The onus of increasing Asian American representation on the screen isn’t solely on actors. If the parts simply aren’t there, then no amount of preparation can help if an actor can’t even get an audition or see a casting director, which is an issue discussed in Part 1 of IndieWire’s series about Asian American representation on TV.
More roles for Asians can only happen from the ground up. As Hollywood is only beginning to truly understand, diversity happens in front of and behind the camera. Until Hollywood starts seeing Asian actors as actors first and Asians second, that means Asians must step in to call the shots. They must be the producers, the directors, and the writers to create a more inclusive and culturally accurate television landscape.
IndieWire spoke with a number of Asian American creators to learn how they’ve tried to work the system to tell the stories they want, for the audience they want, with the talent they want.
Creating for Others
When Daniel Dae Kim left “Hawaii Five-0,” he turned his focus from acting to his production company, 3AD. The first series the company has produced is “The Good Doctor,” ABC’s medical drama about a surgeon (Freddie Highmore) who is autistic and has savant syndrome.
“One of the primary reasons I became a producer is because I wanted to create the world that I wanted to see on TV,” Kim said, who is an executive producer on the series along with “House” creator David Shore. “So often as actors, we’re subject to the roles that we’re offered or auditioning for, but one role in one show is a small piece of a larger puzzle. It’s satisfying to me to be able to create worlds from the ground up. I can tell the stories I want to tell, I can populate them with the kind of people I would like to be telling them, and thematically it’s nice to be able to choose those stories. It’s also nice to be a job creator.”
“The Good Doctor” has been doing well in the ratings since its debut and is the No. 1 new network drama for the fall so far. Although Kim is aware that having a white male lead isn’t shaking up the status quo, he understands that the show’s success could help greenlight his other properties.
“We have since our inception had nine projects in active development,” said Kim. “Eight of those projects specified a lead who was either female or a racial minority. One project did not, and that project was ‘The Good Doctor.’ The reason why we didn’t specify that kind of casting was because we thought the autism element of this show was the thing to focus on, and so as we looked for our actor, we knew that there would be very specific challenges because of that.”
Based on a Korean drama of the same name, “The Good Doctor” may not feature an Asian in the lead role, but the entire cast is diverse in an organic way, and that includes an Asian woman, played by Tamlyn Tomita, in a position of power as a hospital administrator on the show.
“We left [casting] wide open in terms of race,” he said. “When it came to filling out our cast, it was very important to all of us that we have a cast that reflects the world that I see, one with women in very powerful positions and actors of color who populate a hospital in the same way Caucasian actors do. It’s just about showing the world and all of its diversity.
“My company has always been interested in telling the stories of people we haven’t heard from before,” Kim added. “Even though this is about specifically autism and savant syndrome, the themes of feeling marginalized and feeling excluded, even though you have something to offer, is something that resonates with me very personally. I’d like to be a part of the solution and I think being a producer.. I would like to be on the right side of history.”
For those without the deep industry contacts that Kim has, YouTube is the ultimate democratic playground for anyone who wants to create their own content. Three college friends — Philip Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu — turned their YouTube channel into a professional media company, Wong Fu Productions. “Those guys are very inspirational,” said “Fresh Off the Boat” star Randall Park. “They just did it all on their own and created an empire.”
In 2003, the trio began making content that was geared specifically toward their interests. Nearly 15 years later, their channel is just shy of 3 million subscribers and includes thousands of short films and series that reflect their own personal experiences and points of view, often in a satirical light.
Last year, IndieWire spoke with Wang and Chan about their YouTube Red romantic comedy series “Single by 30,” which reflects the plight of Peter (Harry Shum, Jr.) and his best friend Joanna (Kina Grannis) as they near 30 and haven’t been married yet.
“We’ve always been trying to highlight or feature Asian American males in solid romantic leads and Asian couples as lead roles,” said Wang. “I think this is the first time there’s been an Asian American male romantic lead on a billboard in LA. That was a huge moment for us.I’m glad that we can be pushing forward in this way because you never really see Asian guys much less Asian couples being romantic. ‘What? We can fall in love?’ Yes, you’ve been doing that since the beginning of time, but we’ve never been able to see it in a mainstream way.”
Chan added, “We’ve never been able to see it [on screen] because all we’ve been seeing is the kung fu and the same old stereotypes. When people watch the show, the fact that he’s Asian American isn’t really a big deal. I think that thanks to shows like ‘Master of None,’ people are more aware of that or more accepting or more interested in that certain perspective.”
Inspired by the first-ever black “Bachelorette,” Wong Fu also created “Asian Bachelorette.” Take a look: