"RED DOORS" ACTORS, PRODUCERS
Her Enthralling Characters Remind Us That Seemingly Solitary Upheavals
Can Become Transcendent Communal Experiences.
OF AN ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN
ELAINE KAO: I would define someone as Asian Pacific American if he/she is at least half Asian, is an American citizen and has lived more than half their life in America. However, it is up to that person how they wish to define and identify him/herself.
US ASIANS: If the original 'Flower Drum Song' was a remnant of the way we were portrayed by white artists, what recent productions (film, theater, television, etc.) accurately portrays Asian Pacific Americans in the 21st century - in addition to “Red Doors”
JACQUELINE KIM: Plays by Alice Tuan, Diana Son, Julia Cho, Chay Yew, Han Ong, Micheal Chung, Judy SooHoo. Films by So Young, Susan Tuan, Eric Byler, Michael Idemoto, Chris Chan Lee, Grace Lee, Quentin Lee (popular name), Michael Kang, Justin Lin, the list goes on and on...
ELAINE KAO: Anything that portrays Asian Pacific Americans as human, complex people (not necessarily all positive images) experiencing all the trials and tribulations of life would be accurate. Films such as BLT, Saving Face, Charlotte Sometimes, are some examples.
MIA RIVERTON: The Motel, Charlotte Sometimes, Robot Stories, Undoing, Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face, Face and In Between Days
MIA RIVERTON: As an actor, my job is to embody the truth of human experience – physical, psychological and emotional. If I am doing that job, my work is by definition authentic because it emanates organically from my own being. If I feel a role is written to be stereotypical, I won’t accept it.
ELAINE KAO: Stereotypes are superficial outlines, images. There is no substance, soul, "groundedness" in stereotypes. Anything defined simply by outer, external appearances and actions can be a stereotype. But if you take a stereotype and fill it with emotional complexity, soul, conflict, and needs that are coming from a true, genuine space, then the stereotype dissolves and can become something authentic and real.
ASIANS: Recent National Institutes of Health
study noted that
people's notions about which personality traits are most common in their
nations are rooted more in stereotypes from movies, books and jokes
than from knowledge of those they know well that concludes that most
of what everybody thinks when they generalize about their own culture
is wrong – what do you feel needs to happen to change that and
how did “Red Doors” address this issue?
MIA RIVERTON: In an ideal world, there would be many genres within “Asian Pacific American Cinema”, and films would transcend the “Asian Pacific American” label to stand on their own – sci-fi, horror, drama, slapstick comedy, animation, etc. This will only happen if Asian Pacific American audiences proactively support Asian Pacific American films and filmmakers, which has not happened as much in our community as it has in African-American or other communities. The only color Hollywood sees is green, so it will take at least one breakthrough “Asian Pacific American” film to convince studios that casting Asian Pacific American actors in multiple lead roles and hiring Asian Pacific American directors is good business.
MIA RIVERTON: I think that social class is already more important than race in terms of defining interpersonal relationships and available opportunities. How people dress, where they live, their level of education, their income bracket – these are more relevant commonalities in social circles than race, at least in my experience.
MIA RIVERTON: The goal of Harvardwood is to strengthen ties between arts, media, entertainment, and education. We are very conscientious about incorporating diversity elements into the programs and events we provide, both in the audiences / participants and in the guest speakers / administrators.
US ASIANS: Will the annual “Harvard in Hollywood” conferences change the assumptions made in Hollywood and within the general public that when it comes to race and culture - people don't listen; they go in with their minds made up . . . . then try to batter the other side with their opinions? This is prevalent in Hollywood, as noted by the words of an attending high-level executive who, 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."
MIA RIVERTON: The goal of the “Harvard in Hollywood” conference is simply to explore a particular topic in depth with a diverse array of guest speakers interacting with each other. Hopefully the organic diversity in the audience and the panels as well as the intellectual discourse and debate engendered by the guest speakers will naturally plant the seeds of change in the minds of all attendees, so they will go forth and break down racial/cultural/sexual barriers.
ELAINE KAO: Hollywood likes to pigeon-hole actors and conveniently label them into archetypes. It happens to non-Asian actors as well. If they don’t quite know how to categorize you as bad guy, hero, hot chick, lawyer, cop, etc, then they have a hard time casting you. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t have the creative eye of looking beyond appearances for casting a role.
US ASIANS: What do you feel is the required commitment of the Asian Pacific American artists? Should we expect Asian Pacific American artists - such as an actor, director, writer, producer, etc. - to take all the necessary steps to attain the highest level and not expecting that they "should" be hired because they are Asian?
ELAINE KAO: Absolutely. If you are any kind of serious artist regardless of race or ethnicity, you should be fully committed to developing your skills to the highest caliber.
US ASIANS: “Cult of Personality” (Glorification of a “cute, smart kind of bimbo”) – recognizing that these type of actors are not very concerned about raising the level of the craft of acting – do you feel that many Asian/Asian Pacific American actors have settled to being just a stereotyped Asian “smart/bimbo” because they have the physical qualifications that allows them to work in this capacity and/or they have given up on being serious actors?
ELAINE KAO: No I disagree. Many of the Asian American actors I know that are working today are committed to the craft and becoming better and better. The actors I started out with 10 years ago and that are still in the business are all working today in film, TV, commercials, theatre, etc. Sure, there are those who rely solely on their looks. But I don’t think we have much respect for their work.
ELAINE KAO: Anyone who is serious about acting needs to know what it’s like to work in live theatre. The experience of performing onstage is the best training an actor can get. You don’t get another “take”, another chance if you mess up. It’s the “actors” medium. You are in control of your performance. Also, in theater you get to go through a journey every night which really helps in film where everything is filmed out of sequence.
ELAINE KAO: No, I feel as if I’m still finding my way, my voice, maturing, growing, learning, making mistakes.