Anna Akana on her New Series YOUTH & CONSEQUENCES and Asian Americans on YouTube
Anna Akana is starring in the upcoming YouTube Red series YOUTH & CONSEQUENCES which is being described as a “woke” MEAN GIRLS (see trailer above) and sat down with Huffington Post to talk about everything from the Asian American space on YouTube and Logan Paul’s trip to Japan. Check out the full interview here, but here are some highlights:
YouTube has been a place where many strong Asian-American personalities have launched their careers. But we’re still struggling in other platforms and on-screen. Why do you think YouTube has become such a haven for Asian-American personalities?
I think, definitely, the reason why Asians are on YouTube is because we weren’t seeing representation anywhere else. It was finally a platform that catered to us having representation. At the beginning of YouTube, the biggest stars were Asian … They were able to amass incredible followings. I was introduced to it by my brother and I watched because it was like, “Wow, that’s someone who looks like me and they’re funny and they’re great, and you never get to see Asians acting this way.”
You have experience in both the web industry as well as Hollywood. Do you feel a stark difference between both industries in terms of how you’re treated as an Asian-American?
It’s a little harder to say because the lines have blurred a lot. I think the difference to me feels like creative involvement. In traditional, if I’m hired as an actor, I don’t get a lot of creative say in what happens whereas on YouTube, if it’s great, I get all the glory, if it sucks, I get all the shame because I’m the driving force behind whatever I’m putting out.
The most interesting part is now that I’ve had a following online, I’m able to leverage that and use that financial stability to turn down roles that I now feel are degrading and I don’t want to go out for. At the time, it felt really necessary to go out for certain things because I felt I needed credits and that was all that was available to me. Now I’m in a position where I don’t have to do that anymore. I can go for roles that represent me and my race in a positive way and I can make a positive change.
The year started off with Logan Paul’s horribly offensive suicide video, which you spoke out about. Do you think that situation was handled properly?
I think by de-monetizing his channel and taking him out of the partnership, [YouTube] made a strong statement about the type of content they were going to tolerate on the platform, which I commend them for.
I put 100 percent of the blame on Logan Paul. I think we’ve gotten so desensitized to everything … It’s a huge omen about what we expect for content to be. I loved the reaction to it, I loved how everyone was like, “This is not OK, and we’re not going to tolerate that.” But then the very next week he came out with a video with him tasing dead rats and taking a fish out of water.
I’m really disappointed he didn’t take this opportunity to really learn and understand the power he has over young people, but that’s his task. So the most we can do is just speak out.
Another aspect to that incident that was covered less in the media was the way in which Logan Paul treats Asians or portrays them in his videos. You see him doing offensive things, like treating people like Pokémon, along with the already offensive suicide video. What was your reaction to that?
It was awful, especially because Japan is all about respect. They are an incredibly respectful nation. I lived there when I was a kid and was enrolled in public school and the sense of community is as strong as America’s sense of individuality. They place such an emphasis on conducting yourself as a respectable member of society who contributes accordingly.
He made Americans seem like total fucking buffoons. It’s heartbreaking, because I did watch that video of him throwing Pokémon balls in the street and at elderly people and he prefaced it with recognizing that Japan is a place for respect. To not only be completely aware of the country you’re visiting and their values, but to completely ignore that and do stuff for the sake of your content was just gross and disrespectful.
Going back to your new series ― it’s being talked about as a “woke ‘Gossip Girl’” or “woke ‘Mean Girls.’” What kind of social issues do you go into?
We touch on transgender issues ― there’s an episode dedicated to a character who we’re not sure if he’s trans or not and he’s trying to change in the girl’s locker room. There’s a big debate of, is this some guy who’s an asshole jock who’s trying to take advantage of the laws to watch women change? Or is there something going on here?
We also tackle issues of social media and privacy. Some people get doxxed in the series in terms of their private sexual lives or infidelity. The thing that [creator Jason Ubaldi] did best with these scripts was he tackled social media in a way I hadn’t seen before and treated these teens as the sophisticated adults that they are … Now teens have access to everything they want to know immediately and that’s such a frightening place to be. High school already felt like life and death to me. The stakes felt so high because the reference level in life is so short. For kids today, it’s crazy. They can’t get away from high school no matter where they are!