Asian-American Creatives at SXSW Talk the Future of Diversity in Entertainment
BY OLIVIA ARMSTRONG
At SXSW 2018, Christine Minji Chang of Kollaboration, an entertainment company whose primary mission is to recruit and promote diverse talent, hosted a #AsAmCreatorRollCall mixer to encourage Asian-Americans in the film, TV and music industries to network and, well, collaborate. The agenda included a panel featuring Asian-Americans who have made names for themselves in their various careers, including Jeff Ho of Pandora; Susan Jin Davis of Comcast; Gingger Shankar, composer; and actor Leonardo Nam (“Felix Lutz” in Westworld) — a champion of HBO’s APA Visionaries short film competition, whose 2018 finalists have been announced.
The central theme of the conversation was diversity: how far Asian-Americans have come, the steps that still need to be taken, and how strength in numbers could lead to more change across all realms of entertainment. Here’s what they had to say.
Black Panther broke barriers beyond the black community.
When asked where he thinks diversity stands now in entertainment, Jeff Ho, Director of Design at Pandora, cited Black Panther and the fact the superhero phenomenon crossed the billion-dollar mark. “I was saying to a friend that I feel it’s the Star Wars moment for representation,” he began. “Diversity is making money. From here on out, they can’t deny us anymore.”
And yet, next steps are necessary.
Later in the conversation, Leonardo Nam, offered a sentiment similar to Ho’s: “When I entered the workspace as an actor, there weren’t faces that looked like mine,” recalled Nam. “To see how far we’ve come to be able to stand here today… this is our soapbox. The conversation is now changed forever but we need to move to the next stage.”
“I’m happy and I’m sad when I see a ‘first’ happen,” remarked Susan Jin Davis, Chief Sustainability Officer of Comcast. “It’s 2018 and there are still firsts? There’s so much more work that we need to do.” Jin Davis recalled the observations she made about the lack of representation when she first arrived at Comcast in 2006.
“It’s not about rank or where you are in an organization, it’s about giving voice to what needs to be done,” she stated. “Then it becomes about institutionalizing these things: programs, mindsets, practices that will get to the end result, which is diversity.”
“It’s OK to be angry.”
Gingger Shankar, a composer and filmmaker who has worked with The Smashing Pumpkins and Katy Perry, spoke of the racism and sexism she encountered on her way up. “As a brown Indian woman, people assume I like Indian music,” she said. “Being a composer is challenging because less than 1 percent of working composers are females and you go into these studio meetings where they ask for a more testosterone-driven score and you’re like, ‘I don’t write flowers,’” she noted.
Fed up with the system, Shankar started her own production company, Little Girl and the Robot, to be herself and create great work. “A lot of my friends and I are angry, and I think that’s OK. It’s OK to say who you are,” she went on. “I think it’s really important for all of us to start doing that and respecting each other for doing so.”
Silence the doubting voice in your head.
Westworld’s Leonardo Nam, whose credits include The Perfect Score and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, spoke about championing oneself above all else. “We need to stop trying to make only Mom and Dad like us. Let’s tell our story,” he told the crowd. “We need to make stuff and we’ve got to keep creating.”
Nam, who was born in Argentina and raised in Australia before coming to New York, offered his own backstory as proof of making the impossible, possible: “I came here with a bag of dreams and now I’m sitting here,” he declared. “So for everyone who has that voice inside their head that says, ‘You can’t’ — take a deep breath and get on with it.”
HBO at SXSW 2018
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