I grew up in rural illinois––the only Asian-American kid in my class, school district and county. I struggled with representation everyday: not seeing people who looked like me in the halls, teaching the classes, coaching the teams. And to go home and not see myself represented in film, television and music hurt even more. My issues with identity have led me to work in entertainment, and fight to put interesting and diverse faces on screen and on the radio.
The tremendous lack of representation in pop culture is felt at every level of the Asian-American experience. From children looking for friends and role models, to adults looking for entertainment and a distraction from daily life. Additionally, the little representation Asian-Americans do have is utterly insufficient, and often offensive. Racist Asian stereotypes, rather than being countermanded by our society, are instead played to comedic effect.
During the summer of 2019, I founded Milk Chocolate Productions, LLC: a music video production company for artists of color in and around Des Moines, IA. I started this business for several reasons. For starters, I love hip-hop music…and I also love weird, creative music videos. With the rise of SoundCloud rappers, music videos have been thrown to the way-side. Fun, innovative music videos like “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys and “Hey Ya!” by Outkast are all proof that music videos don’t need to be the same boring.
I’ve got two music videos out now. “The Call” by Teller Bank$ (a local Des Moines rapper) and “Bad Bitch” by Liu Khang (a Vietnamese-American rapper from Kansas City). Both music videos enjoyed a long tenure on the top of RapStarVidz.com‘s MOST POPULAR VIDEOS list––”Bad Bitch” reigned for over a month straight.
Imagine raising children of color in a country where they’re vilified for their culture. Spending their childhoods hiding and suppressing their roots, and spending their adolescence denouncing their heritage. Having to pick out big-rimmed glasses to make their eyes look “normal.”
But, what if our country didn’t demonize Asian-American-ness? What if instead of gas station clerks and sex workers, Asian-Americans played firefighters and rockstars? And what if, instead of admonishing entire cultures, they were celebrated, and represented the way white people celebrate themselves. The answer is not more movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” but movies like “The Bourne Identity,” “The Notebook” and “Mamma Mia!” By simply casting Asian-American actors and actresses into non-race specific roles, we will move farther and farther away from Mr. Yunioshi, and closer to a future we can be proud of. The road to a more representative Hollywood for Asian-Americans is long and winding, and it’s up to the loudest voices and strongest storytellers to lead the way.