Why Asian Representation Is Important For The Film & Television Industry

Representation. A word that is commonly used in the current film and television industry, what does it mean? Representation means how someone is portrayed and described in media, which links to why people want to see more representation on screen. Whether it is representation of African-American people or representation of the LGBTQ+ community, people want to see themselves in the movie theatre and on their television screens. They want to be able to resonate with a character that looks like them, acts like them and holds some of the same characteristics as them.

That’s where we come onto the focus of this editorial; Asian representation in film and television. Firstly, it’s important to look at the Asian community to realise how large and diverse of a culture the Asian community is. The Asian community features many different ethnic identities including Central Asians, East Asians, South East Asians, South Asians, West Asians among many more. All of those ethnic identities can be broken down in multiple countries which shows how wide of a range that the Asian community does have, that being said, their representation in films and television leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, only a matter of years ago, Asian characters were being whitewashed in multiple high profile blockbusters, for example; Tilda Swinton taking up the role of The Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016), Scarlet Johansson taking the lead role in the live-action adaptation of ‘Ghost In The Shell’ and despite the role being recast, Ed Skrein was once set to play Major Ben Daimio in ‘Hellboy’ until he dropped out of the role due to the major backlash from another whitewashed casting decision. These whitewashing situations are important to note as it can show how studios are not willing to pull risks and would rather have known actors leading their blockbusters for marketing purposes rather than casting an Asian actor for the part. This is also evident following the fallout of Taika Waititi’s ‘Akira’ when the studio put the film on indefinite hold due to their worries regarding the film performing well. However, it is also essential to look at how Asian representation is continuing to improve in the film and television industry. For example; the recent release of Wu Assassins which boasts an Asian cast with the likes of Lewis Tan, Tzi Ma and Iko Uwais; being released on a major streaming service (Netflix); Lulu Wang’s ‘The Farewell’ that tells a deeply moving story and features an all-Asian cast; Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ starring Randall Park and Ali Wong that is a classic rom-com featuring two Asian leads and was directed by a female Asian director, Nahnatchka Khan. Another huge rom-com style film that boasted an All-Asian cast was Jon M. Chu’s ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ which has already got two planned sequels that will shoot back to back next year due to how successful ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was at the box office.

It is also essential to look forward at what films and television shows are coming next that will help to further Asian representation in film and television. One key example is the recent announcement of ‘Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ which will be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Asian superhero with the film also likely to have an All-Asian cast and already has Asian director Destin Daniel Cretton attached and Simu Liu attached as the titular lead of Shang-Chi. Simu Liu is also known for his role in ‘Kim’s Convenicence’ which focuses on a Korean Canadian family that run a convenience store, the series airs on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As for more upcoming Asian-led TV shows, Sandra Oh will begin production on her third season of ‘Killing Eve’ soon which stars her as the lead in the popular series, John Cho will be leading one of Netflix’s next major shows in the live-action series adaption of ‘Cowboy Bebop’. John Cho also starred as the lead in last years’ ‘Searching’ film and as the lead actor in one of the episodes from Jordan Peele’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ reboot. Awkwafina, who will also be starring in ‘Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ opposite Simu Liu, will be starring in her own Comedy Central series that focuses on her own experiences as a teenager living in Queens. As for movies, Steven Yeun will lead ‘Minari’ that focuses on a Korean family who moves to Arkansas to run a farm in the 1980s, the film will helmed by Asian writer/director Lee Isaac Chung and will be distributed by A24. Two high profile comic book movies, ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Eternals’ will be helmed by two female Asian directors, Cathy Yan and Chloé Zhao. The successful teenage Netflix rom-com ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ led by Lana Condor will be receiving two upcoming sequels. Disney is currently in post-production on their ‘Mulan’ film that rather than being a live-action remake in the same vein as Jon Favreau’s ‘The Lion King’, it will instead focus on creating a faithful adaption of the Chinese poem, the film will also boast an all-Asian cast led by Yifei Liu.

The above mentioned film and television shows are just some of many projects that are either released or in development that highlight some of the best Asian representation currently in film and television. However, I am a journalist, for the most part I only see the outside perspective of these films so I decided that I would reach out to various Asian actors, directors, influencers and journalists to gather their thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry in order for us all to gain a better understanding. But firstly, I wanted to look at the casting process for a film and enquire about how the casting process has changed and evolved to further representation in Hollywood. So myself and Kellen Murack from Full Circle Cinema talked to Rich Delia, a casting director who has recently worked on films such as ‘Shazam!’, ‘Swamp Thing’, ‘It: Chapter Two’ and ‘Birds of Prey’.

To begin with, Kellen asked Rich about describing the average process that him and his company would do for casting any particular role for a film.

Rich Delia: “Usually you have a meeting or chat with the director and the producers about what their vision is for the role and then you release a break down to the community explaining what you’re looking for then you start to bring in actors and we try as much as possible in our field to keep as open of a mind as possible, you know in terms of seeing as wide a swath of people as we can. As you start to bring in actors for roles people start to bubble up and you share those reads with the team and the team kind of discusses as we go through and together we find the people that we feel are the right people to tell these character’s stories.”

Given how Rich Delia has been in the casting industry for decades, Delia is very well-informed regarding how the casting process has evolved over his time in the film and television industry. Kellen asked him about whether he is seeming to find that studios are wanting to cast more Asian actors now than in the past as well as what films and television shows that he has worked on feel like they have provided positive Asian representation.

Rich Delia: “Well, I think the whole industry has opened up in a really, really beautiful way. I think that the industry as a whole both television and film content creators are more- or just very aware of creating content that is reflective of the world that we live in and so that lends itself to hiring more ethnic actors, because obviously it’s a multicultural world, and so I think that that’s a very, very positive shift that I’ve personally seen in the industry in the past few years and filmmakers- especially a lot of the directors I work with are conscience of wanting to- wanting their films to be reflective of the world that we live in. One film in particular that I just had the pleasure to work on that that really- I think is a step forward is called ‘Always Be My Maybe’ for Netflix and the director Nahnatchka Khan  is Asian and she was incredible and really- when the film came to me, Randall Park and Ali Wong were attached to the film and we were really conscience of wanting to make a film that highlighted Asian performers and giving them opportunities that they don’t always have and you know it wasn’t that we hired them strictly because they were Asian, but we were very conscience of bringing in lots of different performers and we really- it’s almost an entirely Asian cast, it’s not entirely Asian but I would say about 85% of it is and the actors in it are wonderful, I’m so proud to have worked on it and people have been responding really well. It’s a really, really funny, heartfelt film, that honors I think the Asian community and just comedy as a whole.

Ali and Randall are really amazing and I think between Ali, Randall and Nahnatchka Khan, they really created an environment that was very supportive of the actors and allowed them to play and improv and it comes across on screen. I’ve heard similar reactions that people are having a good time watching it, I dare to say that I think everyone involved in making it had a really good time making it.”

Kellen then asked that in Rich’s opinion that going forward, how does he predict that the landscape of the casting industry will change and will studios continue to be more willing to cast Asian actors in roles.

Rich Delia: “I think so, you know I think this has been a really great year. Obviously in the past year with you know ‘Always Be My Maybe’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, and a lot of that stuff, we love the content that we see coming out- but one of the things I think has been wonderful is that it used to feel like all the leads of a lot of projects you would work on would be one ethnicity and then you would fill in maybe some of the smaller roles with different ethnicities- and I think that that’s changed, you know when you have a film like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ where the leads are Constance Wu and Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh or ‘Always Be My Maybe’ where the leads are Randall Park and Ali Wong, it’s a very positive change in that it’s not just casting and Asian to say oh well we have an Asian actor in this role where they’re really kind of a throw away character or smaller character, it’s hanging your stories on these characters as well and believing audiences will just respond to good material regardless of the color of the skin of who is- you know in the lead role.”

And it feels so organic, I mean ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ obviously is a predominantly Asian cast but ‘Always Be My Maybe’ it felt like that was kind of a universal story it told.

Rich Delia: “It really was and you know for a lot of those supporting roles we saw people of every ethnicity- and again I come back to we didn’t just cast Asian actors you know because they were Asian, it just- it really happened very organically where it was just like we were going through the process and- you know people tend to think of Asian as only a small amount of people, but it’s really not- it encompasses all of obviously, the Pacific Islands and South Asia and there are so many different wonderful cultures and ethnicities within that community that it’s really not limiting yourself at all, it’s actually an incredible, incredible pool of talent to pull from.”

