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Creative Gold Beyond the Yellow Ceiling
Observation on the Current State of Diversity

 
 
Lea Salonga

WHEN LEA SALONGA (star of a non-Asian lead role in Les Miserables and a recent Tony-award winning artist) is told “They don't want you to audition because you're Asian" - the situation merits serious review of the factors behind the reasoning. The “Yellow Ceiling (the almost unexplainable difficulty that artists of Asian descent face achieving acceptance in race-neutral roles in America) described in Nelson Handel’s recent Los Angeles Times article profiling Lea Salonga has been stated as the most prominent obstacle faced talented artists of Asian descent.

SINCE COMMERCIAL SUCCESS for today’s films and television programs are increasingly dependent on oversea sales - film and television productions have incorporated Asian influences, increasingly utilizing international/Asian artists and remade classic Asian movies (The Grudge, Ring 1 & 2, Shall We Dance, Scorsese/DeCaprio in The Departed and others). Considering these patterns, it is puzzling why Hollywood still continues to miss opportunities to utilize prominent artists of Asian descent in lead roles; for Asian males, leads have declined 35%, only 1% of the directors of TV’s top 40 shows are Asian American (DGA) and the Asian population are cast in only 2.5% of all TV/theatrical roles available (SAG) despite representing 3.8% of the general public.

Anna May Wong  
Anna May Wong
 

THIS LONG-STANDING CASTING and production pattern started in the 1920s and continues to the present day where artists such as Anna May Wong, Sessue Hayakawa, George Takei, Bruce Lee, John Lone, Joan Chen, Margaret Cho, Lea Salonga and others have long suffered. While proven box office draws such as Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li and Jackie Chan have publicly spoken of their great desire to be offered a greater diversity of roles, one wonders why they continued to be turned down?

HOLLYWOOD'S DREAM FACTORY has traditionally shown strange and stereotypical “yellowface” visions of Asian leading characters in movies/TV programs such as Kung Fu, Charlie Chan, the evil Fu Manchu, Genghis Khan, The Good Earth, Dragon Seed, Teahouse of the August Moon, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all roles portrayed by Caucasian actors in yellow cake makeup. What with authenticity a heated debate in Hollywood, one would hope that such stereotypes would swiftly decline and instead be substituted with accurate representations.

THE ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN COMMUNITIES have not exactly made it easier with various artists of Asian descent (i.e. Lea Salonga/Ms. Saigon, Anna May Wong/Thief of Baghdad, Lucy Liu/Ally McBeal, Gedde Watanabe/16 Candles, FOX’s Banzai, American Idol’s William Hung, etc.) being magnets for conflict over multiculturalism, either.

THE RACIAL DIVERSITY AND MULTICULTURAL WORLD that our children see every day - in school, at sporting events, at the doctor’s office – are not currently visible on prime time, when they are most likely to be watching television. Recognizing that 40% of American youths are children of color should and must create an environment of plurality. Given the lack of a clearly defined majority group in today’s Hollywood, non-traditional casting or blind-casting - as defined by David Henry Hwang as the point where Jonathan Pryce can play Asian without causing a protest, but only if James Earl Jones can play Italian and B. D. Wong can play a Jew should apply to any and all media entities that want to stay successful – creatively and financially.

SADLY, WHEN IT COMES TO RACE and culture, people don't listen; they go in with their minds made up . . . . and then try to batter the other side with their opinions. This professional attitude was clearly evident at a recent event where Michael Lynton (Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment), when asked what the next ten years held for Hollywood as a business, stated in essence that the people who had run Hollywood "in 1920" were still running it now and would still be running it "ten years from now."

WE WONDER HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE the rest of the world to understand, as Steven Spielberg, Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wicks have appropriately noted that “the creative process of casting has traditionally allowed filmmakers the freedom to choose the most talented, skilled and renowned actors for each role. . . Criticizing a film because of an actor's birthplace or race is as ugly as it is wrong.” We hope that their insight will be an invaluable catalyst to identify much-needed changes in Hollywood’s mentality while providing opportunities for prominent artists of Asian descent in future non-traditional/color-blind casting choices in future successful projects.

