Hollywood adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians has cast its Chinese male lead – and he’s half-white

Eurasian Henry Golding to play Nick Young character from Kevin Kwan’s hit novel, a decision hailed, ironically, by co-star Constance Wu – who objected to ‘whitewashing’ of Matt Damon in The Great Wall

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 8:16am

After a much-publicised worldwide search, the long-awaited Hollywood adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s hit 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians has finally found its male lead in Singapore and Malaysia-based television host Henry Golding – a Eurasian. The casting was first reported in the Hollywood Reporter.

The first-time feature film actor will play Nick Young, a New York University professor who is actually part of a super-rich Chinese family based in Singapore. He will be joined by Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu (as Nick’s girlfriend, Rachel) and Michelle Yeoh (as his disapproving mother). Kwan also serves as an executive producer on the project, which is directed by Jon M. Chu.

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While Golding’s model-like features, British accent and even his sense of belonging towards Singapore all fit the descriptions of Nick in the novels, a minor backlash regarding the actor’s ethnicity can already be found in scattered reaction on social media.

On the relevant post on Hollywood Reporter’s Facebook page, the most liked comment currently reads, “Guess this film will be two steps forward one step back for diversity. We still aren’t at a point where a Hollywood film can have a full Asian male lead. Do Asian males need to be half white to be ‘good looking’ enough for the big screen? Can’t believe this film is becoming white washed.”

The most liked comment on Kevin Kwan’s Facebook post about the announcement reads: “For a movie that was supposed to break barriers, I really feel that they came up short in this casting decision. I’m sure Mr. Golding is talented and is going to do a great job. However, the message is clear; you simply CANNOT be a full-blooded Asian male in a romantic lead in Hollywood. From Daniel Henney to Russell Wong and even Keanu Reaves; only Eurasians will survive Hollywood casting scrutiny.”

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According to his official website, the actor is “of mixed heritage, his father is from England and his mother from the ‘Iban’ tribe in Sarawak, Malaysia”. Golding spent many of his teenage years in the UK, before relocating back to Asia in 2008, where he has been “a fully trained hairstylist turned host/travel presenter who resides in Singapore and Malaysia”.

The casting announcement is welcomed by Kwan, Chu and Wu on social media, with the latter posting a tweet on Wednesday: “Cat’s out of the bag! Y’all are gonna fall in love w/ the talented, kind, charming @henrygolding! Flying to Malaysia NEXT WEEK to start!” (https://twitter.com/ConstanceWu/status/846869841852084224)

Wu’s endorsement of the Crazy Rich Asians casting may strike some as being at once ironic and hypocritical, given that she was one of the most vocal critics of Matt Damon’s “whitewashing” casting in the Chinese fantasy movie The Great Wall . “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon,” she wrote in a statement. “They look like Malala. Ghandi [sic]. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time.”

Constance Wu slams whitewashing in The Great Wall: 'Our heroes don't look like Matt Damon'

Then again, casting half-Asians in ethnic Asian roles – with Jessica Henwick playing the Japanese character of Colleen Wing in Iron Fist just one of several recent examples – has been an ongoing trend in the US. A case could certainly be made that Crazy Rich Asians, populated as it is with Asian talents, should not be singled out for criticism.

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On a more positive note, Golding’s newfound stardom could at least be considered half a step forward from the diversity problem that has seen Mackenzie Davis cast as Mindy Park ( The Martian ), Emma Stone play Allison Ng (Aloha), Tilda Swinton cast as The Ancient One ( Doctor Strange ), or Scarlett Johansson play a character based on anime original Motoko Kusanagi ( Ghost in the Shell ).

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