I recently watched the classic episode of A Different World titled “Ex-Communication (a.k.a. Fiancée What?)” where the bad and boujee pioneer Whitley Gilbert (played by the iconic Jasmine Guy) goes to a therapist (the legendary Debbie Allen) to help navigate her conflicting feelings when it comes to her ex and her current boyfriend Dwayne Wayne.
The therapist tells Whitely to say and practice the mantra: “relax, relate, release!” in order to manage her stress. It has since become a saying that will be recognized by diehard fans of the show – and a mantra that I have been trying to practice as of late.
Here’s the long and the short of it: I’m taking a holiday break – and that’s a big deal.
For one, I think I deserve a break… which is something we seldom tell ourselves especially in an industry like Hollywood that demands our attention 24/7 – but we’ll get to that later. Also, now’s a better time than any to take a break. With the holidays upon us, the need to be “online” all becomes less and less towards the end of the year.
I would normally continue to work through the holidays. In fact, that’s what I did in my last job for nearly four years. As a journalist – especially at a major entertainment publication in Los Angeles – there is an unspoken rule to be on-call 24/7 just in case breaking news happens or a “fire needs to be put out”. That is the job. That is what we do. That is who we are. If you don’t do it, you’re not a team player. There’s a mentality of “be first, be best” no matter what. It was taught by example from those who have been at the publication.
It was all programmed into me. It was almost like a cult. Then again, Hollywood is a cult in its own way. I would say yes to everything I was asked to do — no matter what. Even if it required me to take my laptop to a family Christmas party and sit in the corner while the rest of my family participated in normal holiday family behavior. Or if it required me to pull over to the side of the road to file a story. Or if it required me to do my work at Sundance and then rush back to the cabin to do live coverage of the Screen Actors Guild awards. You do what needs to be done and you don’t complain – because I don’t have that right in their eyes or in mine for that matter.
I never realized the space that I held at this publication. I was just happy to have a job and to get health benefits. The more I was there, the more I realized that I can write about what interested me and what I thought was relevant to the industry – and everything that interested me was anything that wasn’t white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied and male (WCHAM).
Listen, I wasn’t excluding the WCHAMs from the conversation. I was wanting to include more people of color, queer people, disabled people, women and anyone else in the margins in the conversation. This has always been a thru line in my journalism career.
The more I did this, the more I made a name for myself in the entertainment journalism space. I stopped asking permission and just took initiative. I started letting that ladder down. I finally realized that I had an opportunity to help people. I can give a voice to the voiceless. Hollywood folks love a headline with their name in it – especially if it is in a major publication that is read by a wild network of execs and decision makers on a daily basis.
I felt like I had a purpose – but this purpose eventually consumed my life. I was a yes man – and whether they realized it or not, the publication took full advantage of that. I had a seat at the table and knew that if I fucked it up, I would be humiliated, yelled at or fired. I am not used to having a seat at a table with such significance so I dug my claws into it and held on to it for dear life. I kept slicing pieces of myself off for them so that they could benefit. So they could get fat. So they could thrive and, by association, I would.
Out of the nearly four years I was there, I took one long vacation. I think you would say I was motivated by fear at this place. I always had this lingering fear that I was always doing something wrong. I feared if I said no to anything I wouldn’t be a team player. My stomach would turn any time I got a call or email from my editors.
So I just worked, worked, and worked some more to prove that I deserved to be there. Forget the fact that I was a reporter at the Oakland Tribune, wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle and had nearly 20 years experience as a journalist – I thought that didn’t matter because I was starting over. I was in the big leagues now and I needed to prove myself so I said yes to every assignment and volunteered to go to events and festivals. I basically lived and breathed my work. My work became my identity.
That is what I thought I was supposed to do. I had no role model. I didn’t have a mentor. I mean, I had people who taught me things about being a journalist, but I could confidently say I paved my own way. It was a system of trial and error but I made it here and now if I fuck it up, I could lose it all.
I would do all the work I was asked and then after all those hours of work, I would spend the little remainder of my bandwidth to do the work I wanted to do. I felt that was balance – and no one told me otherwise. I launched a podcast that I hosted with my wonderful co-worker about underrepresented voices in Hollywood and it went on to win a GLAAD Media Award. I became someone known for their work in diversity, inclusion and representation – and I was happy to step into that role. I started to build those bridges between film & TV, community and advocacy. I felt like I needed to do that work to satisfy everyone.
I didn’t know how to relax so I never did.
On January 1, 2019, I learned that my grandma died. Her name was Remedios Lagac. She helped raise me in Texas before moving back to the Philippines to spend her golden years. Her death made mortality too real to me and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of the end for me when it came to my job.