When we concluded our interview with Rich Delia, Kellen asked how important it is to include representation as much as possible in each film that Rich is apart of.

Rich Delia: “I think it’s really important, there are certain instances where you have to be mindful of a historical context, so you know in certain cases you have to say well this role has to be a certain ethnicity because of the story- you can’t go against the story, but in every script, we get, when I read the script for the first pass I try to open up my mind as wide as possible and that could be-you know we’ve cast actors that are different genders than the roles on the page, different ethnicities, different ages- you know whatever it may be, let’s bring in as many people as we can and see what it is unless there is a specific reason in the story why it must be one or the other. So, yeah I think it’s a very positive- it’s an extremely hopeful and positive current that is coursing through the industry right now and I really hope that it continues, and I will do everything in my job to help it continue because- you know like I said, I as well as the creators I work with want the films I work on to be reflective of the world we live in.”

I’m glad to hear that. Knowing that you’re keeping an open mind and looking for the best possible person for every role is great, like that’s a great sign for the future of the film industry.

Rich Delia: “Yeah, I really believe you have to uncover as many stones as possible, you never know who is the right person to necessarily tell the character’s and sometimes- you know, if you limit yourself to just one sub-section of the talent pool, you might be missing out on all these incredible voices that are out there that could potentially be the right person.”

Now that Rich Delia has provided some brilliant insight into the casting process, below are various statements and interviews with actors, directors, writers, influencers and journalists who are all of Asian background, each hold a special opinion regarding their thoughts to the questions that myself and my team asked.

Lee Shorten

Lee Shorten is an actor known for his roles as Sergeant Yoshida in ‘The Man in the High Castle’, Lee in ‘Prodigals’ and Walt Yoshida in ‘The Terror’. He will soon star as Officer Chen in the Disney+ original film ‘Noelle’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Lee Shorten: I know this is gonna seem pedantic however I want to make a distinction between Asian representation and Asian American representation. Asian rep is great. Korean cinema is phenomenal and our Japanese friends are still the masters of horror (Aster and Peele are taking the fight to them though). And, this distinction is important because it’s partly why Japanese people don’t care about the casting in Western remakes like Ghost in the Shell or Death Note. As for AsAm rep? Mixed bag. True, it’s probably the best it’s been in years. But we’ve still got a long way to go. (Assuming we’re not just this years trend, anyway). I haven’t seen the latest figures but I’m pretty sure numbers are up, but still pretty low in the scheme of things. Plus it’s not just pure numbers, we need to take a look at the depth and quality of the roles. It’s also rare for us to play a character or tell a story where being Asian isn’t the sole or dominant /defining part of that character/story. These parts/stories are important, no question but they can’t be the only ones. The burden of representation is still heavy, we rarely allowed to just play people, you know?

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Lee Shorten: “I mean… I hope so. Haha. It will if we keep hitting home runs. Right now, it all feels a little precarious, like one misstep could cost us everything. Still seems like each new Asian centric project has to exceed expectations or it’ll be used as evidence that we just aren’t talented or bankable or whatever. Due to the sheer volume of content and the level of risk involved in the film industry, it can often seem like people are looking for reasons to say no, take the safe option. We need to get to the place where failure isn’t a death sentence. I’m not a fan of celebrating mediocrity either, but every project is a risk and few people have flawless records. The difference is, white filmmakers/actors/projects aren’t expected to be representative of the entire community. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt can lead a film that tanks and still keep their A List status. Now imagine what will happen if Shang Chi under performs…

Ideally, we need more inclusion on both sides of the camera. That’s the simple answer. Greater numbers, means reduced expectations. But also… We need the people who are being given the shots, to make them count. We aren’t where we need to be yet, so we need to keep hitting home runs until we get there. And we need to develop talent so when the tide recedes, when we aren’t the flavor of the month, our work, not our ethnicity, will keep us the game. That’s why I have mad respect for people like Dae Kim, who are out there building others up and sowing seeds for the future.

Back in the day, AsAm actors had to be next level just to stay in the game. And it showed. People like Sandra Oh, Joel de la Fuente, Tzi Ma, Jimmy Saito, Lucy Liu, they’re all next level. These days there does seem to be a general decline in respect for the craft of acting. They do these huge open casting calls to find the person who just is that character, but the problem is a lot of them aren’t actors so they don’t have the chops or the staying power. The smart ones invest in the craft, but not all. And not everyone can sustain a career playing themselves. Some can and do, but we can’t all do that.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Lee Shorten: “Yes and no. My experience is narrow. I’m sure there are writers, directors and producers with much better insight/understanding. But yeah, I see more roles for AsAm actors but also, they’re mainly Asian centric. Most of the roles/projects are very Asian specific, where the character’s ethnicity is their defining trait or the main reason they exist in the narrative. And I think the same is true for a lot of minorities and underrepresented groups, such as our LGBTQ and disabled friends.

I look forward to the day we have a truly level playing field, where most of the roles are open ethnicity and they actually read people from all walks of life. Why can’t this character be in a wheelchair or be LatinX, you know? Of course, before we can get there, we have to acknowledge and address the disparity. But also, I shouldn’t have to know martial arts and speak Chinese/Korean/Japanese fluently. A lot of the time, they won’t see us unless we’re already proficient, whereas they’ll take the time to train Chris Evans, let Chris Pratt or Zachary Levi get in shape. Basically, we’ll know we’ve made it when we have an AsAm Denzel or Seymour Hoffman.”

Mima Mendoza

Mima Mendoza is a features editor from DiscussingFilm who was born and raised in the Philippines. Mima has always expressed her love in movies, she remembers the first movie that she owned is ‘The Neverending Story’. Mima has grown up in the film realm with both of her brothers working in the film and music industry in the Philippines. Although she is the features editor for DiscussingFilm, her day job is in the climate justice movement.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry?

Mima Mendoza: “It’s getting better, but the industry has so much work to do. You know, it’s funny—when I was growing up in Southeast Asia, we consumed so much American and British entertainment that I didn’t really start thinking about genuine Asian representation until I was much older. You kind of just accept that it is what it is. And then you start to realize that there’s something missing, or something is wrong. That these stories are good, but they’re not quite right. Of course, a lot of it has to do with on screen representation, but also much of it is off screen representation. We don’t just need to see Asian people in the cinemas, we need their movies to be written, directed, produced, composed, made by Asians as well.”

From your personal opinion, what films and television shows do you think show Asian representation the best and why?

Mima Mendoza: “Is it boring to say Crazy Rich Asians? But I can’t help but say Crazy Rich Asians. Jon M. Chu was absolutely inspired when he turned down that Netflix deal so that the world could see that all-Asian cast on the big screen. And it made a significant amount of money, too. There is a lot to be said about its story and how it represents wealth in a time of class tensions, but that movie moved the needle in the industry. It also opened the door wider for a lot of others—Always Be My Maybe is a great example. It’s a good rom-com with two Asian leads in a story that doesn’t hyper-focus on their Asian heritage. It’s a typical rom-com where the leads just happened to be Asian, and everyone enjoyed it. On the other hand, The Farewell centered around Chinese family culture, so of course who we saw on screen mattered. But what’s crucial was that the story was told, and it was told beautifully. The bottomline is, movies with strong Asian representation don’t have to award contenders to be made, they just have to be movies. They can be fun like Always Be My Maybe or Crazy Rich Asians, or a stunner like The Farewell. But they have to be made in the first place.”

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within Studios for Asian representation to become even more common in all films and television shows?

Mima Mendoza: “The industry really needs more representation off screen. We need a more diverse industry leadership, and an industry governance structure that will appropriately address issues and foster the kind of growth the industry needs to truly reflect the 21st century. And that’s going to be hard—because for all of Hollywood’s liberalism, it is extremely traditional and averse to change. It’s going to take a lot of courage from those who are willing to use their voices and their power in the industry as a platform for positive and momentous change.”

