funny and romantic is white and cisgender as shit.
— Bennett D. Bennett (@TheAcecapade) August 9, 2018
When Shadow & Act asked Bennett about his visceral reactions, he said: “So I follow Vanity Fair (as I do most major magazine imprints), and I have a soft spot for romcoms, so I selfishly figured Hitch has to be on it, [because] it was such an influential movie to my life. And as I read through the list, I just saw things get whiter and whiter and just went to scrolling through to see if there'd be any melanin at all.”
“The funniest thing to me was that this article began with Crazy Rich Asians — but that’s where a potentially good conversation started and ended,” he said before clarifying: “You get shook when a publisher like that, run by a brilliant woman of color, had such an oversight. But it also speaks to what's probably been a white lens on romance all along.”
Here he keyed in on an interesting and profound point that may reflect the frenzy around Crazy Rich Asians itself: so many of these huge, big-budget romantic comedies always centered on whiteness. And the language we use to signify a “classic” romcom often ends up pointing back to films like Love, Actually and its kin. Or even worse: the height of love usually ends up being relegated to being a story of a person hooking up with a white person, even if it’s a true story, in the case of films like The Big Sick.
“It's not like these films are bad, per se. It's that something so universal as love has been so limited for so long,” Bennett said. “So many of us want the fairytale endings we get to see of our white peers, but we rarely get to see that in a way that changes perceptions of us.”
Crazy Rich Asians is a hopeful, raucous and big-budget film that’s joining a melange of stories in the medium that offer a colorful palette of love and its many iterations for people of all shades, including some choice picks. So, here are 10 other romantic comedies featuring people of color:
Bennett’s favorite and possibly one of the only perfect Will Smith films, Hitch is a classic tale of the handsome rogue falling in love even after he said he wouldn’t. Besides having a stellar cast—Smith, Kevin James, Eva Mendes—the film crystallizes so much about dating in New York in the mid-aughts: from the “all-day-dates” to the frightful specter of the difficulty of dating while middle-aged and the burgeoning transition to digital dating via apps like Tinder. Another notable aspect here is that we have multiple love stories, but also an interracial romance that–gasp!–doesn’t feature a white person. Who would’ve thought? And, of course, the film’s soundtrack helped Amerie’s killer song “1 Thing” become a cultural touchstone.
The Best Man (1999)
A notch in Taye Diggs’ near-unbeatable 1990’s career run, The Best Man was a micro-budget romcom, clocking in at $9M. But, it grossed over $34M at the box office. The film sated the thirst for a black take on messy friendships, collegiate drama and reconciliations. It is a classic in all meanings of the word, from the incredible ensemble casting to the cultural artifacts—shoutout to hoop earrings! In fact, this film’s legacy was so good they had to run it back with The Best Man Holiday in 2013.
Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008)
We previously name-checked the theatrical version of Noah’s adventures here before, but it earns a spot on the list as the single, purely queer life-focused film. When we talk about romantic comedies and love onscreen, love between queer people is often also reduced into these little buckets and filtered through whiteness and associated desirabilities. It’s why Jamal Lewis’ No Fats, No Femmes is such an impactful movement. But it’s also why Jumping the Broom is still such an impactful cult classic: it dared to show black and Latinx men loving each other in all its messiness and beauty.
Monsoon Wedding (2001)
If the name “Mira Nair” isn’t in your lexicon yet, you need to do better. The Queen of Katwe director deserves her flowers now and later, if only for Monsoon Wedding. Set during the planning of a huge wedding between two families in India, the film explores the ins and outs of such an enormous undertaking, cultural context included. While not strictly a romantic comedy—nor featuring a fish-out-of-water story for Asian-Americans—this film is on the list because it deals with the issues of a family while being vibrantly packed with humor to balance the very real dramatic stresses of not just a communion of people, but of classes, characters and lifestyles. If nothing else, Crazy Rich Asians' title alone hints at these same themes being integral to the film's story and many dialogues post-watch.
