Life

Be Like Simu Liu And Learn How #GoldOpen Changes Who We See In Movies

There's a reason he bought out a theatre so people could see "The Farewell" for free.
Lulu Wang, director of "The Farewell."
Lulu Wang, director of "The Farewell."

On Tuesday night, after hundreds of people filed into a theatre at a Cineplex in Toronto, having just been admitted into “The Farewell” for free, they found Simu Liu, the Chinese Canadian actor, commanding the front space of the theatre.

“I don’t know if you guys were just outside,” he began, “but it’s a crazy scene out there.”

After announcing he would be giving away 500 free tickets for people to watch Lulu Wang’s new film, “The Farewell” — about a Chinese-American family bracing for impending grief — it was no surprise that so many showed up. “It’s really touching to me,” Liu continued, “because it shows that there are so many people who believe what I believe in, which is that we need to be represented better on screen.”

Liu’s gesture, of course, was an effort to fulfill that desire. “The battle for representation and identity can only be won if we stand together,” he told HuffPost Canada in a statement over email. “We need many more [movies] if we are to create thoughtful and abundant discussions of what it means to be Asian-American/Canadian. That’s why incredible films like “The Farewell,” directed by Lulu Wang and starring the incomparable Awkwafina, deserve the #GoldOpen (and in my opinion, some Oscar buzz as well)!”

If you were at all on the internet last summer, you almost certainly would have seen the sudden proliferation of the #GoldOpen hashtag, which quickly became something of a bona fide cultural phenomenon. In mid-August, dozens of people began publishing photographs featuring fat wads of movie tickets, each stamped in black ink with a corresponding date, time slot, and the title of one unifying film: “Crazy Rich Asians.”

People shelled out a bunch of money to buy up entire theatre showings for strangers to see the movie. Some had spent between $1,600 and $5,100 per screening so they could distribute tickets for free — just like Liu’s action on Tuesday — to Asian-American youth and community groups. “Crazy Rich Asians” was the first major studio to have an all-Asian cast, and it seemed many were committed to ensuring as many people witnessed the historic moment as humanly possible.

It was in this moment that it became clear that the film would be a definitive commercial success, and that it was also representative of something much bigger than a romcom starring Asian leads. Jon M. Chu, the film’s director, called his creation a “movement.” Bing Chen and Janet Young, co-creators of the #GoldOpen campaign, succinctly offered context: “But a movement only lasts with a machine behind it.”

The cast of "Crazy Rich Asians" was nominated for several awards.
The cast of "Crazy Rich Asians" was nominated for several awards.

That machine is Gold Open.

Founded in 2017 by a group of pioneering Asian directors, producers, writers and executives, the Gold Open project bills itself as a community movement dedicated to ensuring the opening weekend success of “New Majority creative projects.”

In other words, it works to get people to go see projects that people from traditionally mis- or underrepresented groups — women, people of the African diaspora, Latinx communities, LGBTQ+ people — have contributed to. Mainly, though, the focus is on Asian communities. (A scroll through the website offers pages and pages of films to see, or pledge money to, that Asians have participated in. “The Farewell” currently occupies a banner at the top.)

Watch: The trailer for Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.” Story continues below.

Gold Open has some favoured and successful strategies: buying out theatres for independent films, starting up viral social media campaigns, partnering with big movie chains. When “Crazy Rich Asians” was released last year, the Gold Open movement was relentless in its coordinated social support — the film quickly reached the number one spot at the box office and became the highest grossing rom com of the last decade.

If this sort of campaign sounds familiar, it is. Last year, celebrities, activists and schools were buying out theatres so that kids could see Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” for free. Ditto for Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” Gold Open’s website cites these initiatives as sites of inspiration, and people from around the world have been chipping in, on behalf of its mission, to catapult certain films into higher spots at the box office.

Behind these initiatives is a particular anxiety. Often, these campaigns all spring from the concern that if these movies don’t succeed economically, if people don’t pay money to go see them, then another opportunity for any comparable movies with diverse casts and stories may never come about again. It’s hard not to think the stakes are much higher for someone like Lulu Wang than they are for someone like Greg Berlanti.

Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle in Time" and Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" were two of last year's most anticipated films.
Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle in Time" and Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" were two of last year's most anticipated films.

There has long been a mythology perpetuated by Hollywood executives that people — a euphemism for “white people” — weren’t willing to see movies that were about Asian communities, or Black communities, or any other community that deviated from what’s been commonly portrayed on the silver screen.

The thought has been that white people are the ones who go see movies (they aren’t), and that they wouldn’t see a film that doesn’t represent them — funny, considering minorities have been forced to identify with white characters since forever. (It’s also worth noting most studio executives, a.k.a decision makers, are also white.)

Gold Open, and other campaigns like it, are a conscious effort to prove that people want to see these movies — that there is value in representation, as if it needed to be said again.

Awkwafina appears in both "The Farewell" and "Crazy Rich Asians."
Awkwafina appears in both "The Farewell" and "Crazy Rich Asians."

Interestingly, the movement to make representation a priority has also exposed other signs of stasis. In a recent interview with IndieWire, director Lulu Wang revealed multiple U.S. financiers recommended that she add a prominent white actor to the movie. Even a Chinese producer, belied by the same aforementioned mythologies, told her, “You need a white guy in your movie.” She did not: “The Farewell” beat out “Avengers: Endgame” and set a new box office record.

Back at the screening of “The Farewell” in Yorkville, Liu closed off his introduction to the film with some parting words. “[“The Farewell” is] a touching family piece that speaks to all our experiences growing up in an immigrant household,” he said. He paused, making note of the non-Asian viewers in the room. “And by the way, if y’all are white … that’s OK! We’re not excluding you.”

“In fact,” Liu continued, “we want to share our culture with you. Please, join with us. Appreciate our stories as we’ve appreciated yours for a really long time.”