HOW SOON will the Asian Pacific American communities see non-traditional choices similar to those being offered to the Black communities such as Bernie Mac/Ashton Kutcher’s “Guess Who,” Ving Rhames in “Kojak,” Denzil Washington in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” James Earl Jones/Leslie Uggams in “On Golden Pond” and Cedric the Entertainer/Mike Epps/Regina Hall/Gabrielle Union in “The Honeymooners" that were previously denied? With five films opening at #1 featuring a Black American in 2005, as of March 28, a pattern for success can be seen.

A SMALL SAMPLING OF THE CREATIVE GOLD beyond the yellow ceiling to choose from include Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim, Kristin Kreuk, Zhang Ziyi, Ming-Na, Parminder Nagra, Ken Mok, Ken Watanabe, Gurinder Chadha, Aishwayra Rai, Teddy Zee, John Woo, Alex Tse, Will Yun Lee, Wayne Wang, Jackie Chan, Ang Lee, B.D. Wong and M. Night Shyamalan.

 
State of Diversity
 
Despite steady but modest gains over the last seven years, women and minority writers still lag behind their white male counterparts in jobs and pay for film and TV work, according to an industry study to be released today.

The study by the Writers Guild of America, West, found that minorities accounted for about 10% of the 3,015 employed television writers in 2004, while women made up 27% — even though those groups represented more than 30% and 50% of the population, respectively.

In film, women represented 18% of the 1,770 employed film writers in 2004, while all minority groups combined accounted for just 6% of the total, virtually unchanged since 1998.

For More Info, click HERE.

COULD AUGUST WILSON'S INCENDIARY WORDS that "culture has not always been valued; it certainly has not been valued by white America” still ring true today? Acknowledging his words that the media is a powerful conveyor of cultural of cultural values and a tool to disseminate information, how can we as a creative community create, build and implement programming that allow media outlets (as alluded by Robert Brustein – The New Republic theater critic) to accomplish what it does best, to be a unifying rather than a segregating medium?

WE HOPE THAT AN IMPORTANT FIRST STEP will include the upcoming nationally televised and technology-driven event - AAA Celebrations (aka “Hollywood’s Celebration of Asian American Artistry") - where Hollywood’s elite celebrates the artistry and influence of artists of Asian descent, and offers them the full recognition that’s long been overdue.

IMAGINE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN in the above-listed AAA Celebrations if one could witness a medley of David Henry Hwang’s version of Flower Drum Song sung together by Lea Salonga/Sumi Jo/Vanessa Williams/Jackie Chan, the energy when Dan “The Automator” Nakamura/Linkin Park/P.O.D. performs together, when Yo-Yo Ma-Silk Road Project/Twelve Girls Band/Kitaro/Ahn Trio interweave their “East meets West” aural magic and/or when B.D. Wong/Maggie Cheung/Sandra Oh/Keanu Reeves are playing characters in a Shakespeare play – all on one night. Could a monochromatic Hollywood be blossoming into dazzling array of blazing colors of artistry reflecting multiple cultures for all to behold!

WRITERS
Calvin Jung
Actor and Activist: Co-starred in "The Formula" with Marlaon Brando and George C. Scott,"Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, "The Challenge" with Toshiro Mifune Dir. by John Frankenheimer, "The Day After" with Jason Robards, "RoboCop" with Peter Weller. Among the shows "Sly Fox" w/George C.Scott and Hector Elizondo, 1976 Season Phoenix Repetory Theater w/ Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, Off-Bdwy "FOB" David Henry Hwang playwright, "Museum" playwright Tina Howe. Founded Metro-Project in NYC, non-profit summer lunch feeding program for Chinatown and Lower East Side. Mayor's Task Force Rep. to Chinatown community. Ran Theatre Arts Program for Neighborhood Youth Corp. NYC Presently performs his one man show as part of "Great Leap" for Music Center Education Division in the LAUSD system. "Great Leap" has been cited and honored by Ex- President Clinton for their role in advancing multi-culturism in arts.