Chen Tang

Chen Tang is an actor known for his roles as Agent Kim in ‘Agents of SHIELD’, Joe Lee in ‘The Jade Pendant’, Yusheng Ma in ‘Escape Plan 2: Hades, Chris in ‘Rift’ and Chen will soon star as Yao in Disney’s live-action ‘Mulan’ film.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Chen Tang: “It’s like a wave coming close to shore, and gaining strength, and soon when it hits, it’s gonna make a big, big splash!  And the one thing that we can do as Asians to give that wave strength is to keep feeding it with positive energy, positive support.   I hope that doesn’t sound super hippy-dippy, but that’s the first image I thought of.  It sounded more romantic when I had it in my head lol.”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Chen Tang: “I think it has to, that’s where the world is going.  I mean, we literally make up a majority of the world, and the world feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller every day.  I genuinely believe more representation is inevitable simply because more people (Asians and non-) are watching, and more people are open to seeing other stories on screen.  I recently saw that amazing film “The Farewell,” and I was thinking about this topic.  I think what really made a story like that pop was how truthful and honest it was to an Asian filmmaker’s SPECIFIC story.  It really starts with us as artists.  I think we need to be brave enough as artists to stand up and speak our truth of our own experiences, our own families, our own stories.  Who better to speak our stories than our people?  That truth is what affects us, and at the end of the day, it’s what makes more work for all.  So we must be brave enough to stand up and to create and to speak that truth.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Chen Tang: “Honestly, I believe this won’t sound PC when I say this (forgive me in advance).  But this is after all, and opinion, so here we go:  I feel studios have always been very much a machine in the fact that they really do just see one color:  Green! (or whatever color currency of a particular country, but you know what I mean).  Point is, Asians around the world and Asian Americans nowadays feel like they are more supportive of the arts, and willing to support our own stories with their money.  Studios like money, and money (and eyeballs) make much influence on casting.  Hence, we have more incentive to cast more diversely.  I never felt there was this giant “Conspiracy to Keep Down the Yellow Man” or whatever.  It just so happened, for whatever reason, that studios perhaps didn’t feel (or we didn’t SHOW them) that it was a good financial bet until quite recently.  But that’s changing, in a very good–and green–way.  Just look at China, and that juicy, juicy box office.  We must keep doing that and supporting our people’s stories.  Is that too unromantic?  Oh well.  That’s my truth.”

Jacob Shao

Jacob Shao known for being one half of PrettyMuchIt which provides hilarious commentary of some of the best and worst film and television shows. Here is Jacob Shao’s description of everything you need to know about him: “I grew up in Cupertino (the city your iPhone automatically sets the weather app to). I then moved to New York City to attend film school in 2015. For favorite movies, I’m a massive comedy nut and I also love crying my eyes out, so movies like Superbad or Little Miss Sunshine that can accomplish both are big favs for me. I’ll also never shake my childhood love for comic books, so I’m down to watch Spider-Man 2 any day of the week.”

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry?

Jacob Shao: “It’s getting better! This year and last have pretty clearly kicking off a big wave of Asian-American movies and characters. It’s fun to see so many Asian men cast in “dumb hot guy” roles (a la Spider-Man: Far From Home). If you told 13-year old me that Asian guys can be dumb AND hot, puberty would’ve been a lot easier.”

From your personal opinion, what films and television shows do you think show Asian representation the best and why?

Jacob Shao: “All I really want in my Asian characters is for them to be interesting and compelling. It’s definitely cool to see stories that delve deep into Asian cultures (Crazy Rich Asians is the obvious example), but in my eyes, the most effective representation happens in movies that simply portray Asians as being real, three-dimensional people. I love the dad characters in Always Be My Maybe and Searching. They’re real people with real emotions, not simply cool dads for the sake of breaking stereotype. So many other amazing films come to mind – Harold and Kumar was the first movie I ever saw that starred TWO Asian leads – a concept that blew my little 2004 mind. And of course, as a mixed-race Asian, I’ll always have a place in my heart for Emma Stone.”

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within Studios for Asian representation to become even more common in all films and television shows?

Jacob Shao: “Tough for me to say! I don’t work at a movie studio, so I don’t know what’s been stopping them from making more Asian-led movies. That being said, I’m honestly not too worried about it. If the problem has been studios not having faith in the marketing potential of Asian-led movies, they’ve obviously been proven wrong. If it’s actual outright racism, I can’t imagine that mentality will continue all too much longer. I might be too optimistic here, but it seemsu clear to me that Hollywood’s shifting pretty dramatically right now. This past year alone, I’ve seen more Asians in Hollywood movies and shows than I had in my entire childhood. I’m very aware that change doesn’t happen overnight, so let’s see what happens in the next few years. Hopefully Marvel ends up making that Shang-Chi movie!”

Chantal Thuy

Chantal Thuy is an actor known for her roles as Kim Wong in ‘Crossing The Rubicon Season 1 – The Journey’, Rize in ‘Tokyo Ghoul: Re – Anime’ and Grace Choi in ‘Black Lightning’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Chantal Thuy: “I think we’ve had a phenomenal past year in terms of representation, and I am really proud to be a small part of it. Seeing our community thrive is really exciting and motivating for me. And we should and will strive for more representation in the future, but to celebrate our wins and victories is important too, and there was much to be celebrated this year!”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Chantal Thuy: “Yes I definitely think there’s a shift in culture. We are traveling, living abroad, opening our horizons more than ever. To represent all people in a society is also becoming more important to studio heads and production companies, so we’re seeing a lot of initiatives in this regard. I’m optimistic and excited for the stories yet told that will be!”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Chantal Thuy: “Yes I think they’ve been better with diversity in general, and I hope they will continue to move in that direction. You always hope to see more Asian American stories and perspectives being told, and  studios are only a part of that landscape though. The work that some of our Asian American independent filmmakers, new media, cable shows are doing are all very inspiring. The various communities working together to uplift and support each other is also most important.”

Courtney Le

Courtney is a Vietnamese-American who loves to watch television and talk about it for hours on end. Although she is currently a student, she is an aspiring television screenwriter and hopes that she can one day see her own shows on the screen. She is currently the Website Manager & Writer for DiscussingFilm.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the television industry in America?

Courtney Le: “If I had to be honest, there’s not enough Asian representation in the television industry. Thanks to the growing demand for diversity in Hollywood, there are definitely more Asians on the big screen, but I rarely see any on my screen at home on the TV. I mostly watch crime shows and/or comedies, and, off the top of my head, the only show I watch that isn’t solely about Asians is Superstore.There needs to be more shows about Asians, but less about how they are learning how to assimilate to American culture or fail to assimilate to American culture (Fresh Off the Boat, Kim’s Convenience Store) and more about them as regular, normal people. Killing Eve, The Mindy Project, and The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are just a few that don’t focus on the cast being Asian as the plot. I’d like more shows like that.”

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within Studios for Asian representation to become even more common in television shows?

Courtney Le: “I feel that there isn’t truly acceptance of Asians in American television. Like I said before, they’re used as fodder for immigrant jokes- they aren’t seen as “true” Americans. In order to fully integrate Asian actors and actresses into the industry, you have to be comfortable with casting them into “ordinary” roles. Don’t force actors and actresses to throw on their best Vietnamese accent to get a role in a TV show. An Asian American is not just the convenience store worker or nail salon lady. She can also be a lawyer, a florist, and/or even a congresswoman.

There’s nothing wrong with the Asian American representation we have now, it’s interesting to see the struggles of immigrants and their journeys to overcome the cultural barriers; however, I think we need to diversify the roles that Asian actors play. They should be more than the immigrant.”

Osric Chau

Osric Chau is an actor known for his roles as Kevin Tran in ‘Supernatural’, Charles Xie in ‘Blood and Water’, Junjie Chen in ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ and Denny in ‘Boone: The Bounty Hunter’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Osric Chau: “Representations for Asians in film and television over the last two decades that I’ve been in the industry has been progressing steadily. Last year showed the most promise with box office hits Crazy Rich Asians and Searching to name a few, alongside shows like Warrior and Wu Assassins to join Fresh Off the Boat as TV shows featuring a predominantly Asian cast. Everything is heading in the right direction but we still have a long ways to go.”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation.

Osric Chau: “I think the next big step will be for our community to fully embrace and support the people of color who are behind the camera. Especially those in positions of power. That’s the writers, directors and producers all the way up to the studio and network executives and private financiers.

I think one of the biggest problems has been us fighting to change an industry that we’re on the fringe of when we should be focused on creating our own industry instead.

