All photos courtesy of Getty Images
Inclusion, diversity, representation and words of the same ilk have been front and center in Hollywood as of late. The Black and Latino communities have been vocal when it comes to the hot-button topic, but recently, the Asian-American Pacific Islander community is taking the spotlight after having little to no representation (sometimes misrepresentation) in Hollywood.
The past year has brought about a shift within the AAPI community with Asian American-led shows like Master of None, Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken. More than that, the AAPI community has spoken out against the age-old Hollywood practice of whitewashing roles in film. The recent controversy surrounding the casting of white actors in Doctor Strange, The Great Wall, and Ghost in the Shell have prompted actors like Constance Wu, B.D. Wong, Aziz Ansari, and Daniel Dae Kim to stand their ground for visibility. That said, the Center for Asian American Media and NBCUniversal hosted the panel “Expanding the Conversation: Asian Americans in Media,” which addressed the status of Asian Americans and diversity in media via a solutions-oriented conversation with some prominent names in the business.
Those included in the conversation were Golden Globe-winning actress Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy; Grace Lee, director of the Peabody award-winning documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs; Co-Executive Producer of Shades of Blue Rashad Raisani, as well as Senior Vice President of Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment Karen Horne and Craig Robinson, Chief Diversity Officer for NBCUniversal.
MSNBC anchor Richard Lui moderated the panel in front of a packed theater on the Universal lot and started off by asking the group what they thought “expanding the conversation” about Asian Americans in media meant to them.
“It’s about finding ways to get our stories told,” said Lee. “It’s about finding support to get these stories out there.”
Oh chimed in, “If the story doesn’t resonate, no one is going to want to want to see them. We have to tailor the message to who you’re talking to.”
And by this, Oh meant the general public of people who may not be familiar with the Asian American experience — or any experience that involves other people of color, the LGBTQ community, or any marginalized community. Robinson points out in order to get these stories told that there needs to be more inclusion of Asian Americans behind the camera as there are in front of it.
Diverse stories stem from the development process and Oh points out that there is not a lot of development for Asian Americans. Horne is looking to change this by looking for talent so that they can tell a specific story and therefore get behind the camera, in the writers room and deep into the development process.
For Raisani, who comes from an immigrant family, he says that “America is bored with the same ‘WASPY’ story.” And he brought his point of view with him to the Writers on the Verge program which eventually put him the writers room for Burn Notice which led to a co-executive producer title on Shade of Blue starring Jennifer Lopez.
The call for diversity and inclusion not only resides in the fiction world, but in the non-fiction genre as well. Lee has directed both documentaries and narrative films, but has become an acclaimed documentarian — and she sees a vast difference in diversity between the two.
“The number of Asian stories (in documentaries) is so low, it’s pathetic,” said Lee. “I started out in fiction and sometimes I think I should go back to that.”
Despite this, she, and the rest of the panel continue to move forward and strive for more Asian American voices in media. As pointed out in Alan Yang’s Emmy acceptance speech, “There are 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there are 17 million Italian-Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos… we got Long Duk Dong. We have a long way to go.”
With this in mind, Lui asked the panel what it takes to be successful.
“Keep going forward — constantly be able to reinvent yourself,” said Lee. “Figure out your story, what kind of tools you are going to use to tell it, and just do it.”
“Perseverance and resilience,” said Raisani. “Writers on the Verge gave me the writer/producer skills that I needed and it does the same for anyone no matter what your color is.”
For Oh, she urges that “authenticity” in storytelling. She says that in order to tell diverse stories, you have to know what your goal is and what is the story you want to tell.
“It’s about having a sense of place and confidence,” said Oh. “There’s a sense of pain that we feel when we’re not included.”
Oh, who starred in Grey’s Anatomy, which was watched by millions is now doing more theater — but her goal is the same: to make a change in people with her work and connecting with an audience.
She adds, “Go find out who you are and tell that story to an audience — no matter how big or small,”
Even though the panel was Asian American-centric, the overarching theme was inclusion, diversity, and representation in Hollywood. Robinson points out that there are many times when networks try diverse programming and it doesn’t matter and then are afraid to pursue another diverse project.
“The failures of the underrepresented are not to be over-analyzed,” said Robinson.
“Diversity does not equal risk,” adds Horne. “Diversity in shows means higher ratings.”
And the current landscape of shows with people of color and minorities is testimony to that.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer