Crazy Rich Asians yellow

The word “yellow” has tons of negative connotations for Asians, but Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu was determined to reclaim it. And he did it in the most emotional, and slightly tongue-in-cheek way, possible: he included a Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s hit song “Yellow.”

But it took more than a few phone calls to get permission to use the song. Warner Bros. executives were squeamish and Coldplay was reluctant — for good reason. So Chu penned a beautiful, moving letter to Coldplay to convince them to give Crazy Rich Asians the song. And you can now read the lovely letter in full.

Spoilers for Crazy Rich Asians ahead.

Towards the end of Crazy Rich Asians, familiar guitar chords are plucked while The Voice contestant Katherine Ho softly croons a Mandarin-language cover of “Yellow.” The music swells as Constance Wu‘s Rachel Chu makes an empowering choice, and ultimate sacrifice, to embrace her identity as an Asian-American woman. But this powerful moment almost didn’t happen.

Chu had previously stated in an interview with Quartz that both Warner Bros. and Coldplay were reluctant to allow “Yellow” to be used in the movie, due to the word’s association as a racial slur against Asian people. But Chu eventually convinced them otherwise because, as he told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re going to own that term. If we’re going to be called yellow, we’re going to make it beautiful.”

It’s no surprise that Coldplay initially turned Chu’s request down — the band had been in hot water for appropriating Asian culture in both their 2012 song “Princess of China” and 2016’s “Hymn for the Weekend,” both of which were slammed for featuring stereotypical Asian imagery that bordered on Orientalism.

But Coldplay’s song “Yellow” was a different matter. Despite the song title’s racially-charged history, the song is anything but — and its ode to the beauty of the stars and sun struck a chord with Chu when he first heard it. “For the first time in my life, [“Yellow”] described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, her love,” Chu wrote to Coldplay members Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland and Will Champion. “It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.”

You can read Chu’s entire letter (via THR) in full here:

Dear Chris, Guy, Jonny and Will,

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 realisation 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.

Much love,

Jon M. Chu

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