We’ve fought to play our own characters and that’s really starting to happen now. We should also be the ones writing and telling our own stories as we shouldn’t rely on or want anyone else doing that for us. To go along with that thought, I think the last step would be for our community to finance our story tellers so that there’s a personal, cultural and social interest in it as well. In doing so I hope the consumers will reward those financial backers and support these films at the box office to encourage and pave the way for more like it.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Osric Chau: “Diversity casting used to be a joke to me. You’d see “open ethnicities” but everyone in the room knew that it was always going to go one way. In 2019 it’s changed and that’s due to audiences everywhere who are putting their wallets and eyeballs towards projects that reflect what they want to see. Stories with a diverse set of characters because the storytellers and set the story itself in a way that allows that in a natural way instead of just casting diverse. So we’re learning not to jam a cylinder into a square hole and to just make a circular hole for it instead.”

Yoshi Sudarso

Shot on film by photographer Nick Sutjongdro.

Yoshi Sudarso is known for his roles as Blue Dino Ranger in ‘Power Rangers: Dino Charge’, Joe Shih in ‘Power Rangers HyperForce’, Koda in ‘Power Rangers Ninja Steel’. He is also known for his various stunt work on films such as ‘Logan’ and ‘Truth or Dare’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Yoshi Sudarso: “I think that there has never been Asian representation on film like there is today, and I am excited to see where and how it will continue to grow.”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Yoshi Sudarso: “I fully believe that it will continue to improve, in fact, I have to believe that. If I don’t, I might as well stop now, because that means I don’t belong in that future. I have to be a part of that solution, it’s not happening overnight and as an Asian man in the entertainment industry, I have my part to play if we want this to get even better in terms of Asian representation. More and more stories that include people of Asian descent, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an Asian story, like how “Searching” was just a story, it just happened to have an Asian family. Also, Asian actors/stories/movies/directors/producers/etc should be allowed to fail, and to get back up and continue to get better.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Yoshi Sudarso: “In my own instance and experience, there’s definitely more openess to auditioning Asian, especially Asian men for roles not traditionally Asian. Also, I believe there are more characters that they are looking for specifically Asian. They may not always cast Asian, but at least we’re being seen now. I take it as a win, but a half win, we have to take this and keep pushing further. Also, something I’m noticing now, is that producers are wanting to cast Asians in specific Asian ethnicity roles, most likely because the consumers get angry when someone of Korean descent plays someone of Japanese descent. Now, this topic isn’t super clear cut, but I think we can’t be doing that, we’re putting Asian actors in boxes…it’s no problem when someone of Scottish descent plays a British character. This is problematic, I know, because Asians are continually being mistaken for other Asian ethnicities, but at the same time, you’re limiting the projects we can audition for. Also, does that mean if someone is multiple Asian ethnicities, they can audition for all of them? This is a much bigger conversation, I get that, but it’s something that’s been on my mind. I just think that we can’t draw a line in the sand and box Asian actors by saying that they can only play their own ethnicity. Actors learn accents, languages, physical skills, musical, etc, so let them act, let them step into the shoes of another person.”

Mike Moh

Mike Moh is an actor known for his roles as Ryu in the ‘Street Fighter’ TV mini-series’, Steve Cho in ‘Empire’, Trition in ‘Inhumans’ and Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Mike Moh: “We’ve still got a ways to go but the progess has been very exciting to see and experience. There are so many stories to be told from an Asian/Asian-American point of view and it is evident that there is plenty of talent to bring those stories to life.”

You are starring in ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ as a young Bruce Lee this July. What are your thoughts on how Bruce Lee begun to further Asian representation through his films and thus becoming one of the most iconic Asian actors of all time?

Mike Moh: “Bruce understood perhaps more than anybody the struggle of fighting racial stereotypes in Hollywood. His breakthrough as a strong, confident, and charismatic leading man was one of the most important steps in Asian representation. Bruce had a huge impact on my childhood and he planted the idea in my head that one day I could be a leading man like him someday. I know he has had a similar impact on many many others!”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Mike Moh: “Absolutely. The reason why we’ve seen so much progress in the past few years is because of the breakthroughs of the new generation of Asian writers, producers, casting directors, and directors. There are so many Asian actors that are turning in stellar performances in TV and film. Each of those performances helps our cause!”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Mike Moh: “It feels less and less like studios are just “checking the asian box” when it comes to casting. There’s definitely still some of that happening, but shows like “Killing Eve” with Sandra Oh are showing progress is being made. Sandra wasn’t cast because she is Asian. She was cast because she was the best person for that role. Our community of Asian actors will continue to make progress by winning roles like this.”

Linda Park

Linda Park is an actor known for her roles as Hannah in ‘Jurassic Park III’, Jun Park in ‘Bosch’, Denise Kwon in ‘Women’s Murder Club’ and Lieutenant Hoshi Sato in ‘Enterprise’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Linda Park: “I definitely think it’s improved since I started working in the industry largely due to a demand from the collective for better representation and Asian actors with some leverage speaking out about their frustrations. And with the recent success of Crazy Rich Asians, there has been an “Asian trend”. But in all honesty it still so limited and at times frustrating even as a viewer of television, network, and streaming. The shows I watch and love, the Asian representation in those shows are at maybe 1%. We are more than stories of being Asian or the ethnic side character for a dash of color, we can be the lead detective from a small American town going back to solve a crime and confront her ghosts, we can be the frustrated father dying of cancer trying to provide for his family before he dies. Sandra Oh has had a career full of work not limited to her ethnicity and has shown that an Asian actor CAN be the lead of a show. I think Sandra and actresses like Awkwafina and Greta Lee are really breaking out of the tropes that Asian actors have been confined to.”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation.

Linda Park: “I think Asian representation in film and television has to improve. Hollywood answers to it’s audience at the end of the day and this new generation of humans are savvy when it comes to representation and diversity. In this new generation there are so many talented kids of all colors making their own content not held back by the beliefs my generation had about who belongs in television and movies. My parents told my all the time as as kid to give up my dream of being and actor in America because it was impossible for as Asian to be in the movies and on television. I don’t think that’s the belief of Asian American kids today who want to be performers. The most difficult thing to improve in representation and has been the most difficult thing in my own career is not being seen or even believing that I could be the lead in a show or movie. There are so many scripts I’ve read where I’ve loved the role of the lead, of course I would- they have the journey, the growth, the complexities, but even though there is no ethinicty indicated I know that i won’t be considered to even read for that role. We need to break out of the top players on almost all shows being white with the occasional African American, I don’t know how that’s done except by all the little successes adding up. More Crazy Rich Asians, more Awkwafinas, more Sandra Ohs. But that doesn’t happen until the chance is given in the first place.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Linda Park: “As I said the call for diversity has been strong and there has been a trend to include Asian characters in a lot more scripts. I think studios are driven by trends and this pastcouple of years, Asians definitely have been trending. The game now is for studios to take a lot more risks on Asian American driven movies, it’s insane that since the huge success of Joy Luck Club it took so long for another Asian American driven studio film to be released. Please correct me if I’m wrong and there is another. Let’s not let it be another 20 or so years until we have another one, the ticket sales show that America wants these films.”

Shannon Kook

Shannon Kook is an actor known for his roles as Duncan in ‘Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments’, Zane Park in ‘DeGrassi: The Next Generation’, Deven Phillips in ‘Baxter’, Drew Thomas in ‘The Conjuring’ and Jordan Green in ‘The 100’.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Shannon Kook: “If you would have asked me this a year ago, my response would have been quite different. Coincidentally, I came across this tweet the very day I got these questions:

The tweet: A talented Filipino actor friend of mine is meeting with new agents and one just told him that Filipinos are a “hard sell” and that she “couldn’t do anything with that”. Some days I just want to throw my tsinela at Hollywood so hard’

My reply: ‘I’d have been mad about that a few years ago, but my first response to that was it didn’t hurt…. surprisingly, and thought, “Well hey that’s cool, this person is clearly living in the past. Just watch…” and that doesn’t come from anger, more of a murmuring chuckle and shrug.’”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation?

Shannon Kook: “It’s about representation in general. Not just about being Asian. But Asian representation has been absurdly backward for too long. We’re certainly getting more representation on screen. We could step away from the stereotypes: asexual, geeky, emasculated men and hyper-sexualized women, and invert that type of casting.