I Like It Like That (1994)
Some romances are less about how a couple gets together, but instead, how they endure and reconcile. Darnell Martin’s 1994 debut film took this path with its story of Lisette (Lauren Velez) and Chino (Jon Seda), two Puerto Rican-Americans trying to live their best life in the Bronx. Velez crushed her portrayal of Lisette’s fight for something more than her day-to-day struggles, while Martin artfully depicted the family-like environment of their New York City neighborhood, turning the entire block into a public stage for the couple’s trials and tribulations. The film is also notable for introducing a well-rounded trans character, Alexis (Jesse Borrego), as Lisette’s encouraging sister.
Two Can Play That Game (2001)
Vivica A. Fox’s “be the player or get played” performance cemented her legacy as one of the top black actresses of the just-then-ending '90s and pushed this film into the classic category. Told primarily from a woman’s POV, Two Can Play That Game explored the complex, inane and ridiculous ways in with heterosexual folk often court each other. And it did it with gusto: from breaking the fourth wall to Morris Chestnut’s sidebars with Anthony Anderson to that unforgettable introduction of Gabrielle Union’s character, Conny. The film is so good–regarding impact and period-relevant content–that even its oral history is legendary.
Why Did I Get Married? (2007)
This may be Tyler Perry’s most unmarred film in the Madea Cinematic Universe. Despite its heavy—and I do mean heavy—reliance on tired tropes and even more egregious body-shaming, Why Did I Get Married? is honestly still such a re-watchable movie that it’d be shameful not to mention here. Using a star-studded cast, Perry opens the film with a seemingly perfect trip to the mountains. Of course, as things go awry, we get all these intimate and at times outrageous details about each of the four couples' lives. The film weaves them all together with comedic timing and a near overdose of melodrama and is admittedly overblown. But it also is measured in its return to straightforward concepts that should resonate with any good romcom lover: respect, agency, honesty and never settling for anything less than what you truly love.
Brown Sugar (2002)
Out of the trifecta of Love Jones, Love & Basketball and Brown Sugar, the latter is the only one that stands out as a true romcom here. We know we’ll get flack for not including the other two, but hear us out: Love Jones is a tempered cinematic tone poem that, while funny, is at its heart a very emotional drama for spoken word stans. Similarly, Love & Basketball is a melancholy love ballad that happens to have a happy ending. Conversely, Brown Sugar adds levity to the tenuous-since-childhood romance between Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sidney (Sanaa Lathan). It helps that you’ve got comments on “real hip-hop” with titans of the time dropping in as cameos and actual characters from Queen Latifah to Mos Def to Angie Martinez and Method Man, to name a few. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, you know?
Top Five (2014)
More recent and the nail in the coffin of Chris Rock’s many meditations on how much he resented the institution of marriage, Top Five is still a romcom. But the romance between Rock’s character, Andre Allen, and Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), isn’t center stage. Instead, Top Five is a love letter to New York—the majority of the film is set during a walk and talk interview, wherein the Andre and Chelsea navigate different boroughs of the city, shining a light on an army of colorful characters. Sure, there are character-specific vignettes later, but the real romance is about soaking up all these moments within the context of the Big Apple. It’s Rock’s most artful film to date, and in a way, it mirrors the many plot points of Hitch while reflecting on a new, stranger dating scene in the city that never sleeps.
To All the Boys I Loved Before (2018)
Based on the 2014 book by Jenny Han, To All the Boys quickly dovetails into Crazy Rich Asians’ big splash this summer, premiering on Netflix on August 17. Following one introverted Lana, a young woman who writes all her crushes a love note, the story blows out when each gets said letters and visits her like the ghosts of Christmas. Of course, the film itself doesn’t feature much intra-racial love; Lana is here for the swirl. But, the story does center on an angsty, east Asian-American girl in ways that countless youth-oriented films have done with many white leads. It’s a small seat at a new table, but it’s a seat nonetheless.