As The Farewell was written and directed by a Chinese American woman, Lulu Wang, and stars Chinese-American, Golden Globe winning actress Awkwafina, while the film’s dialogue is mostly spoken in Mandarin, Hollywood’s expectations were that the movie would be well received in China.
That did not work out. …
Disney thought Asian representation would attract Chinese audiences when they cast Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran in a major role in the most recent Star Wars trilogy. The problem was that Ms. Tran (who is of Vietnamese descent anyway, which is like appealing to the English by casting an Italian) did not conform to classical Chinese standards of beauty and thus Chinese audiences never warmed to her.
Chinese audiences have voiced similar complaints regarding Awkwafina, with some Chinese people on social media going so far as to call her “very ugly,” which may be one of the reasons why The Farewell is doing so poorly. And this is before we get to her Mandarin, which was widely considered laughable for a first-generation immigrant, even a one who left China early, according to the plot (the actress herself did not speak Chinese fluently before the film).
Another example of this cultural divide is Simu Liu, a Canadian-Chinese actor who was recently cast in the lead of the upcoming Marvel movie Shang-chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Liu is considered handsome by Western standards but some Chinese people say he is “not handsome by Chinese standards” — at least when compared to many of the local action stars — which means Shang-chi might face an uphill battle at the Chinese box office when it comes out. …
Get woke, go broke:
Hollywood’s belief that Chinese audiences want to see Hollywood make Chinese themed-movies with Chinese stars seems to be staggeringly obtuse and based on its own identity politics than how people around the world actually consume entertainment.
China has a thriving film industry all of its own and Chinese audiences don’t clamor to see Chinese stories told from Hollywood’s perspective (even if they’re made by Chinese-American artists) any more than Americans yearn to see American stories told by foreign artists, however, flattering it might be that someone is interested enough in your culture (and pockets) to do that.
Chinese audiences want to see American movies from America and can get over the fact that none of their countrymen look like Chris Hemsworth.
Identity politics never conquers the mass market. Can’t imagine why.