Measuring Inclusive Casting: Hulu tops for AAPI with a 32.2% share of Cast

Credit: James Dittiger/SYFY

Media representation has long been an issue for Asian Americans, to the point where  8Asians has a series dedicated toward representation in commercials.  So exactly how are Asian Americans doing?  Nielson’s Gracenote division has announced that they have released a new report on inclusion looking at 2024 TV programming.  A high note for representation:  the streamer Hulu leads with AAPI representation at an impressive 32.2% share of cast. A low note: ad spending is inequitable and not as inclusive.

You might wonder how Gracenote calculated these statistics.  Could Hulu being skewing the numbers by including extras and non-leading roles?  Only the top-10 leading characters were counted on 124 shows on streaming and traditional TV.  To me, Hulu’s numbers makes sense.  The Wife and I recently watched Shogun, which has an almost all Asian leading cast.  Hulu streams some shows featuring Asian Americans that I haven’t even had a chance to get watch, like Reginald the Vampire starring Jacob Batalon (shown above).

The full report highlights that some of the most popular TV programming from last year had diversity at higher levels than the general US population. It also includes focused statistics on specific ethnic groups. You can download full report Gracenote’s full report here.

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Opinions on Asian and Asian Men Representation in American Movies and TV

When Crazy Rich Asians came out, some people declared that there was a new narrative on the attractiveness of Asian and Asian American men.  But did Henry Golding and this movie make make a difference? Has it affected your life in any particular way, and if so, how? The New York Times is seeking people’s opinion on this subject.

I haven’t dated any one other than The Wife for a few decades now, but I do have an opinion.  I think that there are definitely more opportunities in media to show an Asian Man White Female couple. Crazy Rich Asians showed that an Asian man can be viable Romantic Lead. This lead to other movies like Always be My Maybe and others. Still, I think that entrenched stereotypes persist.  AI image generation tools that build on online and other published material have had trouble creating of Asian Male White Female couples. Our story on an Asian Male White Female relationship in the Walking Dead continues to be a popular story for our site.

The New York Times is looking for for people to submit answers to their questions by June 14.

(h/t: John)

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CAAMFest 2024: And So It Begins – Review and Q&A with Maria Ressa and Filmmakers

If you’ve been following me on 8Asians, you will know that I follow politics worldwide and not just in the United States. So when I came across this CAAMFest closing night film, the documentary And So It Begins, I had to see it:

“Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. In a decades-long nonfiction saga of the Philippines, director Ramona Diaz presents the latest chapter on her homeland as the despotic reign of President Rodrigo Duterte is coming to an end. In the months leading up to the country’s 2022 presidential election, And So It Begins proffers unbridled access to all the key players including former Vice President of the Philippines and current presidential candidate Leni Robredo and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. With her keen observational eye and deep knowledge of the socio-political history and landscape, Diaz continues to find her own forms of storytelling as political disruption. This film was made with support from CAAM.”

Thoughts & Review

As director Ramona Diaz said, the elections in the Philippines are rarely about policy. It was really interesting to see the spectacle, especially the political campaign rallies (that run up to election day – up to almost a million people).  Since I follow politics and read the news religiously, the results of the 2022 presidential election was not a cliffhanger for me – and I imagine for most of the audience.

I did learn that Filipino presidential terms are for six years and you can only serve for one term and that the President and Vice President are elected separately. In the documentary, we see outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte from one party and Vice President Leni Robredo in opposition to each other publicly – where Vice President Leni Robredo is running for president to replace him while former corrupt dictator/President Ferdinand Marcos’ son Bongbong Marcos is somehow is the leading candidate.  The disgraced Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from the Philippines and was given asylum in Hawaii.

What was interesting was to see how deranged the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte was – way more so than former President Trump. Thousands of extrajudicial killings and his attack on the free press have been very well documented. Bongbong Marcos avoided the press, did no debates, and no journalistic interviews – only coverage by his loyal followers. A common theme in the documentary was the war on the truth and the facts and the rise of disinformation – with the director directly foreshadowing concerns of the 2024 U.S. elections.

Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, an independent new. Her insights into the information landscape and attacks on the truth and the free press are very well articulated.

Overall, the documentary was very well produced, thought provoking and educational and I highly recommend.

Recorded Interview with Maria Ressa

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CAAMFest 2024: Smoking Tigers

I wasn’t able to see an in person screening of Smoking Tigers at CAAMFest but given the topic, I thought I would be interested in the film and thought I’d watch the screener:

“Hayoung, a Korean American teenager dealing with her parents’ separation, longs to belong somewhere. When her mother enrolls her in a competitive summer school, she begins lying to fit in with her wealthy classmates, including a handsome boy named Joon. Soon Hayoung finds herself in a pressure-cooker of her own creation, hiding her upbringing from her new friends and the growing pains in her family life. As summer fades to fall, she learns what it truly means to grow up. Set in early 2000s Los Angeles, Smoking Tigers made its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival and marks writer-director So Young Shelley Yo’s intimate debut feature.”

