Okay guys, you ready? Today I want to talk about an issue that is controversial for some, not-even-on-my-radar for a scary amount of others, and very, very relevant for me… race (and more specifically, diversity in the media). Up until now I’ve hesitated to add my voice to the discussion. What could I (in all my stuttering and um’s and lack of eloquence) possibly have to say that people may want to hear? But then I realized this kind of thinking is exactly representative of the issue itself… Ironic, no? So here we go.
Growing up in a predominantly white community, I never saw myself as Asian. I was different, yes, but it was because I had glasses at the age of 7, was actually frightened of other people (much less talk to them), and quite frankly was just weird. By the time I finally started making friends, I was so desperate to fit in that I think I actually convinced myself I was white. It was halfway through college that I made my first Asian friends and realized… by golly, I wasn’t white at all! And it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles a few years later that I realized I was proud of it.
Here’s the thing. I am Asian-American. Which means I’m different. Which means I’m just like everybody else. Did I lose you? Think about it. Each and every one of us is a unique individual. We have differences that make life more colorful. We have similarities and shared experiences that make this big world feel a little smaller. And one of those similarities is that we’re all different. So… we’re kind of all the same. Whoa. You just had a crash course in how my brain works. Welcome. Onward.
As you may know, Cameron Crowe recently received a lot of criticism for casting (full white) Emma Stone as half-Asian Alyson Ng in “Aloha”. This morning I woke up to the news that he has now cast white actress Jacqueline Byers to play Natalie Shin in upcoming Showtime comedy “Roadies”. (For a great read on that, see here) To quote Kim (the author), how is this still happening in 2015?! We’re already fighting for non-race-specific roles (aka roles Hollywood’s just more comfortable seeing as white), but now we’re fighting for roles written specifically for non-white actors too???
In my four years in “the biz”, I’ve gone on a lot of auditions. And I consider myself very fortunate to have played some pretty great characters, most of which have not been “Asian-specific”. Many of my friends have not been so lucky. But of all the roles I’ve booked and auditioned for, I very very very rarely have gotten the opportunity to play a well-rounded, deep, interesting lead. According to Hollywood, the public just isn’t ready for that yet.
One of my very first acting gigs was a short film called “Take it Slow” by YouTube mogul Wong Fu Productions. Though I had no idea who they were or what they did prior to working with them, I quickly found out and wholeheartedly jumped on board. For the past ten years Wong Fu has created a space in the media for people who look like us. A space that Hollywood consistently has not provided. Wong Fu is all about creating great, positive, heartfelt content… that just so happens to feature Asian-American leads. They have created countless characters of depth and humor, and now they’ve done it for their first feature-length film, Everything Before Us.
Not only is “Everything Before Us” Wong Fu’s first feature film, it’s also the first time I have gotten the opportunity to play a leading role. Not the best friend, not the comedic relief… the lead. The role isn’t Asian-specific – a smart, ambitious, 18-year-old girl who struggles to find the balance between big dreams and big love… she just happens to be Asian.
Guys. You need to see this film. Not only because I’m in it (hi) but because Hollywood needs to see that people care about seeing good content, regardless of what race the characters are. We’re sure a lot of people after seeing this film are going to ask why all the leads were Asian (though the cast as a whole is actually quite diverse), and to that I respond with the question, why are all the leads in Hollywood not?
Listen, I’m not saying that every single lead in every single Hollywood film needs to be replaced by Asian-American actors. I’m just asking to be considered. And if you’re white and reading this, I hope you don’t feel threatened by that request. By considering all races for any role, it shouldn’t mean there will be less opportunities for you. God help us if we are so small-minded and dreamless that we run out of stories to tell and characters to live them.
I am Asian-American and proud of it. But standing up for equal representation (or at least for Asian roles to be played by – to think! – Asian actors) doesn’t mean I think being Asian makes me any better than anyone else. Because I’m not. I am flawed and I am strong. And I’m also not confined to a stereotype. I share similarities with people of every race, not just my own. By fighting for my race to be fairly represented in the industry I work in, I’m not fighting for Asians to take over that industry. I just want kids like me to grow up seeing people who look like them in the media and know they can fit in (or stand out!) without pretending to be white, but just the way they are.
**You can watch Everything Before Us tomorrow, June 3rd, exclusively on Vimeo On Demand here!**