“Few of the movies that showed at the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival are going to make it big, but that’s not the point. For a week, members of a community that’s drastically underrepresented in Hollywood got to connect and share work made about them, for them.
The winds may be shifting in regards to representation, though. At a SAG-AFTRA talk hosted by the Conference for Creative Content (C3), panelists spoke with optimism regarding the new wave of ethnically diverse series that have hit television over the past season. Of course, when audience member Phil Yu (proprietor of the popular blog Angry Asian Man) expressed his fear that this could just be a trend and not a new paradigm, the panel bleakly agreed that such is a possibility. The decision-making power in show business remains mostly in white hands, and those are temperamental ones.
The SAG-AFTRA C3 panel consisted of veteran television actors Randall Park (Veep, The Interview, Fresh Off the Boat), Usman Ally (Madame Secretary, Damages), Joy Osmanski (Grey’s Anatomy, Save Me, The Following), Lucille Soong (Desperate Housewives, Freaky Friday, Fresh Off the Boat), casting director/associate Leslie Woo (Silicon Valley, Togetherness, Foxcatcher, Big Eyes), and actor/moderator Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced, A to Z, Transformers: Rescue Bots). The topic of discussion was contemporary casting practice in primetime television.
The participants all had their own horror stories that speak to the blithe ignorance of white executives. Cheena actually asked for them as a prompt to kick off discussion. Ally reminisced about how he would purposefully use his real accent (he hails from Swaziland) in casting sessions until a director would give up and ask him to “do it like Apu.” Woo shared a time when she picked only men of color for a role described as “a hot guy,” and her producer responded with a baffled, “I thought I asked you to get a hot guy.” Time and again, they’ve been frustrated by claims of colorblindness. If the higher-ups were truly colorblind, we’d see a media landscape that reflected the diversity of real American life. But that’s not the case…”