"The question to all of them was, 'How can this be successful, sustainably?'" said Bing Chen, an entrepreneur who organized the event.
They were not discussing a startup, a scholarship program or a political campaign. The task at hand was to take one of the summer's most anticipated new movies, "Crazy Rich Asians," and turn it into a bona fide cultural phenomenon.
From that meeting a social media hashtag campaign called #GoldOpen was born in anticipation of the movie's opening nationwide on Wednesday. But that would not be enough — a number of those at the dinner, after all, were rich Asians themselves.
So from New York City to Los Angeles, Houston to Honolulu, these industry leaders and others have spent many thousands of dollars renting out dozens of theaters for special screenings of the movie before and during its opening week. The campaign aims to fuel widespread interest in a film that could blaze a pathway for greater Asian-American representation in Hollywood, which organizers as well as the film's creators and stars say is long overdue.
"High tides raise all boats, so we wanted to see if we could be that high tide," said Andrew Chau, a co-founder of Boba Guys, a bubble tea chain. He chipped in for screenings in San Francisco and in Texas.
The backers have been spending $1,600 to $5,100 per screening, depending on the size of the theater, its location and whether the film is shown during prime time. Those tickets have then been distributed free to Asian-American youth and community groups, friends and the occasional VIP.
"When's the last time you've seen so many Asians in a theater?" said Tim Lim, a 33-year-old political consultant, after a screening in Washington on Monday. His friend helped pay for the screening, and Lim vowed to see the movie on his own at least three more times.
A thick, stinging haze greeted the ecologist, Gileyboi Zhyemuratov, as he stepped outside that day in May. "When you opened the door, everything was white like snow," said Zhyemuratov, 57, a descendant of generations of fishermen in a place where there are no longer any fish.
For three days, the tempest hurled silt off the former seabed of what was once the planet's fourth-largest inland body of water. It blotted out the sky and left the residents of the former port, Muynak, in western Uzbekistan, chewing salty grit. Even the rain turned brackish, sending panicked farmers scrambling to rescue crops.
A selfie from the ship cemetery has become a must-have for the Instagram crowd.
Ali and Poline Belhout, a Parisian couple in their 30s, stopped in Muynak on their yearlong around-the-world tour. "It is sad to see that some years ago there was a sea, and now it is only a graveyard for ships," she said. "To see boats docked like that is a little freaky."
Once lacking a hotel, Muynak now has three, along with an internet cafe, and the government is organizing an electronic music festival here on Sept. 14.
The sea, which vanished from Muynak around 1986, is now more than 75 miles away. The only water view is in the modest local museum, with its tattered photographs and nostalgic oil paintings of the once blue horizon.
That unprecedented storm last May confirmed a grim prognosis: The environmental fallout from the loss of the Aral Sea is intensifying.
The sea's disappearance "is not just a tragedy, as many people have said, it is an active hazard unfolding before our eyes," said Helena Fraser, head of the United Nations Development Program in Uzbekistan.