Akana cited Cho’s career as the inspiration behind her own impressive one as actress, comedian, writer and producer — which all stems from her 1.5 million YouTube subscribers. “It is all thanks to seeing that one face on the screen that looked like mine.”
“The most you can do is try to affect change in the work you create,” Akana told IndieWire at VidCon last month. “We all have to band together and start demanding those changes.”
Akana is proud to say that “Miss 2059” — the short form web series she developed with New Form Digital for Go90 — features only one white male actor. “Almost every person on screen is a person of color.” That’s due in large part to New Form Digital’s commitment to casting a wide net for talent above and below the line.
Akana attributes that sensitivity to New Form Digital’s woman-heavy executive team, namely VP of Development Melissa Schneider and Chief Creative Officer Kathleen Grace, who share Executive Producer credit on “Miss 2059.”
Watch this exclusive clip of Akana discussing the female-heavy cast:
The series — which premiered on Go90 on June 21st, and aired its seventh episode Tuesday — is Akana’s largest production to date. Though she’s been producing her own scripted material for years for her YouTube channel as well as other platforms, “Miss 2059” was the first time she had to deal with other writers.
“It was more of a collaborative effort than I’m used to,” said the multi-hyphenate. “Our head writers are two white, male, Jewish straight men, and this is the story of two POC sisters.” She was speaking of Aaron Brownstein and Simon Ganz, the writing team behind “Miss 2059,” with whom she “had some issues.” In the end, Akana conceded the duo enhanced the story’s structure with their traditional TV writing chops, and were receptive to her input.
It paid off. “Miss 2059” is a snappy Sci-Fi comedy about beauty queen Victoria (Akana) who mistakenly enters an intergalactic tournament — that will determine not only her own fate but earth’s as well — for which her sister Arden (Nikki SooHoo) was slated. Victoria must rely on her emotional intelligence to charm competitors and make allies without, like, totally freaking out. At under ten minutes, each episode is action-packed and entertaining, with a narrative arc that does not feel contrived.
Akana is not the first YouTube star to tackle the super-shero genre. Earlier this summer, the Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart vehicle “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” debuted on Fullscreen to mixed reviews. Both series feature female duos who kick serious butt.
Unlike the somewhat frivolous nature of Helbig and Hart’s channels, Akana has always used her YouTube videos to raise political issues in a light-hearted way. Never afraid to speak her mind, Akana has tackled issues from rape prevention to so-called “yellow fever,” suicide prevention and Hollywood white-washing.
“If I have an audience, god, I want to say something,” Akana told IndieWire. “I want to say something I feel really strongly about.”
With small parts in “Ant Man” and Michael Showalter’s “Hello, My Name is Doris,” Akana is well-positioned to crossover into film and television. But she says it is hard for Asian-American actors to land lead roles.
In her acceptance speech, which she posted online two days ago, Akana tells a painful story of booking her first lead in a feature film, only to receive a contract for the friend. She then whips the crowd into a frenzy listing the controversies over Emma Stone’s casting in “Aloha,” Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell,” and a particularly off-color “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” gag skewering a group named “Respectful Asian Portrayals in Entertainment.” (Its acronym: R.A.P.E.)
If there is anyone equipped to shake things up — both with Asian visibility and the stigma surrounding digital stars — it’s the entrepreneurial Akana. With her multi-platform appeal, ability to wear many hats, and charming pluck, she’s clearly the woman for the job.
“Miss 2059” airs Tuesdays on Go90.