The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a star-studded gala in Los Angeles Saturday night.
“The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun, “Hawaii Five-0’s” Grace Park, and Daniel Dae Kim, as well as the casts of “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken” were just some of the celebrities in attendance at the Belasco Theater.
CAPE co-founder Wenda Fong says the organization’s mission has grown to “educate, connect, and empower people already in the industry but more importantly, the next generation.”
Despite increased visibility of Asians and Pacific Islanders on the small and big screen, Asians are still underrepresented. Whitewashing — having Caucasian actors playing Asian roles — is still practiced, something the upcoming “Doctor Strange” found itself in controversy for. Several of the attendees cited the progress African-Americans have made through outspoken talent and box office spending.
“African-Americans have come into their own, but I still think Asian-Americans are underserved in film and television,” actress Tia Carrere explained on the red carpet. “Whether you’re Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, we have to come together as a united front and show Hollywood we are a solid demographic. We are monied, educated, and we spend.”
“The black community is very vocal. So maybe noise helps,” added “Arrow” star Byron Mann. “[Emmy Award-winning writer] Alan Yang, we need people like him — writers, producers, originating content.”
Director Jon M. Chu, whose adaptation of “Crazy Rich Asians” was just picked up by Warner Bros., agreed. “The studios need to get their head out of their ass. There is a plethora of content and actors and audience that want to see this material, and not just Asian people. 90% of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ readers were Caucasian.”
Diversity needs to happen behind the camera as well, which is why Daniel Dae Kim started his own production company under CBS studios, with several projects in the works.
“I just think it’s important for those of us who are in the position to create change to make that change. So many of us as we start out look for leaders in the community to help us and try to get a leg up. Now that I’ve had the experience — almost 20 years in the business — I’m glad I’m in a position where I might be part of that positive step.”
“At the end of the day, studios and networks are going to want interesting content,” he added. “No one is in the business of being inclusive. People are in the business of making money and being entertaining.”
Kim’s “Hawaii Five-0” costar Grace Park agrees: “What we really need to do is get some of these stories made. You see the regurgitating of the same thing, they’re making the same movies again and again. Instead of going with what’s safe, what we know and what we’re familiar with, people want to see what’s different.”
One area where Asians have shined is alternative programming. Asians have won “Top Chef” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” numerous times.
“Shows in the reality world and alternative programming show more of our faces. AAPI’s [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] are everywhere — we’re singing, we’re dancing, we’re cooking. It shows the world that we are diverse people,” said “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba.
New media has proven to be another platform where Asians have found success.
“YouTube liberated a generation to create their own programming,” CAPE co-founder and former studio exec Chris Lee explained. “There were no gates. There were no hussy studio executives telling them what to be doing and not doing. They just did it. They just turned their cameras on in their bedrooms. Look at what Ryan Higa did. He has three billion views. Once there was a distribution platform that was free and everyone could use, talent could shine.”
Eugene Lee Yang, one of Buzzfeed’s famous Try Guys, agreed. “The internet is this place where were seeing the audience really proving that it really doesn’t matter who you and what you look like. As long you are entertaining and authentic and relevant, you can been seen as one of the biggest stars. And I think traditional media is starting to take notice. The audience’s voice is really keying into what Hollywood is deciding now.”
After the red carpet arrivals, guests bid in a silent auction and enjoyed Asian-inspired cocktails and food. The packed house then enjoyed a series of Ted-style talks on the past, present and future of CAPE by Fong, Inaba and Twitch COO Kevin Lin, respectively. Between talks, David Kwong mesmerized the audience his magic and puzzle tricks.
An afterparty followed, with attendees leaving even more inspired and energized to increase Asian visibility in entertainment.