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Interview with Jacqueline Kong
The Asian American Bridge Incubator
of Deserving Asian American Talents

Big four broadcasters
Sign on to diversity platform
February 4, 2000   

L.A. (AP) -- All 4 major broadcast networks have committed to a more ethnically diverse fall season, months after the NAACP threatened lawsuits and boycotts if more minorities weren't included in programming.

"We feel it's enormously important, it's very good for business, and most of all, it's the right thing to do," said Fox Entertainment President Doug Herzog on Thursday after his network and CBS both announced the upcoming moves.

Both Fox and CBS will add executives in charge of diversity who will implement and monitor network efforts.

"We're not only putting it in writing, we're putting our money where our mouth is," said Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Television. He cited such CBS programs as the upcoming Latino Grammy Awards and the drama series "City of Angels," with many black writers and a largely black cast.

'A long, arduous process' - The network's agreements, similar to those signed by NBC and ABC last month, focus on changes in minority representation throughout the companies -- both on-screen and off. Minority recruitment will be considered in executive job evaluations.

"This has been a long, arduous process," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The agreements, he said, will bring "real, meaningful, lasting change."

CBS promised to increase the number of development deals with minority writers, producers and " other talent for the 2000 fall season and beyond."

Like the Fox agreement, the CBS pact was virtually devoid of numbers that might provide measurements of success. But the network executives said they were committed to the effort -- and Mfume said biannual evaluations were planned.

"It's not a matter of having come a long, long way, but of still having a long way to go," Mfume said.

The end result, he said, should be creation of television that consumers can feel good about and new opportunities in the entertainment industry for men and women of color.

Cable could follow suit

Although most criticism was directed at the four major networks, Mfume said he hoped cable channels and other broadcasters would use the agreements as a basis for self-examination and change.

The networks opened negotiations with civil rights groups after the NAACP last summer floated the threat of a TV boycott or legal action because of the lack of minority actors on the fall 1999 schedule of new shows.

In spring, Mfume said, the coalition intends to expand its focus to include the motion picture industry. He expects conversations with studio heads to be held after coalition members evaluate their goals. .

What makes AAMD different is that they are not just a complaining organization. We try to do two things: one: create awareness of the issues and two: discuss solutions. AAMD does the most important work in creating proactive programs that pull people together to generate the necessary training to create that bridge into the industry. That is the important factor that's been missing from the activist side of the Asian American communities. We will try to take it one step further by saying that we're not just happy saying these things (media representations) aren't good and wait till they fix it. We will actually be out there, as an organization, trying to create the programs (a very exhausting effort) to let the writers, directors and performers have some kind of experience. Without that experience and training, they can't make that move. That is our theory. In conclusion, AAMD is different because we're doing the Internet film festival, the writing contest, writing the program and episodic TV on the web.

It is good to see Asian faces on television and to see them in films. I think that exposure is half the battle. I also feel that you wouldn't go to Africa to cast African American roles. Unfortunately, one of the stigmas that is attached to only bringing Asian actors from Asia is that it still sends that message we're all outsiders and foreigners. That is a little dangerous.

From an Asian Pacific American point of view, I feel we need to be addressed and seen as viable actors who can perform.

Now the reason why you have Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung from an industry point of view is that they are already proven entity. Jackie, Sammo and Jet have already made many movies. If I was a businessman, am I gonna choose "Joe Shmo" who I have never seen act in my life, or am I going to hire Jet Li? What is the choice?

What I am saying is that they are proven entities. Asian Americans have to smarten up. That means, you can't just stand there waiting for somebody to give them the opportunity. Especially if they haven't done anything or proven themselves on any platform, yet want a starring and/or a great role in a show. What you have to understand is that major African American stars, such as Denzil Washington and Wesley Snipes, didn't just pop into the scene. They started with Afro-centric Spike Lee movies or shows about their communities to show that they can hold a film.

Now what does Karoke Nights do? It creates that opportunity for Asian American actors to show on a platform that they can carry a show and "hold" a film. Once you have those kinds of platforms, it will provide a greater opportunities to move into the mainstream. You have to do that! You can't just wait passively just because you are complaining and hope that somebody is going to hire you. You got to show that you can make it work.

Karoake Nights - why is it important? It's important because Asian Americans will have their own station on the Internet. It provides the platform for the general public to see our talent from our community and to start using it.

