Before I start, let me disclose that I am a HUGE selfie fan, so most of the pictures are selfies, raw and real!
So on Saturday I walked into the Belasco Theatre, with trepidation. I was concerned that I would stuff up totally in speaking to the huge numbers of Asians in Hollywood who were about to strut their stuff on the red carpet. I was also worried that this crazy, odd and quirky Aussie would feel out of place, and feeling like a fish out of water. Well I was wrong.
CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) celebrated 25 years of hard work in advocating for greater diversity and inclusion of Asians in both the small and big screens. It paid homage to all Asians who work in all aspects of film, TV and online media mediums. It also conveyed one important message that even though a lot has been achieved over the last 25 years, the work is and will not be over until we as Asians are on an even playing field in all areas of entertainment. This was an extremely encouraging message and really transformed my views and perceptions that this is and always has been a long term fight.
I walked in there unsure of how I would fit in, and I walked out as a different Erin, one who was more inspired, empowered and feeling that I belonged to a huge family. I was so stoked to be able to interview the celebrities who walked through the red carpet. Actors from the huge shows such as the Walking Dead, Fresh Off The Boat, Dr Ken, Hawaii 5O, Arrow, Hell On Wheels and many more were in attendance and ready to get their Asian boogie on!
I won’t recount stage by stage as to what happened, but I will talk about the importance of what was said at the event as well as discuss the questions I asked on the red carpet. Two major terms stuck in my head as CAPE co- founder Wenda Fong made her graceful and explosive entrance. She used two terms – CAPE crusaders and making the invisible visible. Her Ted style and empowering presentation really highlighted the significance of sticking together and supporting each other’s journeys. Her account of CAPE’s journey from a meeting of the minds which started at the back of a Chinese restaurant 25 years ago to now a thriving organisation which not only advocates for greater diversity in entertainment but also develops new talent, harnessing the wealth of creativity from our community was just absolutely inspiring.
Literally, my heart skipped a few beats watching in awe at the crowd and how Wenda and all the proceeding speakers made everyone in the room feel important and part of the longer journey. Her words, and the words from the other presenters were echoed loud and clear by the many celebrities of entertainment on the red carpet.
Here are a few of the Asian celebrities I had the opportunity to speak with whilst being nervous standing along the red carpet.
By chance and by sheer coincidence, I had the privilege of speaking with Leonardo Nam, a fellow Aussie who has spent many years in the US learning his craft. He said:
One of the realities in Australia is that the market is what it is. Predominantly there is a white presence in the media and the way to change this, is not only through government initiatives but it is via events like CAPE’s gala to spread the message and awareness. If there are coalitions or if CAPE plans to branch out to other countries, this is the way to go. At the end of the day, it always come down to creators. Let them say no first, let them make that statement first.
Michelle Ang (Asian Kiwi) who stars in the “Fear of the Walking Dead”, part of the original “Walking Dead” Franchise explained:
Fear of the Walking Dead is set in Mexico which provides more opportunities for a very diverse cast. Many of the characters come from mixed family backgrounds and has taken the lead from the inclusiveness and diversity which the Walking Dead provided.
As for New Zealand, the diversity in the media is pretty good and very multicultural. It’s weird to say this but in NZ there is not need to push for greater diversity as there is the visibility in the advertisements and the NZ government does distribute funds for media diversity.
Lauren Tom who starred in the Joy Luck Club has witnessed the changes in diversity and inclusion since the Joy Luck Club, and expresses where there has been significant change, we should never be complacent and need to continue to advocate.
Before the Joy Luck Club, AAPI stories were not told, so in many ways, the movie was a pioneer. The author of the book, Amy Tan said in Q and A, when asked why all the Asian males were portrayed as drunks stated that this was her personal story, and encouraged others to write theirs. Amy also said that we need to get off our butts, be brave and continue to tell our stories.
Lauren will also star in the “Andi Mack” series produced by Disney which will air in March 2017. She will be playing the role of the mother and hopes that the Asian American audience will embrace it.
I was also luck to have the opportunity to speak with both the cast of Fresh Off The Boat and Dr Ken – two shows which really talk about the Asian American family experiences and themes.
Star Hudson Yang who plays Eddie Huang in the show shared his thoughts on how his father journalist Jeff Yang really shaped who he is and inspired his confidence development:
All the things and social justice writing my dad does affects me, helps me and helps all of us. It kind of changed my view on the world as he does so much influential stuff.
Randall Park who plays elusive and fun dad Louis Huang, spoke about the issue of tokenism within our AAPI community and how this is a very complex and complicated issue:
I think it depends on the role, the person performing the role and how its approached. My instincts tell me that tokenism holds us back, but I know it is more complicated than that. It really can’t be easily answered. We have so many talented performers within our community and we need the opportunities but sometimes playing the stereotypical Asian character gets them in the door. Again it is extremely complicated.
Krista Marie Yu, who plays Dr Ken’s daughter Molly, touched on how she kind of fell into the entertainment industry and how the feeling of wanting to see more Asian faces on the screens has spurred her on:
I never knew I was going to be an actor as I never saw many of our faces on TV growing up. This is a dream come true and I am grateful to both Ken Jeong and Suzy Nakamura on their mentoring and support. They are truly admirable people.
And Suzy Nakamura who plays Allison, Dr Ken’s wife spoke on how the recent Halloween special episode was not only ground breaking but an extremely emotional moment for her to watch:
Funny when I am on the show I am in work mode. When the Halloween episode was completed, the production team bought in monitor during lunch, and I was able to watch it not in work mode. It felt different and I got emotional. This episode was such a wonderful moment on TV as there is nothing like it.
So away from the TV and the big screens, we need to commend and celebrate the celebrities and personalities who have been made famous online, via YouTube and by social media. I had the great opportunity to speak with Eugene Yang, who we all know as one of the ambitious and adventurous “Try Guys” on Buzzfeed. Eugene touched on the issues of breaking the “Asian” mould and how this has impacted on his family:
We don’t talk about it enough. From the beginning as child I was artistic and as Asian I was over achieving, focused on creative endeavours. Now during my Buzzfeed era, and myself walking in front of the camera nude for thousands to see, my mom is not a huge fan. Being modest is a big thing for Asians, but my family knew it was a step forward when they understood the message. I figured I can either be Asian when I yell “kimchi” to people (I love to say that) or I can keep pushing for more diversity.
So away from the red carpet, I had the opportunity to mix and mingle with the many Asians in Hollywood. I had brief conversations with both Phil and Wes from WongFu who echoed that we need to continue to push for more diverse content and online is a great medium.
Steven Yuen (Glenn from the Walking Dead – reminder I spoke to him prior to the death of Glenn episode) and he said, his resolve is to ensure his face and many other Asian faces are visible and seen on the small and big screens and all the “behind the scenes”.
Daniel Dae Kim of Hawaii 5O spoke a lot about the show and how it has provided ample opportunities for Asian and other people of coloured faces, and this effort needs to be duplicated in other shows, movies and areas of the entertainment/Hollywood industry.
Well that pretty much rounds up my red carpet experience, and my final thoughts of the entire night is that CAPE has achieved so much in 25 years, but this achievement doesn’t come without sheer hard work and it is all a labour of love. Everyone at the gala, celebrities, filmmakers, writers and all AAPIs alike were not only amazed, but also empowered to want to do more and to continue to fight against the “whitewashing” in Hollywood.
We are all in this together, AAPIs and all Asians alike. Let’s all keep fighting the good fight for more diversity and inclusion.
HAPPY 25TH ANNIVERSARY CAPE!