What Does the Success of ‘Fast Five’ Mean for Asian Americans?

Before I get started, I want to first thank everyone who came out to the premiere of Fast Five at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival (we’ll post photos and videos from opening later this week). On behalf of everyone at YOMYOMF, thanks to everyone for their support and to the folks at Visual Communications who put on the fest. My fellow Offender Justin Lin (who directed Fast Five) was doing a press tour in Europe and couldn’t be there but our awesome hosts Danny Pudi (Community) and Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced) had the packed audience in the two theaters screening the movie say a quick hello to Justin in this video (of the theater 1 audience) shot on VC staffer Davis Jung’s phone:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWsC7QdWFs4

Unless you were living in an isolated bunker with no internet or phones in Abbottabad, you probably already know that Fast Five’s opening weekend here in the U.S. was beyond huge. Normally, I don’t like to repeat information that you can find on a gazillion other sites, but I’m going to make an exception here because, after all, when was the last time an Asian American filmmaker made a movie that did this well? So let the folks at Deadline Hollywood, break it down for you:

Here’s the latest news about the start of the Summer Box Office with its first official weekend totalling $145 million, +52% from last year. The 2011 box office slump is now officially history. North America’s #1 movie is Universal’s Fast Five whose weekend of $83.6M blew away the $71M opening weekend of fourquel Fast & Furious. Now, this 5th installment in the street racing franchise breaks the studio’s non-toon losing streak in recent years with a global cume of $165M in just 10 days of release internationally…

The film received an “A” CinemaScore and an “A+” from moviegoers under age 18. In terms of records, Universal is claiming: the biggest opening in Universal history (besting Lost World: Jurassic Park’s $72.1M), the biggest opening of 2011 (besting Rio’s $39.2M), the biggest Universal opening for 2011 (besting Hop’s $37.5M), the highest opening for an April Release (besting Fast & Furious’ $71M), the highest opening for the last weekend in April (besting A Nightmare On Elm Street’s $39M), the highest opening for stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and producer Neil Moritz, and director Justin Lin. A lot of Uni execs are breathing easier today now that they’ve delivered a nice fat hit to their new Comcast overlords who must have been wondering if they’d bought a bomb factory instead of a movie studio. Fast Five opened first overseas 10 days ago and this weekend grossed a huge $45.3M at 3,211 dates in just 14 territories. That raised its early international tally to $81.4M. So now the worldwide total stands at a whopping $165M. The pic opened No. 1 in each of the 10 new markets. The openings are bigger than all the previous Fast franchise films and far ahead of Marvel/Disney’s Thor, which Paramount has opened head-to-head against Fast Five in 12 markets but not in the U.S. and Canada until next Friday. Of course, sequels do better overseas than in this country. But even rival studios say Fast Five is on track for a $300M foreign and $500M worldwide finish.

But wait, the most updated news released yesterday was that the studio underreported the first weekend grosses and the film actually pulled in a whooping $86.2 million not the measly $83.6 million that was originally reported. Not only that, but Fast Five has received mostly positive reviews which never happens with the fifth film in an action franchise and critics are pointing out how this may be one of Hollywood’s most progressive films ever (see here and here for examples).

Amidst all this hoopla, I got a chance to talk to Justin over the weekend before he left for the Asian leg of his press tour and I’m happy to report that he hasn’t turned into a dick. Well, not yet at least. In fact, in the stress and pressure of the weeks leading up to the film’s release, he said the thing that was most on his mind wasn’t one of the big international premieres or shouldering the weight of the massive expectations for the film. Nope, the thing he was most worried about was how would the film play at the Asian Film Fest? Would his peeps there like it? Would the event go well? What?! At this moment, you’re probably the most powerful director in Hollywood and you’re big worry is how the film would do at an Asian American film festival?

Well, I’m sure it must be a surreal experience to be in the eye of this perfect storm and I can’t begin to fathom what that must be like. However, Justin has promised to blog about what he’s been going through so look for that shortly.

But let’s return to the question I posed at the start: what does this film’s success, the fact that one of the biggest hits of all time was directed by an Asian American, mean for our community? I’m not going to try to volunteer any concrete answers because I don’t have any, but let me offer some general observations.

The first and most important point I want to make is that I don’t think this film will be a fluke that exists in a vacuum. I know in the past films like The Joy Luck Club have met with success and it didn’t lead to any real change for our community so it’s easy to be suspicious and cynical, but I think things are different now.

As a lot of other people have written already, it’s going to be hard for Hollywood not to take notice of the fact that a big tent pole picture with a mostly non-white cast can be hugely successful. Will this lead to studios suddenly populating their films with brown, black and yellow people (yes, I’m looking at you Akira)? Maybe not right away. But in an industry that often “copies” what’s already been successful, it’s definitely not going to be business as usual. And we know there’s at least one Asian American director now who actually cares about the community and has a lot more clout now to do what he wants. And that’s significant.