If you look where comedians are at, they're going to the comedy stores. They're not just sitting around a home, they are actually out there trying out their work, testing their work, getting out there with the public and showing that the materials work.

I come from a very practical background that you have to understand the way both sides think. The Asian American communities have to meet the entertainment industry halfway by obtain the necessary training abilities through our programs and in supporting these shows. Right now, I challenge the Asian Pacific American communities to support these shows. Go to HotPopTV.Com and watch Karoake Nights and watch these filmmakers and vote for their films - so that they have a voice.

If you don't do that - you're passive. If you're passive, then you don't make any change. If you really don't like not seeing Asian Americans on TV - go to HotPopTV.Com, view Karoake Nights and support these filmmakers. Try to support it because artists need support and without the community backing it up, you're not going to be able to move those issues forward.

Burt   Kawahara  
AAMD Board Advisor

Bert Kawahara, Esquire - has been a practicing attorney for the past 17 years. He has been an active member within the Asian community and is a member of the Japanese-American Bar Association.

I hope that the money-making sector of the Asian American communities (meaning the professional sector), see the importance of not only watching these shows and supporting them with their time through their financial resources. The Jewish community heavily supports its involvement in the entertainment industry, community and cultural growth provides a similar example of success. Unfortunately, part of not supporting these activities financially means losing the ability to have your community's stories told. The Jewish communities were very smart in the telling of their stories. How many Holocaust films have we seen? Everybody knows this story. But does anyone know the Asian Pacific American story and there are many of them. I am also tired of hearing of people saying that there is only one story or I know all about your community when they know NOTHING about our community. These people "lumped us" all together. We're perceived as being just one race. One of the many reasons why they do that is that they know nothing about us.

What can the media do? It can allow people to know something about us through our stories and culture. Why should money and/or the powers support that? The reason is so that people will not racially stereotype you into one big group and recognize the importance of our communities.

CBS, Fox Sign Pact on Ethnicity
Agreements w/Civil Rights Coalition Come After Threats of Boycott By Sharon Waxman - Washington Post
Friday, February 4, 2000

Last month NBC and ABC reached similar agreements with the groups.

Summary (LOS ANGELES, Feb. 3)

Fox Entertainment and CBS networks signed agreements with the NACCP, the National Latino Media Council, the Asian-Pacific American Media Coalition, and the American Indians in Film and Television today aimed at promoting diversity both on screen and behind the camera at their networks.

Fox and CBS agreements promise to hire a vice president of diversity to monitor their progress in hiring writers, directors, actors and executives from diverse ethnic backgrounds. All four major networks have now promised to establish internships & mentoring programs for minorities, to buy more goods and services from minority-owned businesses and to reward managers for hiring minorities in the executive ranks.

The civil right coalition will review the network's progress twice a year. Last month NBC and ABC signed agreements with the civil rights coalition. The coalition has not negotiated with the two remaining networks, WB and UPN.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen a lot of this support come forward. I spoke at the Committee of 100 Conference at Silicon Valley and asked this question to the money people. It was a little upsetting. On one hand, you have some of the most powerful people that have made it in the industry, saying everything is so wonderful because we have more Asian American executives than ever. But the record is pathetic because in reality - that is not the case. Are those executives helping other groups to move forward - I don't think so.

So the idea is, hopefully, there will be "consciousness rising," where two things happen. One - money people in our communities understand that supporting programming, supporting stories that talk about our struggles have a social benefit. Two - they have to understand that it cannot be done quickly.

We've worked with different media organizations such as Asian Avenue, Yolk Magazine, etc. and very open to working with others. We are hoping that the community will rise together to meld a lot of the mediums together. I've approached Eddie Wong of NAATA, CineVision in New York, etc. but we haven't heard from them. Unfortunately, I hope that our communities can learn how to work more cohesively together.

Right now, I challenge the Asian Pacific American communities to support these shows. Go to HotPopTV.Com and watch Karoake Nights and watch these filmmakers and vote for their films - so that they have a voice.

If you really don't like not seeing Asian Americans on TV - go to HotPopTV.Com, view Karoake Nights and support these filmmakers. Try to support it because artists need support and without the community backing it up, you're not going to be able to move those issues forward.

I hope that our communities can learn how to work more cohesively together.

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