When it comes to diverse voices across film, TV and streaming, “it’s not enough to make one thing,” said Emmy winning Master of None EP Alan Yang at this morning’s CAA Amplify conference, “you’ve got to make that show better than all the other shows out there, it has to be the best.”
“When you get that freshness chance, put everything and make something as big as Black Panther,” said Yang about raising the volume among diverse artistic voices in Hollywood, “We gotta make news. Make it specific and true to who you are.”
Yang sat with Love & Basketball and upcoming Silver & Black director Gina Prince-Bythewood about their inspirations in burning their trails in the industry and how they overcame hurdles.
Following them in a separate session was filmmaker Jon M. Chu who told the crowd that after directing such successful movies as G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Step Up 2, he had an epiphany — and found it on Twitter.
Chu began saw his contemporaries like Yang, Daniel Dae Kim and Constance Wu sounding off on the lack of Asian leads in projects.
“I realized, what am I doing about it?,” said Chu. For years, not only was he lucky to have arrived in Hollywood, “but for the first time I earned the right to be here” and “I didn’t just have a voice, but a message, I have this power to change.”
That village propelled Chu to direct the feature adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians, the first studio release starring Asians since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club due out this August.
Said Yang about Asian Americans on screen, “We don’t have leads. We have Steven Yeun and John Cho, but when was the last time you saw an Asian male romantic lead? The lead is the one who struggles and overcomes obstacles. The last time an Asian dude kissed a woman was in Harold & Kumar.“
When it comes to cultivating more diversity in entertainment, Yang was asked about his Emmy-winning speech in which he encouraged Asian parents to drop more cameras in their kids’ laps as inspirations than violins. It goes both ways: Not only does the industry have to open doors, but parents need to encourage their kids as well.
When Yang left college to pursue screenwriting, “My parents didn’t know what I was doing. They were killing themselves to support me,” said Yang, “but they gave me the freedom to at least try.”
Chu received great encouragement from his parents when they bought him a video editor from Sharper Image. He promised his parents that he’d edit all their family vacation videos together as a trade off for the video-editor. He did so, showed them his first video project in 1991, reducing them to tears. Chu knew from that moment he wanted to be involved in filmmaking.
Prince-Bythewood, who was adopted as a child, found inspiration in the sitcom Different Strokes growing. “I never found myself reflected on TV, until then. I said ‘Oh My God,’ that’s my life. It was huge for me, and that’s a drive in my life now” said the filmmaker about bringing female African American voices to the big and small screen.
Prince-Bythewood detailed that when it came to expressing her voice in cinema she stuck to her guns. She told the crowd at the Ojai Valley Spa a story about how she was prodded by her agent years ago to take a job to fix a film; one that she felt at that time painted African Americans in a stereotypical light. Before heading out for the interview, her husband tried to convince her not to take the job. It was everything Prince-Bythewood already knew.
At the meeting “It was all these black characters, white executives and a white director. They said that my ideas were so smart and so good, but that (the project) wasn’t my audience. I was shocked,” said the filmmaker who from that point on was determined to write her first feature Love & Basketball which was further developed at the Sundance Writers workshop. Prince-Bythewood is the first female director of color to helm a Marvel superhero property in Sony’s Silver & Black.
“To tell our stories, ones that focus on black women are the hardest,” said Prince-Bythewood who told Sony executives that she’s definitely casting a black actress in Silver & Black, a demand that they’re completely on board with.
The moderator raised a question about whether Prince-Byethewood and Yang ever faced in backlash in the industry as more diversity occurs behind the camera.
“I don’t believe any of that, you’re losing out to people like you,” said Yang, “(Others) aren’t losing out to women or persons of color, that’s not the case. It’s been literally 100 years in our industry of the opposite.”
“I never saw another Asian writer in the writers’ room until my show,” said Yang.
In regards to expanding the bench for diverse voices, Yang said, “It’s about the next generation. Make it a point to hire a diverse writing staff. I think we have one white guy on the writing staff and the show came out fine.”