Audiences are so bored of that old rhetoric. Geeks are still fun to play, but not when that’s the only thing people see you as. Change is already happening, and it’s only just starting. Now I’m not saying all of this with some kind of motive to ‘take over’… I don’t just want to see my face playing 5 of the leads in the majority of movies and television, heck that bores me just thinking of it. I want diversity. I think sometimes voices for Equality can border on just wanting to be the top, and in control, and it’s not really about everybody… it’s more about themselves. We need to be careful of that in all regards of equal opportunity. That said, the problems with Asian representation are still rife, with a marginal scope on what place an Asian face has in media. And frankly, it’d be great if we didn’t have to have a reason for being there. Maybe we can just be there, like others, as a multi-dimensional character and not a stereotype.

Also… I’M SICK OF JUSTIFYING THAT I’M ASIAN.  I can’t tell you how many times the industry, or Asian people have told me I’m not Asian enough. I’m Asian. And I don’t need to speak in Mandarin, use chopsticks or do something “Asian” to be Asian. It’s not a requirement of African Americans to speak in African languages to be proud of who they are or their heritage. I should not have to be told by Caucasian/Asian Producers that I’m not Asian enough. What does that even mean? I’m Mixed, yes. And if the Earth were flat tomorrow I’d STILL be Asian. I neither have to prove my heritage nor do I have to fit into the derogatory stereotypes of yesterday. People and cultures evolve, and it’s time we stop getting prescribed a box to squeeze into.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Shannon Kook: “I feel like there are plenty of seeds in the soil being watered right now.I’ve barely auditioned lately since I’ve been lucky enough to be shooting for the majority of the last 12 months, so I can’t speak to rooms of late. But in the last year, we had an Asian cast top the movie box office, become the highest grossing Rom-Com in a decade, and in the same week have a K-Pop group top the billboard charts along with an Asian girl leading a coming-of-age movie on Netflix.

Cut back several years ago, and I walked out of the gym at midnight and saw an Asian man on a billboard in a GAP advertisement. I literally teared up staring at it for several minutes. Most people might have walked by like it was nothing. But seeing that was a huge moment for me. I remember thinking it was sooner than I’d expected. I never would have foreseen the momentum that is sweeping us right now. We even have an Asian Marvel superhero. What? It’s huge. ‘Shang-Chi’. But let’s not forget that Shang-Chi’s Father is called ‘Fu Manchu’. That doesn’t land well. At all. But it’s in too many comics to ignore. But the point is that Marvel is making steps to represent this in a better fashion now. He certainly won’t be called ‘Fu Manchu’ anymore, and while the writing is still on the walls, there are certainly steps being made to switch it up.”

Tze Chun

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Tze Chun: This year has been a watershed moment in Asian American representation in film and TV. With Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, Fresh Off the Boat, and other crossover hits, we’re seeing Hollywood realize the draw of Asian American stories for mainstream audiences. 

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation.

Tze Chun: I think Asian representation in film and television will continue to improve, but only if we continue to get more Asian showrunners, writers, and directors. Even in the past 5 years we’ve seen a growing number of Asian showrunners, TV creators, screenwriters, and directors, and I hope that trend continues. 

From your experiences as an Asian writer/producer, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their hiring?

Tze Chun: There has never been a better moment to be Asian in Hollywood. It’s a very exciting time. There’s an incredible community of Asian American creators out there. I think given the success of Asian American stories in film and TV this year, studios have been more willing to diversify their hiring practices.

Ken Leung

Ken Leung is known for his roles as Miles Straume in ‘Lost’, Dr Topher Zia in ‘The Night Shift’, Karnak in ‘Inhumans’, Kid Omega in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and Admiral Statura in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.

Ken Leung: “I once did a staged reading of the play 8, by Dustin Lance Black, about the trial that overturned an amendment outlawing gay marriage. It was the mothership of readings, taking place on a Broadway stage and featuring more luminaries than you could shake a stick at. At the reception afterwards, a journalist asked me why I participated in it. You mean, besides getting to share a stage with the likes of John Lithgow and Morgan Freeman, I wondered. Oh. You mean because I’m not gay. Or maybe he was asking if I was. 

Do we have to be a thing in order to care about that thing?

I’ve been asked these questions about Asian representation – worded exactly the same – since the 1990s, and it occurs to me that the autopilot processes that go into generating the exact same questions year after year for literally decades are probably similar to the ones that make diverse representation a continuing struggle. Maybe that’s how institutionalized biases remain institutionalized. At some point, it becomes weird, and something as incidental as participating in a reading becomes worthy of investigation, and the inevitability of Asian representation in film and television auto-generates another round of “Are you happy yet?” questions.
As the father of a small child, I care about representation for all marginalized groups – women, POC, LGBTQ, disabled, displaced, economically disenfranchised – because I care that the world depicted reflects the world we live in. I don’t want my child to wonder why the stories he’s unconsciously told to care about omits his experience. I want him to feel seen. I think that’s what we all want.”

Ludi Lin

Ludi Lin is an actor who is known for his roles as Ma Dong Man in ‘Lost In Hong Kong’, Wind Monster Hunter in ‘Monster Hunter’, Black Ranger in the 2017 ‘Power Rangers’ film, Captain Murk in ‘Aquaman’ and Lance in the ‘Striking Vipers’ episode of ‘Black Mirror’ Season 5.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Ludi Lin: “My thoughts on the current state of East Asians are reflected whenever I open the Deadline Hollywood app as a part of my daily read. To me it’s like a gardener standing on a porch, to take in the state of affairs. Today, July 2, I counted the first 100 faces that popped up on the Headline thumbnails. There were 2 East Asians. One was an anime, Akira Remake by Taika Waititi, yes! The other was Donald Trump shaking hands with President Xi from China. 

When East Asians constitute 1/4 of the world population, not to mention the rest of our Asian brethren constitute 60%. The representation in the media is dismal, especially when the buzz worlds, diversity, inclusion and global stories are varied about. My feelings however, are much simpler than my thoughts. They’re hurt and I’m angry because my garden continues to refuse to grow any of the seeds from my favorite fruits.”

Do you think Asian representation in film and television will improve in the future? If so what changes do you think need to be made in the current film and television landscape in order to further Asian representation.

Ludi Lin: “Asian representation must improve. First, there is little room for it to get worse and nature abhors a vacuum. Second, we are getting a taste of representation now and we thirst for more. When our viewership is woke, the beast will awaken. Remember, we’re talking about 60% of the world. It’s inevitable and irrefutable to represent who we are. Any fair, kind and smart platform will open their eyes and connect as well.”

From your experiences as an Asian actor, how do you think the landscape has changed within studios in terms of whether you personally see more studios aiming to be more diverse in their casting and looking to cast more Asian actors than before?

Ludi Lin: “I see that studios will follow suit when we prove our successes. Personally, this means that my chops need to be sharper than ever before and become even sharper tomorrow. I’m not there yet and our society isn’t. But the time will come when our stories will cut through the tradition of ignorance, suppression, denial and privilege. That day will make our human race closer to belonging to one species on Earth.”

Lewis Tan

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Katie Jones/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5600265q) Lewis Tan Weinstein Co. Viewing and afterparty, Arrivals, Los Angeles, America – 28 Feb 2016

Lewis Tan is an actor known for his roles as Gaius Chau in ‘Into The Badlands’, Lu Xin Lee in ‘Wu Assassins’ and Shatterstar in ‘Deadpool 2’. Lewis Tan tells us the story about how he joined the film industry here: “Starting off with Tim Burton’s Batman and then moving midway into doing fight choreography and action work on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Tango and Cash, Big Trouble in Little China, Bloodsport, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the list goes on, you know. My Dad has been around for a long time. So when I was born in England, we moved to the States when I was young, and I was basically living on movie sets and traveled all over the place observing my father do his thing. So that was kind of my introduction to the world, and I got some understanding on what it’s like to be, you know, I would sit next to the director, sit on my dad’s chair and watch him choreograph action scenes and I got have an understanding [unintelligible]. So I decided at a young age that this was what I wanted to do—play make believe and get paid for it.”

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Lewis Tan: Well, there’s a lot to unpack there, and this is a conversation that we should be having. First off, there’s two sides to it. One side is I feel grateful and I feel blessed to be young and up and coming in my career during this time because I had to watch my father go through so much stress, and I had to see my father play the villain in thirty, forty different films. It was hard to watch growing up. I wanted to take it to the next level. That was always one of my main career goals, was to push this forward, push this conversation forward, push this movement forward in a way that I can play heroic roles and leading roles and just characters that I haven’t seen before yet on screen.