I enjoyed the film, but be warned that it is a slow burn. It reminded me of the Asian American film Ms. Purple in terms of pacing, tone, and being set in Angeles). I could identify with Hayoung’s adolosccent angst and I thought actress Ji-young Yoo portraying Hayoung did a terrific job, as well as the rest of the cast – including Abin Andrews who portays the mother, and Jeong Jun-ho who portrays the personable, but unreliable father.

I thought the depiction of Korean Americans over the summer at a “cram” SAT study camp to be interesting and certainly not something I experienced growing up in predominately white Western Massachusetts. Seeing teenage Korean Americans hanging out at house parties also was interesting to see. That was something probably pretty common in Koreatown, Los Angeles in the 2000s. There were a a few scenes in a Korean spa where my only reference is Conan O’Brien and Steve Yuen visiting one in a hilarious piece that went viral on YouTube back in 2015.

Since I wasn’t able to attend the Q&A, I am not sure what kind of distribution this film is getting or if it is still looking for distribution. I couldn’t find anything online either. Based on 7 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Smoking Tigers is 100% Fresh.

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US Memorial Day: Remembering John Tomney, a Chinese American Soldier killed at Gettysburg

Casualty Report on John Tomney, from US National Archives

During an era when Asian Americans continue to be questioned for their loyalty and are still considered perpetual foreigners, it is worthwhile on US Memorial Day to note Asian Americans who fought and died for their country.  One such Asian American is John Tomney.  He joined the Union Army in 1861, apparently without being able to speak English, and died in 1863 at the battle of Gettysburg.

While having a short life, Tomney certainly had a colorful one.  He quickly learned English and became a camp favorite.  During the war, he was captured and Confederates were confused as to his ethnic origins.  When he was presented to a general who asked him what would take for him to join the Confederate Army, he was said to have replied, “Only if you make me a Brigadier General.” His response amused his captors greatly, and he was reportedly treated very kindly after that.

Tomney was freed during a prisoner exchange and returned to the battlefield.  He bled to death at Gettysburg after a shell hit his legs (his casualty report is shown above). To read more about Tomney and other Asian Americans in the Civil War, I suggest reading Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War, published by the National Park Service. To see our posts on AAPI who have given their lives in the service of their country, check our tag US Memorial Day.

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CAAMFest 2024: The Lyricist Wannabe – Mini-Review & Post-screening Q&A

Earlier this year, I attended a Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office – San Francisco (HKETO-SF) event in Silicon Valley and had met the director Norris Wong. I subsequently got invited to CAAMFest supported Hong Kong films, including The Lyricist Wannabe:

“Set in Hong Kong and Taiwan following the bittersweet journey of aspiring lyricist, Sze, this cinematic mix of light comedy and sobering cynicism reveals the emotional toll of dreaming big in the inhospitable Cantopop scene. As Sze’s determination clashes with the industry’s indifference, she grapples with the fear of failure and the elusive nature of success. With the delightful flourishes of a young girl’s diary, the film captures Sze’s inner world, where every lyric carries the weight of her aspirations.”

Review (non-spoiler)

I found the film entertaining. Be warned, however, that there is a lot of Cantonese-specific humor involving the homonyms specific to the Cantonese language and double entendres. I experienced literal “lost in translation” moments where the audience, which primarily understood Cantonese, was laughing whole heartedly at lines which did not translate into the English subtitles I was reading. I know zero Cantonese and my Mandarin is not great. The film is about writing lyrics specific to Cantonese, and the point of writing music lyrics in Mandarin for a larger potential audience was made I was pleasantly surprised that part of the film takes place in Taipei.

Given my Hong Kong friend and her friend’s reaction to the film, I can whole heartedly recommend the film, especially if you understand Cantonese. Having not been to Hong Kong since 1994 or 1995, I enjoyed seeing Hong Kong as part of the character of the film.

Post-screening Q&A

In the Q&A, the filmmakers discussed the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, as well as the role of lyricists in the Cantonese music industry, particularly using the 0243 method for writing songs. The discussion touches on the challenges faced by dreamers in pursuing their passions, with feedback indicating the film’s encouragement resonating with audiences.

They also mention the tight budget (the film was self-funded) and cameos by industry celebrity friends. They invited audiences to support the film’s release in Canada sometime in the near future and to express interest for distribution in the US. Given a large migration of Hong Kong Chinese before the transition to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China back in 1997, it’s no surprise that there would be an audience in Canada. According to Wikipedia, the film was released internationally on March 15th & 22, 2024 in the United Kingdom and Taiwan, respectively.

