The Crazy Rich Asians Director Convinced Coldplay Using "Yellow" Wouldn't Be Racist
Crazy Rich Asians is a Hollywood triumph, and in the end, it's only fitting that the closing scene of this film is a magnificent party high above Singapore. After two hours of paying tribute to Asian culture and tradition, this final scene feels as much like a celebration of representation in Western cinema as it does a celebration for its two lead characters. And playing over the scene is a Mandarin cover of Coldplay's "Yellow," performed by 19-year-old Chinese-American singer Katherine Ho.
“I wanted to take hit American songs and make them Chinese, to give audiences a sense of how we feel as Asian Americans,” Chu said of the soundtrack in an interview with Quartz. “That crazy blend of identities and cultures that makes up who we are. It felt to me like a critical part of what we were trying to do.”
But before the scene could be possible, director Jon M. Chu had to convince Warner Bros. and Coldplay to let him use the song, which proved difficult because the band and studio were worried about the connotation of "yellow" as a racist slur. Initially, both parties rejected his request. “They were like, ‘Whoa, we can’t do that, what do you think people will say?’ And I told them, ‘Well, a white director couldn’t do it,'" Chu said.
The director persisted, though, and personally sent the band a letter (which you can read below via The Hollywood Reporter) explaining why he wanted to use the song:
I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song.
For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, her love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.
I remember seeing the music video in college for the first time time on TRL. The one shot with the sun rising was breathtaking for both my filmmaker and music-loving side. It immediately became an anthem for me and my friends and gave us a new sense of pride we never felt before…(even though it probably wasn’t ever your intention). We could reclaim the color for ourselves and it has stuck with me for the majority of my life.
So the reason I am writing this now, is because I am directing a film for Warner Bros. called Crazy Rich Asians (based on the best selling novel) and it is the first ALL-ASIAN cast for a Hollywood studio film in 25 years. Crazy. We were recently featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly to commemorate the fact.
The story is a romantic comedy about a young Asian-American women (played by Constance Wu) from New York coming to terms with her cultural identity while she’s visiting her boyfriend’s mother (played by Michelle Yeoh) in Singapore. It’s a lavish, fun, romantic romp but underneath it all, there’s an intimate story of a girl becoming a woman. Learning that she’s good enough and deserves the world, no matter what she’s been taught or how she’s been treated, and ultimately that she can be proud of her mixed heritage.
The last scene of the movie shows this realization as she heads to the airport to return home a different woman. It’s an empowering, emotional march and needs an anthem that lives up and beyond her inner triumph, which is where “Yellow” comes in.
It would be such an honour to to use your song that gave me so much strength throughout the years, to underscore this final part of our film. And for me personally, it would complete a journey that I’ve been going through, fighting to make it in the movie business.
I know as an artist it’s always difficult to decide when it’s ok to attach your art to someone else’s—and I am sure in most instances you are inclined to say no. However, I do believe this project is special. I do believe this is a unique situation in which the first Hollywood studio film, with an All-Asian cast is not playing stereotypes or side-players, but romantic and comedic leads. It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song. I know it’s recontextualized but I think that’s what makes it powerful. I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it most.
Your consideration would mean so much to me and our project.
I can show you the movie if you want to see the context, or talk to you if you have any questions. Thank you for taking the time to listen.
Within 24 hours of sending the letter, Coldplay approved Chu's request.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.