But now we’re seeing the most opportunities we’ve ever seen before for Asian-Americans. And I think that part of that is a really good thing. Also there’s another side of it, which is happening right now that people are not discussing, which is—and I think Lena Waithe said something a few days ago that resonated with me when I read it. She said that film criticism doesn’t really exist in a real way anymore, and that a lot of bad black movies are getting good reviews because critics are afraid to say anything about it. We need to get to a point where we’re allowed to fail. This is what she said, and I totally agree with her because now it’s getting to a point where you want diversity in films, but you also want great roles and great stories because they’re great roles and great stories, not because they’re forced diversity or it’s placed there unnaturally.

As an actor and as an artist, I don’t want to be a part of a film just because I’m Asian-American. I want to be part of the film because I’m the best actor for that role, or there’s an interesting part of me that I can bring and no one else can bring. That’s why I want to be a part of the story. So there’s two sides to it, and I think you try to walk that balance of supporting the community, being grateful, and doing good work, and doing it for the right reasons. Hopefully that gives you a little bit of an answer of the state that I’m in right now. But it’s truthfully a great place, it’s just I want to navigate it correctly and with respect, and I don’t want to jump on something and be an opportunist. I want to do it because my work is great, and people look at it as great work, and not because he’s Asian-American and he’s filling a gap.”

Are there any films or television shows that are doing a particularly good job, not only showing positive Asian representation and representing these things truthfully and honestly, but representing them in the right way?

Lewis Tan: “There’s a lot of emerging artists, and there’s a lot of platforms, like Netflix and Amazon and these streaming platforms that have opened up a lot of opportunities for people that are doing something new and different. In that sense, I think it’s the best time ever that we’ve been in for young, up and coming filmmakers and actors to have a voice. There are a lot. Particularly, the show that I just finished on Netflix was an interesting experience for me. The reason why, to answer that question, I bring it up because I was on set it was the first time I was on set with a bunch of Asian-American leads. It’s like 95% Asian-American leads in the series. They’re each going through different struggles and what it means to be Asian-American, and what it means to be Asian in America, and identity, sacrifice, family—all those different topics are part of the series. And what I found most interesting about it is that you work on a film, you work on a series, and you want to do the best the work, but it doesn’t always feels like a collaboration of a family. Sometimes you’re there and people are just focused on what they need to do. It didn’t feel that way at all on this set. It felt like we are trying to do something for the bigger picture and when you have that energy, the work is taken to a whole new level. And that’s what I felt on that set. It was my first time experiencing it in that way, and I really think it showed on screen so I’m excited for people to see that show.”

That would be Wu Assassins coming on Netflix, correct? 

Lewis Tan: “That’s right.”

Very cool, definitely looking forward to that. I’m sure the readers will as well. So it’s very interesting talking about that and the duality that you touched upon in that first question. Which makes this next question even more complicated, with more to unpack as well. In talking about reaching parity and true representation, and true equity and equality in representation for everybody in Hollywood, what changes do you think need to be made not just to further representation in terms of furthering the number of Asian and Asian-American actors and roles in Hollywood but pushing towards true equity? Is there something that you would like to see happen in particular, or is there a major change you would like to see made?

Lewis Tan: “Well, this is something that’s not going to happen overnight. This is something that we’ll dealing with in a well-oiled and established machine in Hollywood. There’s formulas to the art, which is a contradiction in itself, but that’s what it is. It’s a film business. It’s both of those things—it’s art and business. So whenever you have two of those contradicting ideas, it’s going to take a while to change. Because what we want to change is the artistic language. Like Stella Adler said, art is a reflection of society. It’s an x-ray of society. If that’s the case, if theatre is an x-ray of society, then we want to hold a mirror up and in order to hold a mirror up, we need to have honest voices, honest actors, and honest creators, directors, writers, producers, all down the line that are telling unique stories, and you need to have people that are willing to fund those stories. And those stories have to make money, or else they’re not going to get funded. So it’s one of the crazy cycles. But I think slowly and surely, we’re building an audience that’s willing to take [unintelligible].

So you’re seeing success with lower budget films that a studio would say oh, this is an art film, it’s not going to make money, but then sure enough, it does. And it’s because people want to see these stories. They want to see new stuff on screen. They want to see diversity of every kind, not just Asian-Americans. They want us to tell tales that they see in their daily lives, and a lot of the times films don’t reflect that because for so long we were stuck in a system, a cycle. And now we have to break that cycle. But that’s the beautiful thing about art—we play these cycles, and we push the story of humanity and society forward as a whole. It’s a hard question to answer, but I would say, what I would like to see is people just being courageous and telling the stories they want to tell. Don’t make a film because you want to remake this idea and you want to do it with an ethnic cast. Just make original stuff that’s true to you. And that’s going to be the best way to push this forward.”

Sheraz Farooqi

Sheraz Farooqi is the Editor-In-Chief of ComicBookDebate, his core value for his website is that the writers of the site are a diverse, wide range of writers from all walks of life. Sheraz Farooqi has expressed how important representation is to him due to being a South Asian Muslim American, born from a family of immigrants.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry?

Sheraz Farooqi: “Asian representation in Hollywood has always seemed to be of less importance. When Asians used to show up, it was commonly embedded with stereotypes. Example being a Muslim on screen primarily being the villain. Recently there has been an uptick in representation. Crazy Rich Asians did really well, a Pakistani Muslim will star in a Marvel Movie and hopefully this trend continues to expand.”

From your personal opinion, what films and television shows do you think show Asian representation the best and why?

Sheraz Farooqi: “You know there really haven’t been many great jobs done when you have to think really hard haha. But recently, Aladdin did a solid job with casting, especially in its leads. The fact that it made the money it did boded will for those actors.”

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within Studios for Asian representation to become even more common in all films and television shows?

Sheraz Farooqi: “I think studios need to see the market they have left untapped. Marvel is doing a great job seeing it with their future castings and potential films in Shang-Chi. If these bigger franchise can embrace and show and elevated level of concern for representation, in theory it should trickle down to other films and tv shows.”

Manh T

Manh T is a journalist from ComicBookDebate who is a large fan of DC comic books as well as all of the recent comic book movies.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry?

Manh T: “Asian representation has always been a slow and arduous uphill battle in Hollywood. Interestingly enough I’ve found that television has always been quicker at progressing in relation to representation, whether it be gender, race or sexuality. Both obviously still have a long way to go before I can confidently say I’m satisfied with the level of representation on screen, however we’re definitely getting there.”

From your personal opinion, what films and television shows do you think show Asian representation the best and why?

Manh T: “Representation for me has always been about simply seeing people like me on screen in a non-stereotypical/offensive way. Of course this intersects with visibility, but for me it’s always been about being seen on screen. We should be able to play the antagonist, protagonist, lead character, supporting character etc. With that in mind I feel that the English-speaking films and shows of late that have satisfied me in terms of “representation” are: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Killing Eve, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Crazy Rich Asians, Kim’s Convenience, Fresh Off the Boat, Star Trek: Beyond, Always Be My Maybe and Searching.”

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within studios for Asian representation to become even more common in all films and television shows?

Manh T: “Studios and companies should be adopting the inclusion rider. Several factions inside of WarnerMedia have started to adopt this policy, and big name stars like Michael B. Jordan have also committed to this. It’s really not that hard to provide equal opportunities for everybody, both behind and in front of the screen, so I expect to see all the other major studios adopting the inclusion rider policy soon. The changes happening in the background are arguably more instrumental than the changes we physically see on screen (of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive but I digress). The reason that Asian representation has been such an uphill battle in Hollywood is because of the fact that there hasn’t been many Asians behind the screen. Implementing policies like the inclusion rider are definitely key to major changes/shifts in Hollywood.”

Dan Kwan

Dan Kwan is a director who is known for directing ‘Legion’ Season 3 Episode 4, ‘Swiss Army Man’ and ‘Interesting Ball’. He will also next direct ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ starring Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television?