Hollywood has always been behind the rest of the arts when it comes to reflecting the world in which we live. You look at other fields like music where out and proud Asian Americans like our friends Far East Movement and Bruno Mars are at the top of their game and it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before the movies have to start reflecting that reality too or it’ll go the way of fax machines, VHS and CDs. Hopefully, the success of something like Fast Five will give Hollywood a big push in the right direction.

But where this reality is truly reflected is online where the young and Asian American generation of YouTube stars like Wong Fu, KevJumba and Ryan Higa are already the rock stars and pioneers. I know there are people (usually “old” folks on the other side of 25) who dismiss these guys as passing fads who will be unable to cross over into the “mainstream.” But I think those people are going to be eating their words if history is any indication.

It’s true that none of the YouTube stars have been able to parlay their success online to other traditional fields (like Hollywood)…yet. But I think it’s just a matter of time before some enterprising soul figures out how to turn that “niche” online world into the powerful mainstream force it’s on the brink of becoming. And the exciting thing is that Asian Americans are the ones at the forefront of this.

It reminds me of the early days of Hollywood when most people dismissed the new medium of motion pictures as a fad and something that was beneath them (sound familiar?). It was Jewish immigrants (or children of Jewish immigrants) who became the pioneers and leaders in what would become one of the largest industries in the world because they got involved from the beginning when no one else would and saw the potential that others didn’t.

Well, we’re in the same place today with YouTube and new media and Asian Americans are the new Jews—we were able to see and utilize the potential in this new form before others did and now we have the power to really create a new model that can potentially transform the business. The only difference is that back then, the Jews who ran the studios had to “hide” their cultural identity and make films that did the same because they didn’t think the mass audience would be supportive (and they were most likely correct). But this new generation of Asian Americans are proud of their identity and they know their multicultural audience is ready and willing to embrace that too. And that’s a very good thing.

So let me proclaim right here that it might just be the most exciting time to be an Asian American in this crazy business. To see the success of a film like Fast Five, to see the FM boys move up the charts with each new song, to see these young YouTube guys being greeted with Beatles-like fandom wherever they go, to see so many TV pilots this season featuring Asian characters—it does feel like a perfect storm is brewing and it’s fucking exciting! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Am I saying everything is perfect and we’ve made it? Of course not. No one knows more than those of us in the trenches the real obstacles we face everyday (Yes, Justin still gets mistaken for the Chinese delivery guy on the sets of his own movies), but I think no one else also knows better that the world is such that we now have the power to affect real change. We have to get out of this 20th Century mentality of victimhood—boo hoo, Hollywood doesn’t care about us. So fucking what? It’s the 21st Century now. It’s time to move beyond that. We’ve been on the defensive for too long. It’s time to play some kick ass offense and we now have the players to do that.

I wrote recently that in five years you’ll see a genuine Asian American movie star—that there’s no longer any obstacles preventing us from doing this that we can’t overcome. I know some took that statement with a bit of skepticism, but let me ask you this: Five years ago, did you think that the most successful Hollywood director of the year would be an Asian American? That an Asian American music act would claim the top spot on the charts? That the most subscribed and viewed personality on YouTube would be an Asian American?

And the journey continues…

29 thoughts on “What Does the Success of ‘Fast Five’ Mean for Asian Americans?

  1. Let’s not forget about guys like John Cho who have been a positive influence on Asians in film. Bobby Lee with comedy. There’s Ken Jeong in Apatow films & on Community on NBC. Also on TV, there’s Tim Kang on the Mentalist and a whole bunch of TV ads (Home Depot/Verizon, etc). I have noticed more usage than ever before of Asian actors/actresses in TV & print ads (Bank of America is a good example).

    It’s not just music, film or TV, either. In sports, there’s Jeremy Lin – the 1st Chinese-American NBA player with the Golden State Warriors. Speed skating and golf have strong Asian representation. In car racing in the US, there are finally some Asian racecar drivers stepping up to the professional level with strong results. In fact, I am trying to make a name for myself in the racing industry.

    The message has finally gotten through to Hollywood how strong the Asian-American presence is and the days of stereotyped extra/character roles are over. This is a great time to be Asian-American and the future will definitely be brighter!

  2. I’d hate to be the downer in all this hype but I didn’t jump on the far east movement band wagon and I’m not going to praise this piece of fluff.
    Seriously guys, how is this going on the “offensive”? If this movie DOESN’T portray Hispanic/Afro Brazilians as background noise I’ll eat my hat.

  3. nice article.
    can’t wait to see if justin lin uses his weight to boost asian american presence in hollywood!!!

  4. Five years ago, did you think that the most successful Hollywood director of the year would be an Asian American?

    It doesn’t surprise me. Hollywood has been recruiting directors from Asia for some time now. Behind the scenes, I don’t think there is as much discrimination towards Asians. So why wouldn’t an Asian American director be successful?