I had to go to the Philippines for my grandmother’s funeral, but it was also right before the Sundance Film Festival. When I told my editors that I had to go to the Philippines, I immediately said that I will be back in time for the Sundance Film Festival, thinking this is what I needed to do because it was important.
This is one of those times when I wish someone would have told me: “Dino, please relax. You don’t have to go to Sundance. Stay in the Philippines or at least take some time off” but no one did.
I spent a total of seven days away from my job for my grandmother’s funeral. This translates into roughly five days in the Philippines because you have to account for travel. Although, I did take a couple of calls and answered emails while I was there.
I came back to Los Angeles, spent a couple of days here and then went straight to Park City for Sundance. While in our interview studio, I was assigned a handful of people to interview – this included the cast and director for a movie titled The Farewell. I thought this was great because I had interviewed the film’s star, Awkwafina before so it would be great to see her agiain. Mind you, I did not know what this movie was about and then I read the premise. Seeing as though it was a movie about the death of a grandmother, my heart jumped into my throat.
Now, as petty and bitchy as I am on social media and in public, I will say that I am a very emotional person. Those who really know me are already aware of this. That said, I immediately introduced myself to the director Lulu Wang and said, “Hi, I’m Dino. I’m going to interview you today and I am going to warn you: I just got back from my grandmother’s funeral in the Philippines and I am pretty sure I’m going to cry during our interview.”
Lulu looked at me, took my hand and said, “We’re going to cry with you.”
To this day, I get emotional thinking about this moment. Because one, Lulu – who I had never met before — took a moment and in her own way said, “Relax, you got this and we will be here for you.” And second, I was given permission to take a moment and realize what is happening in my life.
I did cry during the interview. Before they left the studio, Lulu insisted on a group hug with her, Awkwafina, Diana Lin, and Tzi Ma.
I dried my tears and moved on because I didn’t have time to grieve. I had work to do.
In 2020, COVID came into all of our lives and like Thanos’s snap it just fucked all of us up. That, with a racial reckoning, Asian hate, the murdering of trans women of color and a wild presidential election that is too much to get into right now made this year a historic piece of rancid, toxic garbage.
As 2021 came along, there was hope with a new president, a COVID vaccine and a relief that the world was still toxic garbage but not as rancid. At the beginning of the year, I made up my mind. I knew it was time for me to move on from this job. I was slowly realizing this job was sucking the soul out of me. It warped what I thought hard work was – and at times, it made me question my talent as a journalist. In turn, it made me question my value and self-worth.
It’s been said a million times: there are people that must navigate – for better or for worse — the world differently than the dominant (WCHAM) culture. People in the margins spend our lives proving that we belong here and that our stories and our voices are worth something. We have to make people comfortable with what makes us different before we actually do the work we want to do. This aligns with what Toni Morrison once said in her 1975 keynote speech at Portland State University titled “A Humanist View”:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
I was burned out. I was just tired of anything and everything but I still pushed through because that is what was expected of me.
Many may ask: “Why not just ask for a break?” Well, how am I supposed to ask for a break when it’s an off-menu item? Also, this goes back to the corporate “you should just be happy to be here” mentality. I was doing anything to impress these folks who are benefitting more from my talent than I was.
That is what being in this business is: hard work, no complaining and you just deal with it.
All of this caught up with me and the pandemic peeled back the layers of what this company wanted me to be. It was clear that, whether they admitted it or not, that I was a token for them. They certainly made me feel that way. I brought something new to the table and I felt it was time I took that and walk away. I was beyond burnt out. I was a pile of soot still trying to spark a fire.
On May 2021, I put in my notice at my job as an editor. This was long before Beyoncé told us to “release ya job”. When I told people I quit my job, they would respond, “Congratulations!” as if I escaped something or won back my freedom – which is kind of true. It’s as if they knew.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave a publication that granted me so much access to things I wouldn’t normally have. I was utterly frightened that I was going to lose it all. At the same time, I wanted to launch my own platform that focused on the diversity and inclusion space in film and TV. I wanted to amplify all BIPOC, queer, disabled and all underrepresented. I wanted to it amplify marginalized voices exponentially. It was my goal to have it be the go-to publication for all things diversity in Hollywood. I would be Captain Save-A-Hoe for the marginalized voices of Hollywood! The publication would be called: DIASPORA.
I made a vow to never work for another corporate media entity again so this had to work. I was a mix of excited and scared shitless. So think about: I just quit my job of four years. I launched a website that I wanted
DIASPORA launched to meaningful fanfare. I had never done anything like this before and had the help and support from many – but I was doing a lot of the work. In fact, I was doing all of the work. I was opening a small business with me as the sole manager and staff.
