Asian-Americans In Media: Persistence, Presence & Representation Are Keys To Progress

Sandra Oh

Imploring Hollywood to “think of how Asian-American is mixed races, not just Chinese or Japanese or Korean,” filmmaker Grace Lee joined fellow panelists Sandra OhRashad Raisani and NBC execs to discuss Asian-Americans in media tonight.

Moderated by MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and presented by the Center for Asian American Media, NBCUniversal and NBCUniversal Talent Infusion Programs, the panel also included Karen Horne, SVP Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment, and Craig Robinson, Chief Diversity Officer at Universal Television Studios and NBCUniversal.

After a video featuring a clip reel of shows that included Master Of None and Fresh Off The Boat, the panel discussed Asian-American Pacific Islander community inclusion and representation in entertainment projects, and how to talk to non-Asian communities about issues relating to the AAPI community.

“As broadcasters, we need to reflect the audience we broadcast to,” Horne said. “We need to expand the conversation to include Asian-Americans watching and behind the camera.”

Said Rashad Raisani, “I’m an optimist on this subject — it’s going in the right direction. Seven to 10 years ago, you couldn’t have shown as many clips.”

Added Oh: “I’ve been working with Asian-American women since I left Grey’s Anatomy,” said Oh. “I’m purposely focusing my time there, meeting with people like playwright Julia Cho, and focusing my time with them.”

Lee emphasized the need for more Asian storytellers, “Somebody looking at Hollywood, it looks great compared to the non-fiction, documentary world. The number of Asian stories is so low, it’s pathetic. I started out in fiction and sometimes I think I should go back to that.”

Raisani, who joined the staff of USA’s Burn Notice from the NBCUniversal Writers Program, countered that “the improvement is amazing. The trend is what you have to focus on.”

As for advice, Oh was blunt. “People are going to say sh*t to you. You have to have a strong spirit,” she said. “What I’m interested in this point of my life is what I’m giving to 250 people in a small theater — that student out there might feel something and that causes a ripple. The only person I had was Connie Chung. I always scoured for anyone speaking on M*A*S*H.”

Both Oh and Lee stressed the importance of supporting Asian-American stories by buying tickets to films made by Asian-American filmmakers and watching TV shows that represent the community. “Representation is huge,” Lee said. “It helps us visualize a country that reflects who lives here. It’s empowering to see these images. Put your money where your mouth is.” Added Oh, “If you’re in the media, keep this discussion alive.”

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