  5. yeah…how come Asian Americans in general don’t recognize Tim Kang as a success? The guy was in Rambo on top of the The Mentalist and white women love him. (if that matters)

    And let’s not forget Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. :)

  6. don’t forget Ang Lee

    but we can all agree that the battle is far from over. stereotypes and caricatures abound: I’m talking about Ken Jeong and Mr.Chow here.

    yet, the most amazing thing is that Hawaii Five-0 might redeem itself with a new love interest for Kono who’s an AM…

  7. You guys are just a bunch of bananas. Justin Lin hasn’t done shit, but bend over for his white overlords while he peddles this Fast Furious crap down the world. Joy Luck Club was about a bunch of Chinese whores and Ken Jeong is nothing but an Asian butt boy who likes to play the queer.

    Open your eyes people! Hollywood is a racist and hateful organization towards Asians!

  8. Hey Blah, I’m assuming you mean bananas as in “that shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s!” cause that’s awesome! Rock on!

  9. Wow, if a huge opening weekend, critical accolades, and the most multi-racial cast of ANY summer blockbuster movie this year is an example of bending over for white overlords, then I’D LOVE TO SEE what actual success might look like.

  10. FF5 is the start of a trend…the trend of Justin Lin kicking ass at the box office, critically, and diversity-wise. Sung Kang getting the girl (sorry if that’s a spoiler but it’s in the promo materials so whatever) is great. If the trend is Justin Lin continuing to cast Sung Kang as a girl-getting, snack-munching badass, I’ll take it. Baby steps on the road to bigger leaps.

    Speaking for executives is always a fool’s errand, but notice that at 9 percent, the film’s Asian audience is overly-represented by double (Asian make up 4.8 percent of America). So even if it’s not as big as the Latino group, you’d have to be a dumb executive not to notice a powerful ticket-buying demographic.

  11. yo, Ho. do you even read articles that others post to contrast a dissenting view, or just go off on your own superiority-inferiority complex rants?

    perhaps you’ve even read on yomyomf that Justin Lin even said the execs don’t count Asians as a separate demographic from whites because they consume everything whites do and has the same exact buying habits?

  12. “Joy Luck Club was about a bunch of Chinese whores and Ken Jeong is nothing but an Asian butt boy who likes to play the queer.”

    Somehow, I don’t see misogyny and homophobia as the way to progress.

  13. uh…chunk…I went by the pie chart you linked! Look at it. 9 percent. That directly contradicts what Justin Lin said.

    Justin Lin started saying that about Asians not being a separate demographic more than 8 years ago…8 years in which demographics have changed. I think the pie chart shows a change in that paradigm.

    “superiority-inferiority complex rants”…take a look in the mirror, buddy.

  14. [[“Joy Luck Club was about a bunch of Chinese whores and Ken Jeong is nothing but an Asian butt boy who likes to play the queer.”]

    Somehow, I don’t see misogyny and homophobia as the way to progress.]]

    @maya

    well has present progress made any so called ” progress”

    Open your eyes and mind

  15. Pingback: Quotable: On Fast Five’s Success And A New Wave Of Asian-American Stars | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  16. thanks Ric. I also don’t see those AF who are so quick to paint AM as sexist footbinders go out and complaining about WM being misogynists and homophobes.

    let’s see how many AF blogs call out HANGOVER#2.

  17. yo, Ho. are you especially dense or just a corporate blurbmeister? I’m genuinely interested in what your background is.

    for many, many posts on here you have been the numbnut superiority-inferiority complex token ‘Asian’ who lashes at any dissenting opinions. so i’m seriously wanting to know who are you.

    as for the 9% Asian audience, did you even read the article’s title? wow, you want a cookie and a pat on the back for seeing the 9% off the big pie chart?

    all that it really means is like the LIMITLESS audience that Asians still see everything white audiences go see. youtube is starting to change things around, but “actual progress” is still not yet proven.

    and it’s probably going to be seen as more of a Latino thing with the 33%.

    i’m cautiously optimistic, but i’m not a paid corporate shill like you.

  18. “paid corporate shill”???

    I don’t work for any corporation, and I’m not the one hiding behind a fake name, bro.

    Whites make up 53% of the population but only represented 35% of FF5′s audience. They DECREASED their representation going to the film.

    Asian Americans INCREASED their representation twice-fold. That sounds like a DIFFERENT viewing pattern to me.

    I didn’t invent this idea…check it out here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3jriLW8o7A

    And I don’t need a cookie. I’m on a diet. Thanks.

  19. @ howard ho

    2x viewing pattern = 2x same types of roles and absent AM presence. 2x many AF/non AM pairings
    2X many AM in enuch roles or sidekicks
    2X many western xenophobia of ” sleeping dragon” – china etc…..