Kimberly King-Burns
Founding partner of convergenz/solutions, a Los Angeles-based new media brokerage and marketing consultancy focused on entertainment and technology. Clients include major and independent film studios, music labels, international cultural arts commissions, community technology foundations, digital asset management software providers and online broadcast networks.

Gene Boggs
Past member of the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild, Board of Directors of the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Southern California, Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, individual member Beverly Hills-Hollywood Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Community Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency's Crenshaw Corridor Redevelopment Project (8th Council District).

Ray Murphy
Co-founder and CEO of Murphy Boyz Entertainment Group and Productions
This former President/Vice-President of He has negotiated deals with the top industry professionals. He is the creator and executive producer of the "BIG BLACK COMEDY SHOW"

Casey Kemp
Founder and CEO of NuMedia Vistas, Inc., a Web broadcasting company, that is dedicated to providing Web based channels for those videographers, film makers and animator unable to gain exposure via the studios, record labels and cable/TV companies. NuMedia Vistas also opens content delivery opportunities for education and business. His talent, along with being an MBA with over 20 years in the computer industry, provide NuMedia Vistas with the ability to forge a video/audio delivery system that marks a new chapter in content delivery. The global reach of the Web provides NuMedia Vistas capabilities other media delivery modes cannot match.

 
Media Representations (Good and Bad)
 
Media representations often continues incorrect and false stereotypical images from the past. This can be seen with the recent debacle of the false imprisonment of Wen Ho Lee and in the Jet Li character in Romeo Must Die.

What is ironic is that there has been major films from the past that has featured a US Asian/Asian Pacific American actor in an interracial romance/marriage with a white woman (Crimson Kimono) and where where the US Asian/Asian Pacific American male "won" the white woman from his white male competitor?!?! (i.e. Bridge to the Sun.)

Janet Tzou
Entertainment Writer

Ric Wilson, M.D.
Cardiologist; one of the founding members of the legendary group Mandrill; Harvard College alumnus.

J. Lee
Founder of US Asians ( http://us_asians.tripod.com), an online portal that documents the history and current events within the Asian Pacific American communities. His background includes working with and/or at MGM Grand Arena/Las Vegas, Hollywood Park Race Track, Alan Tam/Wynners, Alex To, Star East, Don Was, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Jackson Jr., Sam Phillips, Pediatric Aids Project, Tower of Power horn section, members of Toto, Rob Wasserman, Hermes Pan, Celeste Holm, Bobby Van, Peter Finch, Liv Ullman, George Kennedy, Olivia Hussey, Sally Kellerman and Keiko Agena.

Samantha Chang
Entertainment journalist - A former senior editor at Billboard Magazine, Chang previously was an assistant managing editor at Crain Communications and a news editor at Dow Jones Newswires.

Ken Pederson
Former EVP of Virgin Records, President of New Rivers Music – Record Label of Twelve Girls Band

Anthony C.C. Mar

Anthony C. C. Mar, founder and managing Director of Anthony Mar Advisors specializing in business transition strategies by generating cash, profits and capital. He also is an expert in crisis management of finances and personnel. Anthony is a seasoned executive and has served as CEO, CFO, Controller, and Board Member with businesses and nonprofit institutions across the country and throughout the Pacific Rim. His accomplishments also include serving as the past and current Chairman of the Annual Children’s Fairyland (a historic outdoor park enriching children through fairytales) Fundraiser Gala.

Referenced Articles and Links
AA in Hip-Hop Asian Americans in the O.C. Asian Music Invasion Avoiding Hollywood Stereotypes Color Change
Color Change Color-Conscious Casting David Henry Hwang Disney's Multi-ethnic Casting Has the Melting Pot Melted
Hollywood's Asian Scripts Influence of Television Invisible Asian Americans John Ridley & 10 Thousand Years Lea Salonga
Memoirs of a Geisha Obstacles of Asian Artists Crossovers People Loves Bollywood Philip Ahn Racial Discrimination @ Billboard
Spielberg Support Pan-Asian Casting Spielberg/DiCaprio's Asian Remake TV Slow to Reflect Diversity Why Isn't Maggie Cheung a Star "Yellow" the New "Green?!?"

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