There’s so much to be angry about these days. So much so that it’s difficult to blog about things you’re passionate about when in the shadow of the destruction of society and the world as we know it. Thus I’m very choosy due to mental and physical exhaustion of what I write about.

When I received this pitch, it was one of those times to write.

Under-representation is a problem

Yes, under-representation of people of color and Asian Americans in particular is a problem. A huge problem. Studios have maintained their long-held practice of casting whites in roles meant to be Asian Pacific. Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange are recent examples. Also common is white savior movies, as recently demonstrated in The Great Wall. And yet in the midst of a supposed sea change toward diversity in television, of which ABC has been recognized for its efforts, its sister company Marvel fails to capitalize on the “trend” and instead casts a white Brit as Iron Fist, a comic book hero whose powers lie in the martial arts.

When I glanced at the pitch headline, I thought it was a documentary short about these recent displays of whitewashing and subjugation of Asian Americans on-screen. On second look, I found that the client’s product was a short film that really had nothing to do with racebending, whitewashing, or white-savioring the world. It had to do with Korean nail salons.

Capture

What’s the Problem?

Sure, there’s a wealth of stories that can be told about Korean nail salons. Whether the short film, Joy Joy Nails lives up to shedding light on the “untold truth of abysmal pay, racism, and sometimes violence that women endure” remains to be seen. But where’s the connection to whitewashing and under-presentation. The pitch, which appears to be from a PR rep in Southern California–I’m embarrassed on behalf of Californians–seems to say the SHORT film single-handedly cures the evils of the dearth of opportunities for APIs.

I am thrilled to be working with Sundance Film Festival Alumna, Director/Writer Joey Ally (Partners, Minimum Wage), as well as Executive Producers Soojin Chung (Escape from Tomorrow), Kimberly Parker (The Aderall Diaries, Katie Says Goodbye), and Weiko Lin (Made in Chinatown), co-producer Minji Kang (The Loyalist), and lead actresses, Kahyun Kim (“Austin & Ally”) and Yi Liu (The Walker) the team behind the short narrative, Joy Joy Nails, an official selection of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. The film highlights the untold truth of abysmal pay, racism, and sometimes violence that women endure in the roughly 2,000 nail salons across New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, originally inspired by the NY Times exposé “Unvarnished.”

As we prepare for its World Premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, the dialogue surrounding the under-representation of Asian American actors in American cinema is louder than ever. A 2016 USC Annenberg study on diversity in entertainment found that Asians represented just 5.1 percent of speaking or named characters across film, television and digital series in 2014. The conversation around diversity in film and the leadership of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign has shed light on this disparity but Asian-Americans have a long road ahead.

What’s more disparaging is the ever so present whitewashing within Hollywood. Non-Asian actors are often overlooked to play Asian roles, some studios even going so far as to use visual effects to make several non-Asian actors appear more Asian.

Joy Joy Nails challenges this common practice with an all-Asian cast, even insisting that Korean written roles were played but Korean Americans, Chinese written roles were played by Chinese Americans and so on. With racism among different Asian cultures playing a central theme in the film, it was essential that casting be completely authentic.

The film unveils an aesthetic makeup that is rare but refreshing. Please help us share this story. Help us continue the conversation.

 

My end of the conversation begins with, “Don’t fucking pander to me about under-representation thinking that I’ll write about your shit because I’m Asian and that I need to write more about API content to level the playing field of said under-representation when your shit has nothing to do with under-representation. So they cast Chinese as Chinese and Koreans as Koreans. Big fucking deal. There are tons of Asian American filmmakers who have done that. What else you got?

My point is don’t make the film what it isn’t. It’s offensive.

What’s Ernie Hudson Got To Do With It

I received another pitch today that offered interviews with Ernie Hudson. I love Ernie Hudson. Who doesn’t love Ernie Hudson? Did you know he was on a TV show? I didn’t. Apparently APB premiered in February and according to the pitch, it was “well-received” and quickly became “appointment TV.” Gee, a quick internet search found that Hollywood Reporter said it was “stupid.” And it’s ratings shares have consistently been below 1. On April 10, it ranked 4th out of 5 shows.

Don’t peddle bullshit.

I probably would have supported the Korean nail salon film even though that setting has been done numerous times already. Seinfeld anyone? But the pitch should have been cut at the cuticle.

 

–Ken Choy

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