Four Part Series
By Erin Quill, IMDiversity.com Special Contributor
— From Tim Huang’s musical “AND THE EARTH MOVED”
People always ask, “Why are there no Asians on television?”
Well, there is no single, easy answer. I will start off by saying, at least, that THERE IS NO GREAT WHITE AGENDA!
But, I’m hapa, so you may choose not believe me.
Yet, having worked with the Screen Actors Guild on their EEOC and the now-defunct APA sub-committee, as well as contributed to the revised Asian Language Contract, I’ve observed the problem of APA media under-representation from a rare, privileged vantage-point and I think I can break it down for you.
Be warned, though: You may not like it.
From an insider’s perspective, the fact is that Asian Americans play significantly into our own lack of representation. Certainly, we face many challenges in the industry, including hiring discrimination and stereotyped casting. But in many ways, we may also be our own worst enemy. I know that this is uncomfortable to read, and I have even been advised to not put my name on this piece. Yet, I am hoping that if we acknowledge that the Emperor is naked, then we might be able to change the problem of our media under-representation in the next few years. For those of us working on representation from within the industry, finding remedies requires tackling the problem from both sides.
The first challenge, sadly, is to show that we are here.
When casting executives try to broaden the scope of their casting choices (they rarely do so, but occasionally they do — Damona Resnick at NBC is particularly committed), they often report to the network exec who ordered it that they “can’t find anyone.”
Here, for example, is an actual conversation I had with a top network exec I know, who said, “So, how you do feel that there are no Asians on my network?”
I replied, “What do you think? I think it sucks.”
“Do you want to know why there are no Asians on my network?” Exec asked me. “They said that there aren’t any.” The Exec stared me down.
“Then your CD [Casting Director] is lying to you,” I said.
“Funny, because the thing is, my CD is Asian,” Exec replied.
“They’ve never called me in,” I responded.
“Yep, and I told them to,” Exec answered.
Then we both had nothing to say, because that CD, for whatever reason, had seen “enough” Asian actors to determine that there were no qualified, talented Asian actors. The fact that some of the top CDs working for networks ARE Asian American is just another nail in the coffin – because, to a white guy/gal – if your Asian CD comes back and says “There aren’t any,” you are going to believe them.
Total B-S, of course, but they had the call sheets to prove how many actors they saw.
This CD and that casting department went on to cast a pilot (a show that has been selected by the network for production with the hope of an eventual TV show coming out of it) set in Silicon Valley. When it came back, the Exec saw it and threw it out – even though they had filmed all 13 episodes. Why? No Asian Americans. No Asian Americans on a pilot set in Silicon Valley. No Asian Americans on a pilot set in Silicon Valley that took place within the computer industry. No Asians, No Southeast Asians. No women. One African American and he played the assistant.
THE MODEL MINORITY. AGAIN.
Although it may not be visible, the networks are trying to diversify. They fund Diversity Departments and showcases to expose ‘minority’ talent to their writers, executives, and the independent CDs that work for them. These efforts may only help a handful of people for one season — but it’s a start.
To succeed on television, an APA actor needs to be ten times at good as anyone else — allegedly. I checked with one of the APA actors on a major show, who concurred. This actor also pointed out that Asian Americans should not be auditioning solely for APA roles, but for parts across the board, across the color barrier.
This means it is not only an individual actor’s responsibility, but one shared by their agent, manager, and, to a small degree, the larger APA community. Remember, we have to be TEN TIMES BETTER than anyone else to get a job, because you never give someone an excuse NOT to hire you.
We do not see Asian Americans on television because only a small, dedicated group is asking for that — and it largely comprises lawyers and actors. We need numbers. It takes a village, right? Yes, it will take an Asian American village.