  20. [[thanks Ric. I also don’t see those AF who are so quick to paint AM as sexist footbinders go out and complaining about WM being misogynists and homophobes.

    let’s see how many AF blogs call out HANGOVER#2.]]

    @ chunk$
    How many went nuts from facebook moive brenda song BJ? how about all OTHER AF/WM or Non AM media protrayal ?

    @aamodelminority

  21. @Ric: I don’t see the connection between hypersexualized AF media images to this discussion?…

  22. yo, Ho. yeah, post your photo ID to verify your name, and your DOB and SSN while you’re at it. so you post your alleged name, does that make your comments any less BS?

    whites are around 71% of the US population last I heard. so the lower number only means WM of 16-34 targeted demographic are less likely to support movies with a rainbow shade cast – which is pretty obvious.

    that Prince youtube video was exactly where I got the 11% audience members for LIMITLESS from. again, it just goes to reiterate what I’ve been saying all along that Asians have the same consumption patterns as whites.

    Asians will buy everything whites buy and see the movies with white leads and romanticize WM with AF screaming how they’d do Bradly Cooper, but laugh at Ken Jeong the eunuch.

  23. @Ric, huh?

    @Chunky brewster, haha, my “alleged name”? You made my day.

    Wow, white people don’t support a movie with a rainbow shaded cast by half but Asian people support it twice over. You’re making my point for me. Thanks!

  24. “whites are around 71% of the US population last I heard”

    Really? Have you heard this?

    Hispanic/Latino people are considered “white” by the US Census so that 71% you mention includes the 16% Latino population.

    Ok, I want my cookie now. Get me my cookie!

  25. yo, Ho. seriously, post your SSN, DOB, and photo ID or else online I’m also a Navy SEAL with a 180+ IQ with a supermodel girlfriend. *rolleyes*

    either my reading comprehension is worse than usual, or your point is a dull one about Asians watching everything whites watch. it’s no surprise to anybody that WM 16-34 wouldn’t watch a movie with mostly ethnics, and everybody else would – that 33% Latino audience number.

    I’m wondering now, are you even ‘American’ by citizenship and how long have you lived in the US? the “Latino” population has always been listed as “Hispanic (not white)” and “Hispanic (white)” on the census forms.

    it’s 16.3% “Hispanics” (INCLUDING white “Hispanics)”

    and 72.4% “Caucasian” that’s INCLUDING “white Hispanic” and something like 66% EXCLUDING “white Hispanic”

    http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf

    so I was 1.4% off, but that’s better than your BS numbers which don’t even make sense to support your nonsense about whites more willing to see Asians in the media.

  26. Phil, please come and play referee here….this is getting out of hand…

    Now coming back to your article, I don’t like the Fast & Furious series, but there’s no denying that Justin Lin is making it work, so hats off to him. Hell, the fact that movie got a B from the Onion A.V. Club is just eye-opening to me!!

    We still got a long way to go, but Phil, your last few paragraphs put a smile on my face, so thanks a lot. This might be a fortuitous season for APA filmmakers and such, but like all things in life, you just gotta keep on truckin’, especially when you’re knee deep in the trenches, as you so eloquently put it. :)

  27. Chunky, I have tried to play nice with your ignorance and willful misunderstanding of my point. You’ve called me a “corporate shill” and now you imply I’m not even an American citizen. WTF? Just goes to show it’s much easier to hide in plain sight.

    My suggestion to you is learn some facts about the film world and some manners to boot. After this post, I’m done with you. Eat shit.

    Finally just to prevent others out there from falling into the black hole of ignorance that is the Chunk-meister:

    What is a “white hispanic”? They are classified white by the Census but ethnically and culturally they are Latino.

    From Wikipedia:
    “In the 2010 United States Census, 50 million Americans (16% of the total population) listed themselves as ethnically Hispanic or Latino American. Of those, 53.0% (26.7 million) self-identified as racially white. The remaining respondents listed their race as: Some other race 36.7%, multi-racial 6.0%, Black or African American 2.5%, American Indian and Alaska Native 1.4%, Asian 0.4%, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.1%.[25]
    Respondents in the “Some other race” category are reclassified as white by the Census Bureau in its official estimates of race. This means that more than 90% of all Hispanic or Latino Americans end up counted as “white” in some statistics of the US government, equalling 43.1 million in 2008.[30]
    Native-born and immigrant Hispanics and Latinos identify as White in nearly identical percentages: 53.9 and 53.7, respectively, per figures from 2007. The combined ratio was 53.8%.[31]“

  28. Phil, i know you don’t censor – but… wtf??? when you start going down that path and start accusing people of not being a U.S. citizen… (WTF!!??!) … and asking for SSN’s.. (seriously, WTF!?!??!?!) … it means it’s time to bite the bullet and STFU.

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