Diversity On The Screen and Behind the Scenes
by Grace Chan @graceefully
I don't post on Facebook a lot, but how could I not share my Crazy Rich Asians Buzzfeed quiz results?! I can't remember the last time I saw a Hollywood film that resonated with me the way Crazy Rich Asians did, and here's why.
This movie is a rare, onscreen glimpse into the world and culture that I grew up in. The accents, the gorgeous Asian faces, the inside jokes, the tears, the arguments, the food, the colors. This movie made me so proud to be a part of the Asian diaspora and oh so homesick for Malaysia. Not to mention that I haven't laughed this hard since The Lego Movie!
Crazy Rich Asians is the FIRST movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian leading cast in Hollywood. Now, the way Asians are represented in American media is generally positive—but there's often an underlying negativity. It tends to feel like a backhanded compliment.
When I see Asian faces on Western screens, they’re not whole characters, but a caricatures of a particular quality. For example, Asian women are often depicted as being "sexy," but simply because they're "exotic." As for Asian men, they are often depicted as effeminate and weak. While being "shy" isn't a bad quality, that type of stereotypical representation actually causes adverse effects on Asian men growing up in Westernized culture.
And this has real life ramifications: as cited by sociology expert Jackson Katz, Asian men in America feel like they have to prove their masculinity because of the way they're portrayed in Western media. This causes them to act more aggressively than they otherwise would have. It's these type of sociological affects that have caused increased rates of depression, suicide, and domestic violence in America.
The way media portrays men of certain races doesn't strictly apply to Asian representation. It affects people of all races, genders, and sexuality.
This is why it was so refreshing to see a film about Asian culture that was honest instead of stereotypical.
While I related Crazy Rich Asians on so many levels, Crazy Rich Asians is not my story.
Films like Fresh Off The Boat or International Student by Ronny Chieng, aren't my stories either, even thought myself and the director bare many similarities. Those are other Asians’ stories.
I've heard a few Asian people voice 'dissatisfaction' with CRA. Here's my advice to anyone who felt that way:
If me and you, Asians with our own unique experiences, want our specific Asian stories to be told, we have to be the ones to tell it.
Until the moment we can eliminate 'minority' from our language, then our representation will be a token of diversity. Representation for minorities will always be seen as the example, instead of a sample slice of the larger picture.
Personally, I feel blessed to live in a world moving towards globalization, where I don't feel as if my Asian-ness is a hindrance anymore. In fact, I've heard a lot of my white actor friends saying it feels harder for them now to secure jobs because of the hyper-awareness surrounding diversity (and they're not salty, just making an astute observation).
I'm always aware of how I'm the only Asian in the room.
I'm not the only person that's hyper-aware of my race either. That's why on every Rebel Motion, diversity and representation is a must. We recently shot a series of commercials for Timo Weiland and Zenni Optical. On set that day, make-up artist, Jonathan Wu, came up to me and said that this was the first time in his 20+ years of being on set that he's seen so many Asian faces. He said it was one of the most diverse sets he's ever been on in general. My heart melted, and continues to melt anytime I think about this. Thank you Jonathan ❤️!
It's still rare that I get to see a person that looks like me on the stage or on the screen or on set; and when I do, it's like a mini-celebration—as it should be—but I hope that someday soon it's not a triumph, but a normalcy.
With the rise of diverse stories on the screen and on the stage, I'm incredibly optimistic about where that US/Western media is heading. It's far from perfect and the barriers for non-white creatives are still higher. But the diversity conversation should never be about Asians vs. all the other minorities—It's about helping each other out and supporting each other's unique stories and cultures.
Because in my reality, through working in theatre and in Rebel Motion, people around me are working really hard to make sure diversity isn't just black/white. Diversity is representation and opportunity for all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. This truth applies to both on screen and behind the scenes.
I'm truly grateful to have not felt that racial or gender insecurity in the past year of working professionally with Rebel Motion. I've been so fortunate to collaborate with other people of colour and women in the field, who encourage and inspire me with their resilience and support.
At Rebel Motion, we don’t just talk the talk (like we are doing now), but we walk the walk. We love talking about diversity, representation and making the industry equitable for all in terms of talent instead of social identities. But what we love doing even more is actively changing the industry we are in.
Here are 2 ways we hold ourselves accountable to the mission of diversity at Rebel Motion:
Cast people that look different from each other! If the role doesn't require a certain look, we go with personality of the actor. My motto when it comes to casting is use the talent as they are. For example, if they're naturally bubbly, then let them play a bubbly character! And if you haven’t noticed already, all our videos feature people that look different from each other. If you want proof, check them out and tell us if you think we’re not prioritizing diversity onscreen ;)
Hire people that look different! Many problems that arise from set culture is that it’s predominantly white dudes that look like each other, and white dudes in power making the hiring choices. So when it comes to a Rebel set, we consciously hire people to make sure the set culture reflects our day-to-day life - diverse, inclusive and collaborative. We even made a 'Set Culture Guidebook' to keep us and other collaborators we work with on the same page regarding diversity and inclusivity in a working environment.
The bottom line reality is this: Most non-white and non-male crew members may not be the most 'qualified' on paper because of opportunities denied to them in the past due to sexism, racism and overall systemic problems. But instead of saying 'oh well, that sucks,' let's try to make the world a better place! So at Rebel Motion, we dare to take risks on anyone as long as they have a great work ethic and an enthusiastic spirit.
(Shoutout to Sally Oh for interviewing me on this topic and giving me the inspiration to be able to write this post! Check out her blog right here!)