At one point, I hired an intern but it was still not enough to produce the amount of content I wanted. I wanted a steady stream of breaking news, casting announcements, trailers, deals and all that but for underrepresented folks. I wanted to be the leader in that space of news. I wanted to make diversity not niche, but mainstream. I was mapping it out to provide consulting and even grow into a production company. I had big dreams for this publication even though I had no idea how to run a small business. I figured “It will work out” knowing deep down, my happy meal ass had no idea what I was doing.
On Thanksgiving day 2021, as I was parked in front of my friend’s house for a Thanksgiving dinner, I received a phone call from my mom.
“Hi,” I answered.
“She’s gone,” my mom says with a mix of relief and sadness.
“When do you need me to go to Texas?” I ask.
“I’ll call you later to let you know,” she responds.
My aunt, Lorna Lagac Hentze, died on Thanksgiving day 2021 after a long, difficult battle with cancer. A week or so before Thanksgiving, she was put into hospice so it was only a matter of time. My mom had lost her mom and her sister in the past three years.
I took a moment, thinking I was going to cry and I didn’t – but I was sad. I took a deep breath, popped an edible and went into Thanksgiving dinner as if everything was fine.
You know the part of a movie when you know the character is on the brink of an inevitable devastating meltdown — this was that moment. But I was trying not to fall apart. I’ve done a good job of keeping it together for years because that is what I am supposed to do. If I stop working, I fail. If I don’t work twice, three-times as hard I won’t even get half as far as my WCHAM counterparts. I’m like a shark — if I stop moving forward I die.
I went straight from my old job to DIASPORA and did not miss a beat. I continued to crank out work and even eventually launched a podcast with the help from Center for Asian American Media. I started a great interview series and did what I was doing at my old job but for me – but that also was the problem. I was still in the mindset of my old job.
Depression took over me slowly and painfully but I ignored it. It was all built up from the past 4 years. Hell, it’s been built up for 20 years.
I’m no stranger to depression. In fact, I have a whole other story about when I was diagnosed and I became a zombie from the cocktail of prescription drugs I was on. Nonetheless, I always used work to escape emotion. I threw myself into work as a distraction, but it didn’t really work this time. In the past, I have managed to push through but this time it’s different. Work was making everything worse.
As my therapist says, “Things that worked for you before, aren’t working anymore.”
I felt like I was failing, and DIASPORA wasn’t gaining traction. I was self-sabotaging myself because I’ve never taken a moment to just breathe, take a break and appreciate my work.
I’ve been a journalist for nearly 20 years and I’m learning to celebrate my accomplishments. I am learning to take in the moment, but at this point, I still don’t know how to take care of myself because many of us – especially from immigrant families – aren’t made that way.
I need to take a step back and re-evaluate a lot of things with my career, what I want DIASPORA to be and what the hell I want with a life outside of the film and TV industry (hello cannabis!).
I need to fall apart so I can put myself back together again. Falling apart can be a good thing. I look at it as taking a real break and taking stock of life and career because God knows I need to separate the two. And God knows that all my friends have told me repeatedly to say “no” to requests like they were Nancy Reagan.
During an interview with RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14 winner Willow Pill, she says that after winning, she learned to fall in love with herself all over again. I heard that and thought, “Hmmm, I need to fall in love with myself for the first time.” So that’s what I am trying to do. Call it hippy dippy if you want, but if you can’t love yourself how they hell you gonna love somebody else?
Can I get an amen?
I recently requested to go to a premiere of Wakanda Forever and was told they were at capacity. I don’t make a fuss about not being invited to premieres but I sure as hell know a lot of people who do – and my God they are annoying. I have worked as a publicist before and helped plan events, guest lists and all that jazz. I understand that sometimes it just doesn’t work out and I usually don’t push to get invited.
For this one, I was a little bummed and started to merge into that “Karen journalist” lane thinking, “I work in the DEI space in Hollywood! I interviewed Winston and Leititia for the first movie before anyone even gave love to them! I deserve to go!” Then I thought, “What am I chasing here? Why am I trying to step into a space where I’m clearly not invited?”
When I told my therapist this, she put me in my place and asked, “Are you chasing something or running away from something?” The conversation after that got interesting – too interesting to share with all of you.
To a certain extent, I think I was running away from not working. I am in survival mode. I have been motivated by fear for the majority of my journalistic life. If I don’t keep on working, I will not get money and I will no longer be relevant. Combine that with the “keep your head down and work” immigrant mentality as well as imposter syndrome, PTSD from my last job with a dash of an inner saboteur then you got yourself a perfect storm of self-sabotage.
I am always telling people to take care of themselves and I never take my own advice. Many of my friends have tried to beat into my head that it’s okay if I take a break from all of it. I’m stubborn. I am programmed to work all the time and that equals success.
If you have noticed, DIASPORA hasn’t been exactly churning out content like it was in the beginning. In fact, I haven’t posted anything in a while. That said, DIASPORA will be going on a bit of a hiatus until late January 2023 because I will attempt to have an extended holiday vacation.
