Thank you so much to the Mayor, First Lady and all the incredible City staff behind this event for this tremendous honor. I am truly humbled. I also in awe of your courage in giving someone who is both an actor and a lawyer a microphone. Any other actors and lawyers out there? Ok, you know why! We’re terrible like that - we’ll just talk forever and ever. Don’t worry. I won’t do that to you today. I’d just like to draw some attention to one area that is near and dear to my heart and that is representation – specifically Asian American representation – in entertainment media. I run the Film Lab, a non-profit, that provides resources and production content that highlights Asian Americans, women and others of color. We particularly focus on Asian Americans because unlike most other racial groups, as our population percentage has increased, our representation on TV and in movies has not followed. In fact, in many years our visibility on screen has actually declined. We remain largely unseen and movies like “Crazy Rich Asians,” are, sadly, still the exception and not the rule. If we are seen at all, it is too often as the “Other,” the “Fresh Off the Boat” newcomer, or any one of a number of other tired stereotypes.
Now, there’s a lot going on in the world today and whitewashed entertainment may seem trivial, but I submit to you that it is actually critically important. Entertainment media is the method by which we, as a society, leave our history and tell the world who we are as a people. When the mainstream media stereotypes, marginalizes or erases us, it creates widespread societal perception that we are not Americans, not equal, and that we do not belong. The reality is this is our country. Asian Americans have fought and died for the United States since the War of 1812. But regardless of whether our families came here in the 1812 or in 2012, this is our home and we belong here. We should not and do not need to ask permission to be seen or heard. And that’s the really exciting part about running the Film Lab – the ability to reclaim our story; create and support entertainment content that returns us – and others of color – to the story that we belong in. To the story that is our story, too.
The Film Lab is small and we operate on a shoe-string budget, staffed primarily by volunteers, but I like to think we provide more resources and content to the community than organizations with 10x our budget. And that is because of the great hearts of our volunteers. If you’d indulge me just a moment – some of the Film Lab staff are here today and I’d like to ask them to stand. They are the backbone of the Lab and nothing it accomplishes could be done without them. This team has a lot of heart although sometimes, of course, it can feel like we’re pushing against a brick wall, which is why recognition like this is so incredible and so meaningful. I am truly grateful to Mayor DeBlasio and the First Lady for this honor and to all of you for your support in ensuring that our faces, voices and stories are heard and seen, not just as whispers in the corner, but as shouts from the center of the stage. So, keep shouting everyone and thank you very much.
May 9, 2019