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Asian American TV Producers Speak Out About Making the Shows They Want, Whether or Not Networks Are on Board

Mindy Kaling, Daniel Dae Kim, Alan Yang, and more on creating a more inclusive storytelling landscape.

Mindy Kaling, Daniel Dae Kim, Alan Yang

Mindy Kaling, Daniel Dae Kim, Alan Yang

Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock , ABC, Eric Charbonneau/REX/Shutterstock

Creating for Yourself

Park, who has appeared in some of Wong Fu’s productions, has also been creating projects for others, but not before he started making them for himself.

“Actors just need to become constant creators on top of doing the traditional auditioning thing,” said Park. “Doing that will stretch your muscles as an actor and give you time in front of the camera so that when those opportunities do come, you’re ready because you’ve been acting this whole time. Just act as much as possible. And if you’re not getting those opportunities to act, create those opportunities for yourself.

“I was always writing little things, web series and shorts, and just kind of doing things and creating acting opportunities for myself that were different from what was being offered to me, as far as auditions were concerned,” he continued. “The things that I made for myself here and there got the attention of certain parts of the industry and led to me playing roles that were a little bit different from the standard fare. I feel like now, there’s kind of no excuse for young actors to not constantly be acting… and creating their own dream roles, and making projects where they can perform these roles.”

Eric Charbonneau/REX/Shutterstock

Mindy Kaling’s career began when she wrote something to amuse herself: She portrayed Ben Affleck in the off-Broadway play “Matt & Ben,” which she had co-written with her best friend Brenda Withers, who portrayed Matt Damon. The unconventional casting and hilarious pop culture references caught the attention of an industry that recognized a unique voice when they heard it. It led to her eight-year stint on “The Office” and then to creating her own show, “The Mindy Project.”

Kaling has always been a proponent of romantic comedies, and “The Mindy Project” is the culmination of all of those years of watching and studying the genre. “As a genre, it’s been so degraded over the past 35 years that it’s like an admission that you’re an idiot,” Kaling said to IndieWire in an interview last year. “When I talk about my love for romantic comedies, I think people feel a lot of pressure to only name classic ones from the 1970s or something.”

But as rom-coms have been disappearing from mainstream cinemas, they’ve been thriving on the small screen as TV series. “The Mindy Project” is ending its six-year run this year, and while it’s been on the air, a host of other wide and varied rom-coms have found a home on TV. In fact, it’s a genre that appears particularly suited for the medium because of its ongoing storytelling.

Mindy Kaling, "The Mindy Project"

Mindy Kaling, “The Mindy Project”

Stewart Cook/REX/Shutterstock

“So much of the best romantic comedies come from falling in love with characters,” observed Kaling. “When you love characters and you want to see them again, I think that’s why television lends itself to that. I know certainly on this show you get the benefit of slowly building a relationship between two characters over the course of years, which is such an enjoyable feeling as a viewer. That’s just something that movies can’t provide. I mean, sequels exist, but to get that feeling satiated and come back every week is such a nice feeling.”

Kaling has been hailed as a role model for women of color for not only creating her own show, but also showing that leading ladies don’t have to follow the cookie cutter image that had been trotted out for decades. In tailoring a show to her own interests, she was able to inform the viewer’s experience of what an Asian American woman could be. Ken Jeong did the same for his ABC comedy “Dr. Ken,” and Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari made their mark with the Emmy-winning Netflix series “Master of None.”

Comedian and actress Lilan Bowden is half-Taiwanese, and her hapa status has made her experience in Hollywood slightly different. On Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack,” Bowden plays a character who is biracial like her.

“I think it’s also a unique experience being half-white as well as Asian American,” she said. “Especially in Hollywood, it’s hard because it’s harder to cast the family around you, it takes a little bit more thought. For a lot of roles you assume the feedback that you’re ‘not Asian enough’ because you see who they actually cast and it’s somebody who is a full Asian is cast. But then again, you’re not really in the same market as people who are more comfortable with being leads of shows, which are Caucasian women, I think.”

Peyton Elizabeth Lee and Lilan Bowden, "Andi Mack"

Peyton Elizabeth Lee and Lilan Bowden, “Andi Mack”

Disney Channel

Although Bowden may not be producing her own shows yet, she has also learned the value of writing her own material in order to better represent her experience in the world.

“They say write what you know. What’s interesting about addressing [my ethnicity] in my material is that it wasn’t my intention,” she said. “I started doing improv since I was 14, so it’s been a part of me for a long time. It wasn’t ever in my interest to be writing about me as an Asian American, or my Asian American background, I just wanted to write jokes.

“But the feedback that I got as an Asian American was so curious and so interesting that I felt like I had to incorporate it as part of my voice,” she continued. “So a lot of my comedy, my original pieces, don’t necessarily have to do with me being Asian American, but with other people seeing me as Asian American. I did a one-person show at UCB where I played a bunch of characters talking to me and defining me. A lot of my comedy deals with navigating that world or commenting on the stereotypes. I do a bit where I do all of the top 10 most offensive Asian accents and different types of them. So that’s not really about me being Asian, it’s commentary on me being Asian.” … It’s kept me sane in this industry,

Bowden added that creating her own projects has “kept me sane in this industry, whereas an actor you go out all day and you read other people’s lines and you’re judged by other people. At the end of the day I got to go home and got to prepare for a show that I did, a live show, where I could make everybody in the room laugh. Pursuing comedy — it gave me my value back.”

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