The site will remain accessible and there are a couple more dope interview pieces that will be posted, but other than that, there won’t be much else. Things will change with DIASPORA. We still want to remain a platform for underrepresented voices in film, TV and media but we may shift the lens a little. Because bottom line: I was trying to be my old self from my old job: thirsty for content, tracking down breaking news, saying yes to every single event and piece of news sent my way, and being stressed out by putting my work ahead of my well-being.
This reminds me of that moment in Blonde (yes, that Netflix Marilyn Monroe movie everyone claimed to support in the beginning but then quickly faded into the background of awards season). At one point Ana de Armas as Marilyn is on the phone discussing her salary for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. They lowball her even though she is the “blonde” of the movie and she is clearly upset and is about to hang up. The guy on the other end of the phone says “Marilyn, wait” to which she answers, “Fuck Marilyn, she’s not here!
That’s what I want to say: “Fuck the old Dino, he’s not here!” but in a nicer more professional way…but still petty.
I am saying good-bye to that Dino and you should, too because I’m not the same guy I was at my last job – and I don’t want to be. I feel that because I filled a certain niche in Hollywood I must adhere to that and be what Hollywood wants me to be – but I don’t want to be that old version of Dino that was frustrated, stressed, on-edge, high-strung and paranoid all the time. I don’t want to be that Dino whose work benefited others more than himself.
I want to take the good and non-stressful things from that Dino. I want write about and explore issues, topics and people in culture and entertainment that I think are worthwhile, relevant and doing something to better for the world. I want to meet new, interesting talented people who are often eclipsed by the WCHAM bullshit of Hollywood. I want to care about something and actually feel like I am doing something to help improve the industry because Hollywood can be so self-absorbed in its own circle jerk of egos bubble – and I have been guilty of participating.
It’s time to just break away from the pack and just do my thing without worrying about how I will be perceived by the industry or by my community. I need to finally do something for me. I need to make my own RENAISSANCE.
All hail Beyoncé.
I will also be stepping away from social media for a minute. It will be a little easier to step away from Twitter because it’s a shitstorm right now, but Instagram will be a little more difficult. I also won’t be on Facebook – which I rarely use anyway. Even though I’ll be stepping away, I know my homely ass will pop in once in a while – but gonna try my hardest to stay away.
We work in an industry that could be great… but as Toni Morrison pointed out, it has exhausted me. Congratulations, racism. You did your job. I am numb to it. My work in it was taking out the joy I once had for film and TV. My job as a film and TV journalist became a “have to” rather than “get to”.
Now’s the perfect time to step away. It’s the holidays and the industry is going through a lot right now so I think I just need to give it some space.
I work in the ecosystem of a multi-billion-dollar industry and when you combine that with a multiverse of egos, there are bound to be too many problems to fix – especially with diversity and inclusion.
At 43, I never thought that I would be where I’m at in my career but now I need to protect it and my peace. I’ve accomplished so much but it has been overshadowed by the struggle and people who have made me feel like I am entry level even though I’m at an exec level. I’ve been yelled at, treated like I was less-than, patronized, and insulted throughout my career — especially in my time in Hollywood. It’s sad to say, but I am used to it. As a queer, Filipino boy who grew up super chubby in Texas and wasn’t exactly the most masculine kid in gym class – you get used to taking punches. It doesn’t get any easier – you just get better at taking them. Now I need to get better at throwing punches – and I am. No, really, I am. I take boxing… but also I need to throw punches metaphorically.
I just hope that something in this long-ass dissertation, manifesto or whatever this is that could be of help to you — especially those who are trying to make it in an industry that was built by and for WCHAMs with no mind to those in the margins.
You deserve better. Advocate for yourself. Unlearn the systems we subscribed to so we can truly live our authentic lives. It’s a tough journey, but we can do it. Whether you work in the film and TV industry or not, working yourself to death to make other shine brighter is not worth your well-being.
Consider this a cautionary tale.
Leaving my last job was like leaving an abusive ex. I wasn’t being treated how I felt like I deserved and I’m finally realizing that I am allowed to say that out loud. I had many great experiences and I have a certain amount of gratitude from what I learned at my last job. It made me understand the industry a lot more and I got to see how the sausage is made in Hollywood. I built relationships and contacts, made wonderful friends and came out of it a better journalist – but don’t get it twisted. They didn’t give me this. I worked for it my entire life. I earned this. All of it.
As a result, I have become more empathetic than I already am. It taught me that I really need to find a balance, unlearn all the bullshit that was embedded in me throughout my career and life and, most of all, I need to be more confident when I shake that table and disrupt the system.
Until then, I’m on a break because I belong here.
See you in 2023.