I was honored to be able to throw some pretty hard-hitting questions to my panelists, all talented filmmakers from Erin Quill (whose husband actually directed me in a Tennessee Williams play in Los Angeles several years ago) to Tyler Ham Pong to Eunseok Choi to Justin Anthony Long. The panelists were educated, articulate and passionate. When I opened it up for audience Q&A, I instructed the audience not to hold back, to be open, to be honest, and to ask the tough questions. At the very end, we got a most interesting one. A gentleman said (and apologies if I paraphrase a bit), "Asians don't march or fight and they only care about money so they must rely on the white people to get ahead in media." First of all, that's not a question. It's a statement. But I'd asked people to be honest and say what they wanted to say and boy, had he! I'm so glad he did because it gave me the opportunity to make a couple of points:
1. Media is power because it creates perceptions. In this case, this man sees images of weak or gold-digging Asian stereotypes enough times, he comes to believe the characterization is true regardless of actual fact. Lack of diversity in media - both in front of and behind the camera - perpetuates these myths, both of negative stereotype and of absence (people of color simply being absent form films and tv suggesting all white America and perpetuating the notion of people of color being "the other" or "not American" while, in point of fact, more than 40% of Millennial adults are non white).
2. The comment about Asians not marching or fighting is interesting for its statement on people coming to believe stereotypes are actually real; but it's also interesting because Asians and Asian Americans ARE and DO literally march and fight (the democracy protests (to the death in some cases) in China and, later Kong Kong; the huge outcry in the Asian American communities over a spate of recent productions that put white actors in regarding "Yellow Face," and provided otherwise inept or offensive portrayals of people of Asian descent) and figuratively march and fight (the very panel I was moderating was a figurative method of fighting; a manner to educate, inform and effectuate positive change through knowledge sharing, for example). Further, the production arm I chair with the Film Lab, where we bypass mainstream media to produce our own content, in which we invert traditional mainstream casting - meaning our default roles are people of color instead of Caucasians - is another method of figurative "marching" or "fighting." We are empowering ourselves to create the change we want to see. We take the power to create the world we want to see and live in rather than sitting on the sidelines. If that's not powerful, I don't know what is.
3. "They Only Care About Money." I just told the guy, "Listen, entertainment is a business." This part isn't immediately about color. Asian American, African American, Latino - all of us in the BUSINESS of entertainment are working to make money. That's what industry is. That's what the networks are all about. What's the bottom line? Very few corporations out there are making art solely for art's sake. Why is diversity relevant? Because the diversity of our country is ever-growing; because of the globalization of entertainment in a diverse world; because people - consumers - demand diversity in their entertainment; demand authenticity; and when they do that, advertisers take notice. When advertisers take notice, the networks take notice. You follow me?
4. "The White Savior." I am so sick of the White Savior theory. When this guy suggested we need white people to save the people of color, I asked him if he was following current trends - the rise of the non-white population in this country, the diverse media they're seeking out; the fact people are leaving cable for providers like Netflix. The fabric of the media and entertainment industry is changing and it's changing to favor diversity programming. A white savior is not required. What is required is all of us, regardless of color, working together to create the world we want to live in - one in which we can do our best to reach our full potential, unhindered by racism or sexism, and to, hopefully, help a couple other people along the way.
There's quote about doing what is right because it is right. That's a good enough reason for me.