Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How about a window?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Soomi Kim.

I had never heard the now overused phrase “breaking the glass ceiling” until Hillary Clinton ran for president. But I can be a little slow... Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because a few of my Asian actor friends on Facebook asked (in response to the Academy Awards) “Where are the Asians??” I began to read and hear everywhere again “the glass ceiling has been broken” after Babs said “It’s about time” and read Kathryn Bigelow’s name in the Best Director category (by the way, was it really necessary for Streisand to be escorted down 3 steps?) Congrats to Kathryn for her well deserved award! But seriously... where are the Asians? I did see some Asian women in the audience dutifully supporting their nominated spouses. All I can say is, Asian American actors/artists are alive and well and thriving in the Off and Off-Off-Broadway world in NYC. Many of my talented, smart, ballsy (not to mention sexy) colleagues are busy thrusting their creativity into their craft, making groundbreaking, risk taking work. They are realizing that in order for the tide to turn, they must be self producing entities. The Asian American experience is such a vast terrain that no one can tell these stories better than... well, Asians. Perhaps I, like many of my fellow AA colleagues, became disenchanted with the less than interesting and inaccurately depicted roles that have been written by non Asians.

When I was a young budding actress I auditioned for many stereotypical roles. Needless to say, it left me feeling unfulfilled and ... weird. I knew I was not tapping into my potential, which at some point caused me to turn inward and ask “Do I want to be a pawn or a pioneer?” Around the time I was having this existential crisis, I watched the famous interview between Bruce Lee and Pierre Berton shot in Hong Kong, 1971. This was a turning point for me. Bruce Lee was the first Asian American actor/martial artist to star in a major Hollywood picture (“Enter the Dragon” shot in Hong Kong 1972). In one of Lee’s responses to Berton’s questions, he says something to the effect of “Maybe 30 years ago if you were to ask about a Chinese guy starring in a television show it wouldn’t seem possible. But now I say ‘maybe man’.” It really hit me that that interview took place about 40 years ago. Things are changing very slowly (not surprisingly) in the mainstream world of entertainment. But in the wonderful Off-Off-Broadway scene, creative diversity flourishes. My long journey in creating Lee/gendary (my gender bending multidisciplinary play based on Bruce Lee’s life) has brought me the gratification of being able to create a dream role and bring it into fruition --with the collective support and collaborative effort namely of writer Derek Nguyen, director Suzi Takahashi (IT Award recipient for Outstanding director) and composer Jen Shyu. Being acknowledged (2009 IT award for Outstanding Production of a Play) gives me confidence that there is a place outside of the commercial industry at large- that is pure and real; where diverse voices are heard without compromise. This is the place of genesis for larger things to come. My aforementioned lack of fulfillment and frustration has been replaced with hope. .. Patience is next on the list.



  1. Yes, we are visible in down-town, experimental theatre, which is great! But the mainstream viewers will not know we exist in numbers until the mainstream entertainment media will show images of us doing normal things. I want my children, and all of their friends, see images of all the people populating this country, including Asians. It is very evident, yet no one dares talk about it, that there is a painful hole in the "color blindness" of the entertainments industry.
    Good blog Soomi!

  2. ...and that "color blindness" is all the more striking when one thinks of how many Asian Americans there are, not just in NYC, but in Los Angeles.

  3. I've found that for at least film/ television you're gonna be hard pressed to find people searching for an actor beyond the initial "look" they are seeking. Friends tell me that agents have earnestly said, "You're great, but we have our Asians." Or blacks, fat, skinny, weird, or you look too much like . . ., and even white guy. I think the problem mainly lies in what our society finds socially acceptable, especially in what people consider art. I feel we are stepping closer to stereotypes being our frame of reference than we think. So many years of being told to be tolerant of others instead of learn from each other. Tolerant is such a crazy use. And at the risk of sounding like a hippy, whatever happened to learning to love each other.

  4. In my recollection, there were previous Academy Awards Ceremonies that had in attendance a large "posse" of Asian and Asian Americans: 2001 and 2006 were years that Ang Lee was sitting up front in prominent view with his entourage. That was a beautiful sight. Needless to say, Ang Lee winning Best Director for Brokeback Mountain was pretty sweet too.

    And until Asian Americans are behind the scenes as much as in the roles of performers, true parity will be sparse. The decision makers are often the people behind the scenes. This isn't taking anything away from the performers, but like the women, Jews, African Americans, gays, etc., each group needs to occupy positions at all levels of the (entertainment) industry in order to write, cast, finance and direct productions that involves representation in not only stereotypical and demeaning roles.

    I should mention Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) as one possible case study.

    Lastly, it's sad to see Asian Americans who garner any success eschew, neglect, play down or hide being Asian American. They fail to represent.