"We have felt this and stayed quiet about it and just smiled and moved on for our whole lives," he said. "It's really great that we have a moment now, we can all join hands and say, 'Stop the jokes, stop ignoring this, we are not ok.'"
Chu now lives in Los Angeles. But he was born in Palo Alto and grew up in Los Altos, where he spent many afternoons helping out at his family's iconic Chinese restaurant, Chef Chu's in Los Altos. Although Chu encountered a diversity of people, including the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, he also encountered racism. But his dad Lawrence Chu always told them to be ambassadors, and not to let racist comments get them down.
"If someone leaves the restaurant with their bellies full, their hearts full, next time they see a Chinese family, they'll know to treat them right," he said. "And that's the way we were taught. Maybe that's the way our parents needed to do it to survive and we needed to do it to move forward, but now we are of age."
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Chu says that means it's time to speak up.
The filmmaker notes that while his family receives a great deal of community support, they still encounter overt or subtle racism. Chu says seeing that, coupled with the increased attacks on Asian Americans this past year, he's more motivated than ever to tell the stories of Asian-Americans.
"We're not some foreign entity here to take over your land in some way," he said. "We're part of America. Asian American history is American history. And now it's time to learn that history."
Chu says Hollywood has stereotyped Asian women, either as hypersexualized or as the dragon lady, 'I'm not clear on that either. I have not done enough. We have not done enough. The urgency is upon us."
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Throughout his career, Chu has known that representation matters. Ahead of the release of his smash-hit "Crazy Rich Asians," he talked with ABC7 News about the sense of responsibility he felt. The film was the first Asian-American focused studio movie since Joy Luck Club more than 25 years ago. Chu turned down a huge offer from Netflix and went with Warner Brothers to ensure the film would be seen in theaters. He knew that the success of the film would enable more Asian American stories to get the greenlight. The success of "Crazy Rich Asians" has, in fact, opened up many opportunities for AAPI directors, producers and actors.
While "Crazy Rich Asians 2" is still in development, Chu has wrapped with Lin-Manual Miranda's "In the Heights," a musical about Dominican-Americans set in New York City. He sees a common thread in the stories of immigrants.
"The solution is very similar," he said. "It's showing each other who we are."
"In the Heights" will be released on June 11. No date yet for "Crazy Rich Asians 2." But Chu promises to keep us posted.
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