Dan Kwan: “I mean, I feel like there’s a lot of the obvious things that people have been talking about; all very exciting things, the fact that we are actually being represented now is very exciting. The fact that we had two Asian-lead romcoms come out within the past couple of years is pretty insane. Yeah, the fact that we’re starting to see representation behind the camera too, like a lot of…like the fact that SNL has an Asian-American writer now is pretty huge. I’m part of the DGAs subcommunity mostly for Asian Americans. It’s very interesting to hear all of them talk about how much work there is now…it’s pretty exciting, there’s just a lot more films that happen to be Asian American or just Asian-specific, and so they tend to be hiring with those regards. So that’s kind of cool. Obviously, growing up it was pretty tough- my mom actually, at one point…I was saying my mom was very encouraging of me, growing up, going into the film industry…but she actually, one of the other things she would tell me was I should learn Chinese because if I try to make it big in this country, it’ll be really hard. No one wants a…she was talking about if I wanted to go into acting…which, I didn’t really want to go, but my mom was like “no one here wants to look at Chinese people. If you want to become a big actor you’ll have to learn Chinese and go to…go overseas and act in China or Taiwan or something like that.”

So it’s a pretty huge difference now, so that’s pretty exciting. I’ve also did a casting session for the next movie we’re doing, which is, y’know, predominantly Chinese Americans actors in the roles. And so we had a lot of fun working with Asian actors, Chinese actors in the audition room. And one of the actors was actually, like… a fairly common…famous Asian American actor from the late 80s, early 90s who then dropped off because, even though he had some success in the 80s, he just looked around at all his friends who were getting all these auditions- his white friends…all these auditions. Where he was getting one audition a year. And so he ended up having to leave his acting career behind and go into other parts of the film industry. And then now, three or four decades later, he’s finally auditioning again because there’s actually roles for him. That was very moving and exciting as well…exciting for him because things come around full circle for him. So yeah, that’s what I’m seeing from the inside…I’m seeing there’s a lot of energy…there’s a lot of excitement. And it makes sense, Asian Americans have a lot of buying power in this country; we have a lot of excited people and it’s crazy that the market hasn’t tapped into that until now.”

So you touched on it a little bit right there at the end. Can you speak a little bit on the push from inside studios to increase the Asian representation both on-screen and behind the camera?

Dan Kwan: “Well, I mean, it’s like…a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s really exciting that they’re…that a lot of the TV studios have been pushing these diversity initiatives, specifically these initiatives to get Asian American directors to- and writers- into these diversity programs to work on shows, to shadow on shows…to basically get the experience they need, because in the end…that’s really what these people lack. They just don’t have experience. And you don’t want Asians just to be hired because they’re Asian. You want them to be hired because they’re talented and experienced. So there’s a lot of that going on lately, like a lot of the DGA meetings were about these initiatives. It was very exciting to talk to everyone…all the shadowing stuff. But on the other hand, the problem is that it is still just a first step. It’s still very hard for a lot of Asian American directors to get their foot in the door- a lot of these people have shadowed a ton but never been hired. It calls into question whether or not these well-meaning programs are just for show or how much change do they enact or effect. Within the DGA, the number of Asian Americans is somewhere in the one percent, maybe less…so we’re definitely, probably…one of the least represented groups within our union. So yeah, there’s that. One of the other interesting things…when we were…I’ve been writing our next movie, that I mentioned before, for the past like…I’ve been writing and prepping it for the last three years…and so we were a little nervous on how we get the money when I started writing it because I knew it was going to be a mostly Asian cast…but around the time we were finishing the script, Crazy Rich Asians came out. And everything changed. Suddenly it became a lot easier for us to imagine how we were going to get the money. Suddenly it became a lot less stressful for producers to jump on. Little things like that are big victory pros for show makers like ourselves…just seeing these big, crazy, bold mainstream films be so successful has been really good for me. I’m sure it’s been really good for my Asian American director friends, yeah.”

Right, so what films and TV shows do you think are at the front of that movement…the best show of positive, Asian representation, and why?

Dan Kwan: “I mean…to me, the most exciting thing is…we sat down with Awkafina at one point to pitch our movie and she’s slated to be in it, and that’s pretty exciting. But one thing she talked about was how we’re kind of like…evolutions of Pokemon if that makes any sense? If you look at Joy Luck ClubJoy Luck Club is like Bulbasaur, just kind of like the bare minimum…just talking about Asian culture and Asian identity, like how it feels to be an Asian American on the broadest scale. So that was really fun. Crazy Rich Asians is like an Ivysaur…the next step of the evolution. It’s a genre-piece that is like…stands apart on its own, not necessarily…completely about the Asian American experience, but completely populated by Asian Americans. Like that’s very exciting that we can do…now we are allowed to do genres on our own that aren’t Kung-fu or about purely the Asian American experience. That’s exciting. Now we’re talking about the next wave of films, hopefully that are going to come out, like I said, the Venasaurs, where they are not just playing within the genre but they’re Asian American films that are pushing boundaries and truly artful pieces of filmmaking that stand completely on their own and they just happen to be made by and with Asian American actors, directors, and writers and things like that. And I feel like that, to me, I’m very excited to see that next push.

I just saw The Farewell last week, and to me that was very exciting because that felt very much like a …a Asian American voice but someone who had independent film taste and was able to create something that was both a representation of Asian Americans but was also very poetic and artful on its own. And I’m just excited for more people to do that and push it even further. On the one hand that’s also just my personal taste, but also I think if you look at any cinema outside of our country where filmmakers have been doing that for years- decades…the Korean, the Japanese, the Chinese filmmakers have been creating really beautiful, cutting-edge, and strange evocative work and I’m excited for America to be able to see Asians in that way. Truly creative and truly passionate people. So that’s kind of a long-winded answer…yeah. I’m trying to think of other things that are happening now that I’ve enjoyed…’cause like, on the other hand, I also love Always Be My Maybe, you know I love just like that straightforward genre stuff…that’s really fun. And I’m friends with Randall Park, so that’s just exciting to see Randall Park get to play a romantic lead. Growing up I feel like that would have been such a wonderful thing to have gotten to watch. I grew up watching romcoms, I was just like…a teenager who was hopelessly romantic. Mostly I would watch 10 Things I Hate About You and When Harry Met Sally…y’know it’s just very exciting to have those same kind of stories which is pretty fun.”

Where do you see Asian representation, kind of across the industry, improving in the future? And what changes do you think need to be made in order to get to that next level?

Dan Kwan: “Where are we going to improve…that’s a tough one to answer. I feel like everything that’s changing right now, not just for Asian Americans, but for LGBTQ+ communities, African American communities…everything has been changing so much in the past five years. Really, to me, it’s all very exciting but who knows how long it will last. Will we eventually turn back on that, I don’t know. To me, it’s very hard to say how things are going to…yeah. Where this is all going to go for the Asian American community. I’m just excited that me and all my other friends who happen to be Asian American directors are getting to book jobs now, are getting to make our own personal projects again…it’s a very good couple of years for Asian American filmmakers. Our next movie is going to be called Everything Everywhere All At Once. We’re shooting it this winter and we hope it comes out some time 2020. Right now it’s starring Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina. We haven’t confirmed all the other cast members yet, but it should be a fun one.”

Ben Rolph

Ben Rolph is a Head Editor at DiscussingFilm who also writes as many film reviews as he can. He also covers the Arrowverse CW shows on his YouTube channel TheDCTVShow and a special passion for the CW’s ‘Supergirl’ series. He wants to pursue directing in the future whilst continuing to go to the cinema at an inhumane level.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry?

Ben Rolph: “Until very recently, I’ve felt a lot of Asian representation has been very forced and unnatural. Lulu Wang’s ‘The Farewell’ is that great exception, a film that works on its own, routing in Chinese culture to the very bones. Nothing has been stereotyped or glossed over, there is something so real and familiar in the presentation of the characters and their interactions. The film affected me so much and I can only wish their are other authentic representations to come in the near-future. However, films like ‘The Meg’ are prime examples of forced Hollywood representation, with the rather-needless additions to create box office appeal for a Chinese market. There is no passion, no realness, just a corporate push to make some money. That is the type of representation that we should not strive for, but authentic and true visions like that of Lulu Wang’s masterful, ‘The Farewell’. I believe there is hope and I’m sure I’ve missed many great examples.”

From your personal opinion, what films and television shows do you think show Asian representation the best and why?

Ben Rolph: “As an avid film-goer, what I care truly about is that a film, is a good film. But the adding of authentic Asian characters and story-lines are of pivotal importance, and are greatly appreciated when done right. As mentioned earlier, the clear example of what I believe is the perfect exemplar of truly perfect Asian representation is ‘The Farewell’. Lulu Wang went back to her family’s childhood home, set in a little town in China, you get all the Chinese quirks that to the outside world may seem funny, or obscene. Like the constant force feeding of food, it may seem weird, but it happens! Down to the seemingly-rude nicknames, ‘The Farewell’ has its heart in the right place. Lulu Wang has brought a truthful, unbounded vision of perfection. 

