Monday, November 29, 2021

Jimmy O. Young’s Crab Club is dedicated to Asian-American stories

One of the hottest “clubs” in Hollywood is Crazy Rich Asians actor Jimmy O. Young and his fellow producers. No DJ or bottle service. If you get access, you better know how to eat the Dungeness crab.

Yang, whose Netflix romantic comedy “Love Hard” is out on Friday, has turned the Crab Club, the production company he runs with Jessica Gao and Ken Cheng, into a true Hollywood force.

Why Crab Club? This nickname comes from their regular crab dinners with other Asian American friends in the entertainment industry. The goal was not just to eat, but to support each other. Food changes between their homes in the Los Angeles area. For Young, it was a “cool dining club.”

“I felt completely normal, like when I was filming Crazy Rich Asians, where we didn’t have to explain ourselves,” Ian told The Associated Press.

While in Hollywood, the gatherings eventually expanded beyond the support group and are now an incubator for TV and film projects told on their terms. In 2019, Yang, Gao, and Cheng founded Crab Club, Inc., and it didn’t take long for the company to prove it had legs.

Comedian Joe Coy showed up at one of the dinners, and there was a spark of “synergy,” Yang said. Talk of their collaboration led to the first Crab Club project: Easter Sunday, a comedy about a Filipino American family starring Koi. The film, which will premiere in April, has found a partner at Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

“We all told a story together. But Ken is the main writer, ”Yang said. “He wrote such an amazing script that Steven Spielberg, according to legend, approved of his first draft.”

They are now co-writing The Great China Artistic Robbery with the former director of Crazy Rich Asians Yang, John M. Chu. The Crab Club is also producing an Amazon Studios comedy series co-written with executive producer Cheng, about exiles from Los Angeles.

“If someone sends us a draft, we have two rules,” Cheng said. “First, the project should draw attention to marginalized voices or a marginalized community. We are three Chinese Americans. Obviously, we will lean towards Asian-American projects or Asian diaspora projects … The second mandate is that all three of us should like it and we want to do it. ”

The Crab Club dinners, which were temporarily suspended during the pandemic, were not intended for some exclusive Asian Algonquin round table. In fact, it all started with eating crabs. Gao, showrunner of the highly anticipated Marvel / Disney + TV series She-Hulk, said that they and two other friends created a text thread in 2017 to warn each other if they saw Dungens’ crab at a bargain price.

“When prices drop to single digits per pound, we will all – like the Avengers – gather for a crab lunch,” Gao said. “We all took turns receiving each other as guests. And we are all very good cooks. ”

It was open by invitation only due to the difficulty of accommodating more than 10-15 people and due to the fact that the owner has to buy crabs. Their little dinner club started to generate buzz, with producers and actors asking how to join.

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According to Cheng, the people in the group have been “isolated” for so many years, always being the only Asian on set. Here they can come up with ideas or complain that industry workers are closing doors because of their race or ethnicity.

They also support each other outside of the Crab Club production. When the plot of “Tough Love” and Young’s casting were revealed, there was immediate criticism that the story would depend on the image of a nerdy Asian guy who is not a believable romantic option.

In a cute but not sweet Christmas movie, a New York man (Ian) uses a photo of his hefty childhood friend as his online dating avatar. He connects himself by text messages and phone chats with a writer from Los Angeles (Nina Dobrev). When she stops catching cats after surprising him at his house, Cyrano-style jokes begin.

“I knew these tweets would come from watching the trailer, because of course you keep this story to a minimum … It’s like, ‘Oh, what are you trying to say? Oh, this type of Asian guy with glasses isn’t cool, is this other guy cool? “Jan said.

He assures that there are more nuances in the film. His character was not originally written as an Asian American. Ian took over the role after convincing the producers to agree that the hot guy would be played by someone of Asian descent (Darren Barnett from Never Have I Ever plays the role). Yang also knew that by playing this role, viewers would see an Asian family on screen.

This level of attention is one of the reasons Cheng and Gao protect Yang when it comes to criticism.

“This is a situation that I think really illustrates the unfair attitude of colored actors,” Gao said. “Jimmy really cares about his community and wants to protect his community.”

Like Yang, Gao and Cheng are very busy with projects outside the Crab Club. Gao is busy with She-Hulk, where people of color make up more than half of the writers. Cheng has many commitments, including the HBO pilot comedy about siblings running a Chinese restaurant.

It would have been easy for the trio to focus only on their career in such a ruthless business. But they also want to help aspiring writers and actors contribute to what could be the “golden age of Asian-American art,” Cheng said.

The golden age seems long overdue. In May, a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report found that only 5.9% of the 51,159 speaking roles in the top-grossing 1,300 films between 2007 and 2019 were played by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In only 3.4%, or 44, of these films, Asians and Pacific Islanders were the main or co-hosts.

The constant lack of representation is why the trio will send projects to other authors if they don’t fit. Gao says they need to overcome Hollywood’s history of making people of color compete for tiny opportunities.

“The circle is getting bigger,” Gao said. “The tide raises all boats. This is the philosophy we believe in. “

___ Terry Tan is a member of the Associated Press Race and Ethnicity Team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP.

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