There’s not many people or events I would travel past the 405 for in Los Angeles. Asia Society Southern California is one of those groups that I will happily travel to the Skirball Cultural Center — specifically on a Sunday afternoon.
On October 30, the Asia Society Southern California held its 2022 Entertainment Summit which included a day full of insightful panels that focus on Asian and Asian Americans in entertainment followed by a gala hosted by Good Trouble actress Kara Wang that honored changemakers in the industry. This included Sanat Amanat and the team from Disney+’s Ms. Marvel as well as director Park Chan-wook who accepted the honor virtually for his awards season contender Decision To Leave. Actor and legend Ke Huy Quan honored Everything Everywhere All At Once directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert and producer Jonathan Wang while Randall Park presented a Comedy Spotlight award to actress/comedian Sherry Cola (who stars in Parks feature directorial debut Shortcomings). In addition, Bowen Yang and Jimmy O. Yang were honored for their game-changing work in comedy and accepted their trophies virtually.
The night also included a soulful performance by singer Paravi and 88rising received was also honored. ASSC’s Entertainment Summit Chair and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Janet Yang closed out the evening with her Career Achievement Award in conversation with Gold House’s Bing Chen.
As mentioned, before the glamorous gala, there was “the work” as the summit beforehand included conversations with API people making change in the industry including: Raya and the Last Dragon screenwriter Adele Lim, Turning Red writer/director Domee Shi, Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson as well as a virtual fireside chat between Fire Island director Andrew Ahn and honoree Bowen Yang.
In the bigger picture, these panels were quite phenomenal. Ten years ago, we would have never seen three Asian women write and direct three huge studio animated features. In fact, I never thought I would see the day where two queer Asian men have a conversation about a queer, Asian movie released by a major studio.
As the representation landscape changes, skepticism tends to flow through my veins — and rightfully so. Diversity, representation, and inclusion has become a nuanced conversation as Hollywood plays a game of trial and error when it comes to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to inclusivity.
During the “Spotlight on Showrunners” panel with Alan Yang (Loot, Master of None) Jessica Gao (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law), and Georgia Lee (Partner Track) took the dais to wax poetic about their career experiences. Zooming out from this, it is quite remarkable that there were three showrunners of Asian descent helming three very different shows that do not necessarily put an Asian cultural identity narrative in the center. Again, this was unheard of 10 years ago. Hell, this was unheard of five years ago.
Moderator Piya Sinha-Roy brought up many relevant topics when it comes to the television and streaming space and Gao put it best showing the evolution of representation saying that before we were scrambling for crumbs when were craving a whole meal but now, they have a seat at the table.
The panel of talented showrunners agreed that representation is a wide spectrum that encompasses everything. It’s not just one thing. It’s a nuanced conversation and as we continue to learn and navigate this space, Lee points out that even when it comes to casting Asians, we can afford to not be specific unless it’s crucial to the story. In other words, there may be times when you don’t necessarily need to cast a Korean in a role of Korean. Casting a Chinese or Japanese person in the role is just as good because of the scarcity of opportunity in the industry. Lee said that this can open the door to more opportunities and roles.
With the recent announcements of DEI initiatives and programs on the verge of being cut, the panel stressed the importance of them and how it help give them a boost in the industry. “Those programs are valuable,” Yang said. He further explains that being an entry level writer or starting a TV writing career from scratch is difficult and that these programs help.
Yang also added that it’s not only good enough to get just one show. You have to keep hustling for work. “It’s not geting easier for writers… it would be a bad idea to cut those programs,” he said. “Once you get your foot in the door, there’s still a long journey ahead.”
Gao added that a TV writing job is an on-the-job learning situation and as the TV landscape continues to do these short season orders, a lot of new writers aren’t getting the training they need. “You need hands on experience to become a showrunner,” she said adding that she doesn’t see it getting any better.
Even though there are some major problems with how Hollywood is handling DEI, Yang, Gao, and Lee continue to push forward making space for inclusive stories and talent on the big and small screen. In fact, Yang and Gao are separately working on Breaking Bad-esque projects that are totally different, showing that there is room for more than one. The trio also joked about working together on a project — something we are totally here for.