Going forward, what do you think personally need to be made within Studios for Asian representation to become even more common in all films and television shows?

Ben Rolph: “Going forward, what is needed is less forced representation, but natural implementations that blend into the fabric of studio films. For studios to not back away from the strange Asian quirks and to not force a glossy Hollywood vision of Asian characters that we have seen so many times. I have faith, yet I have seen so many more poor examples than good. However, now there is a focus on adding Asian representation, I can only hope they listen and perhaps take a look at ‘The Farewell’”

Celia Au

Celia Au is an actor known for her roles as Alice in ‘Lodge 49’, Ying Ying in ‘Wu Assassins’ and Suzie Wong in ‘Made In Chinatown’. We recently interviewed Celia for ‘Wu Assassins’ and asked her about Asian representation, below were her responses.

Wu Assassins has a largely Asian cast, what are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in the film and television industry and do you think it is improving?

Celia Au: “I definitely think it’s improving. Yes the show does have a largely Asian-American cast, and the story is just a story about humans and people and complex situations and things that go on in life. Aside from the fantasy aspect of it, there’s a lot of things like dealing with family, like the Jenny Wah and Tommy Wah characters. Kai Jin, like him struggling with his relationship with his dad, played by Byron Mann. So all of that, it’s relatable, it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. Yes, the climate is definitely changing. I’ve seen more Asian-Americans on screen and that’s great! And I like seeing Asian-American characters that are relatable and not like the stereotypical perfect A student.”

We are actually given characters with more depth now which I think is amazing. I hope it keeps on going and we keep on making great projects and stories. This year we have some amazing films and shows coming out that’s not stereotypical at all. Like we have ‘The Farewell’ that is a very relatable story, it’s in Chinese and English. So, I think the more we move towards that, the more that we become part of the norm on screen and so it shouldn’t be like we have to talk about Asian-Americans represented in our industry any longer. I hope. It should just be like ‘yeah we’re doing cool work and this is the story’.”

Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma is an actor known for his roles as General Onada in ‘The Man In The High Castle’, Mr Young in ‘Wu Assassins’, Han in the ‘Rush Hour’ series, Tak Akita In ‘Robocop 2’, General Shang in ‘Arrival’ and Haiyan in ‘The Farewell’. He is also set to star in ‘Treadstone’ as General Kwon and in ‘Mulan’ as Hua Zhou. We recently interviewed Tzi for ‘Wu Assassins’ and asked him about Asian representation, below were his responses.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television and do you believe it is improving?

Tzi Ma: “I think it’s evolving in a meaningful way, people get on the bandwagon of what is successful and what sells, and all of these film and TV series’, they need to have a heart and soul to them, we are not just trying to make fast stock, so hence when something is more meaningful such as ‘The Farewell’ and its subtitled and it’s doing so well in its first box office opening weekend, even performing beyond ‘Avengers: Endgame’ for the per screen average, these are things that they mean a lot for the independent film; to tell a story and believe there is an audience out there for it. And I think that all of these films and TV series’ that involves us, you can also see that there is successes in them; that audiences are interested in seeing different stories from different voices and it’s a lesson for all of us.

For the longest time, Hollywood didn’t really know what to do with us, in any sort of meaningful way, but now you can see there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s kinda nice.”

I completely agree, it no longer feels like they are chasing a trend, it came quickly but at the end of the day, it’s all very meaningful. You were talking about different stories from different voices also, is there any stories you particularly want to see tackled?

Tzi Ma: “I think two things are important; quality is important and quantity is important, the Asian American community is a multicultural and a multiethnic community, we need to tell stories that involve all of these amazing and colourful cultures, there is a large diversity there. All of these mythologies from these cultures can be interwovened into one another so then the audience can get the chance to really look at this thing in a different way and that hasn’t really been done before. Normally, you just isolate one thing and focus on that but now audiences are welcoming these multi-cultural films. You really see this in films like the upcoming live-action Mulan film, because if you are a businessman and you are smart then you can see that opportunity and not only will you be rewarded financially but you’ll run a vehicle that tells stories when people feels there’s some value to what is being told. “

One important thing you said is not target vaguely the Asian audience as a whole but you should have a drop in the bucket for each different part of the Asian culture. What you’ve said is very profound.

Tzi Ma: “Yes, lessons learned, sometimes it’s a slow burn, it can take a long time, I mean look at ‘Rush Hour’ for example, it’s the first time you see two leads who are African American and Asian on the same screen, it used to be like salt and pepper until then when someone finally thought two minorities as the leads and look at the success of that film and what they’ve been able to capitalise on, and the acceptance from the audience of those leads is powerful. I think all of these things effect what is happening today, it took that long but it’s ok, it let the audience accept new ideas, it eventually sinks into the powers that be that we could take a chance, we could explore new stories, I think people are getting more and more confident to make shows like ‘Wu Assassins’.”

You say it was a slow burn but it’s like it would rather be a slow burn and things go the right way rather than a fast burn and then people treat it as a fad.

Tzi Ma: “Absolutely, and also I think the fact that people care about telling these stories in a non-stereotypical way, these are real people and real cultures that have been around for a long time and will be around for a long time to come.”

Li Jun Li

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 16: Actress Li Jun Li attends the 2016 Entertainment Weekly & People New York Upfronts VIP Party at Cedar Lake on May 16, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Li Jun Li is an actor known for her roles in Julie Tay in ‘Chicago PD’, Dr Karen Sun in ‘Blindspot’, Iris Chang in ‘Quantico’, Rose Cooper in ‘The Exorcist’ and Jenny Wah in ‘Wu Assassins’. We recently interviewed Li Jun Li for ‘Wu Assassins’ and asked her about Asian representation, below were her responses.

Wu Assassins has a largely Asian cast, what are your thoughts on the current state of Asian representation in film and television and do you think it is improving?

Li Jun Li: “It absolutely is improving. A few years ago I barely had any roles that were appropriate, you know. We were always pigeon holed into playing some sort of supporting role that isn’t necessarily right for us, but it was more to fill the quota of having, you know, a diverse cast and everyone was trying to meet but can’t quite really get there. But you know these days, this show is Netflix’s first in house martial arts show, with a primarily Asian- American original content, you know that takes place in contemporary San Francisco something that we can all really relate to, talk about being Asian-American in a western culture and this is one of the first roles in quite excited to play because she is someone that looks like me and is very parallel to me personally. But, that being said, even though I think it’s improved drastically in the last few years, I still don’t think we’re quite finished. It’s not over until we stop talking about it, if that makes any sense.”

Working with my team and talking to all of these important Asian actors, directors, journalists and influencers, each have their own unique take and ideas on the questions we asked and I couldn’t be more happy with the results and responses that were given to us. Some are heartwarming responses that show a glimmer of hope for a brighter future for representation in film and television whereas others show the improvements that are still needed to be made.

Each response had so much dedication and heart put into them, each personal story told in this editorial means something and shows how much Asian representation matters. I hope that by reading these you either take a new perspective on why Asian Representation is important and you end up learning new information regarding Asian representation and join the rally for more of it in our films and television shows.

The time is now for change, time for all ethnic identities of the Asian culture to be represented and treated with proper respect.

One thought on “Why Asian Representation Is Important For The Film & Television Industry

  1. For the role of the ancient one i have to agree with people on that one! Hello George Takai! For Hellboy I would have picked a much older actor but again Orientals dont sell! Until then we will be put back in the background and we need more orientals in hollywood which we dont have. Then when Orientals say we have crazy rich asian that does not represent me. Never will and never had.

    But do Orientals in the mainland do that in there movies and tv shows since China Japan Korea and those other countries are very diverse now but there still very chinese japanese. The new Godzilla film was very japanese I didnt see any whites in Japan when they showed that movie Godzilla Resurgance. No whites were even living in Tokyo! Tokyo and even Osaka is very mixed of everything

    I do agree with her but again where do we see orientals we see them as a convenience store worker nail salon lady etc etc. Plus its all about money when orientals can make money then it will change

    People will have made it when there is diversity in China Japan and Korea and again there isnt! There are some whites living in Japan that are more Japanese then the american Japanese that has come back from america

    Exactly its about the money and when Osric Chau Daniel Wu Russell Wong Keanu Reeves fight the system it will change

    Like

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