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The Molded Minority

In the discussions of racism and its impact in the United States, people often commonly refer to the racial relationships between White and Black Americans. In history textbooks, we study in depth the discriminatory practices and laws perpetrated by Whites and Blacks through slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. In modern political debates, we speak of reparations and affirmative actions to equal the glaring disparities between these two races. It’s easy to focus on the obvious forms of inequality between them, but in doing so, we tend to forget how racism impacts other minority races in America. Today, we may not think of Asian Americans as being discriminated against or being treated unfairly by American society – after all, we Asians have the highest rates of education, the highest household income, and tend to live very affluent lives in the US, even compared to White Americans. Asians have become what is known as the “model minority”, a term given to us to illustrate how historically oppressed minorities can “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and achieve educational and financial success if they choose to do so. This term is often weaponized against other minorities, particularly Black and Hispanic groups, as a way of proving how anyone can make it in America, regardless of their historical background. I will first explore the theories of racism by DuBois, Itzigsohn & Brown, and Fields & Fields; demonstrate how these terms apply and affect Asian Americans throughout US history; and explore how modern Asians are caught between the model minority myth and xenophobic rhetoric.

Firstly, we must analyze the theories surrounding race and how they impact oppressed demographics. Sociologists Itzigsohn & Brown, in their book, The Sociology of W.E.B. DuBois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line, explain DuBois’s theory of racialized modernity as a critique of how modernity, a generally progressive term used to refer to the contemporary historical period, is tied to colonialism and its related racial division. During DuBois’s life, from 1868-1963, he witnessed colonialism in Africa, the invention of whiteness, and the global oppression of entire societies based on racial lines. It is along these racial lines that White colonizers were able to subject their will and power over the other races they invented and oppressed, among them Asians and Asian Americans.

DuBois coined the term “racialized subjectivity” to refer to how people understand and feel about themselves through a racialized perspective, often perpetrated by White people. The color line, “the division of people according to racial classifications,” is the centerpiece of how racism is enacted upon marginalized groups. By dividing people based on race, and applying stereotypes or expectations onto those races, White people are able to subject them to inhumane treatment while justifying their actions; Black people were viewed as inherently inferior and needing the guidance of the White man to civilize them, which acted as justification for centuries of slavery. For Asian Americans, White people depicted them as savages, rat eaters, and living in crowded and dirty conditions that warranted them second-class citizenship in the US, if they even got to become a citizen at the time. This justified multiple acts of violence and massacres in Asian communities, as well as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Denis Kearney, a labor leader in California, utilized these racist sentiments to portray his support for the Exclusion Act – “These cheap slaves fill every place. Their dress is scant and cheap. Their food is rice from China. They hedge twenty in a room, ten by ten. They are wipped curs, abject in docility, mean, contemptible and obedient in all things.” Here, it is exemplified how the color line, which divides people based on race and applies inaccurate stereotypes through a White man’s perspective, allows racism to be put into action through policy based on these classifications. Though African Americans and Freed Blacks at the time faced tremendous inequality and discrimination, Asian Americans faced none the better.

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CAAMFest 2024: A Great Divide – Post Screening Q & A

I had seen A Great Divide last fall at the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFest (SVAPFF). I enjoyed the film and would at least see it again at CAAMFest if only to see director Jean Shim to say hi. As a reminder, from the CAAMFest program guide description:

“Seen through the eyes of a Korean American family that leaves the Bay Area for small-town Wyoming after experiencing devastating loss, A Great Divide – starring Ken Jeong and Jae Suh Park – addresses the emotional and psychological impact of racism and xenophobia on Asian Americans, the loneliness and sacrifice of immigrant sojourners and the generational burden of expectations that weigh on their children. But it’s also a story about a family repairing itself after tragedy, about a young man breaking out of his shell and finding love, about reconciliation and redemption.”

Director Jean Shim, actors Emerson Min, Miya Cech, cinematographer Ray Huang attended the post-screening Q&A. I had met Jean and Emerson before, but not Miya nor Ray. The discussion provided insights into the making of the movie, the themes explored, and the experiences of the cast and crew during production. The panelists share personal anecdotes, behind-the-scenes stories, and reflections on their characters and the overall narrative. Topics range from the inspiration behind the film, the challenges of shooting in diverse locations with wildlife, to the process of embodying their characters. Throughout the discussion, there’s a blend of lighthearted moments, serious reflections, and shared enthusiasm for the project, showcasing the collaborative effort and passion that went into creating the film.

After the Q&A and outside the theater, I was able to get a selfie with director Jean Shim and actors Emerson Min and Miya Cech.

A Great Divide hasn’t gotten distribution yet, so you will have to catch the film at a future film festival screen or try to setup a special screening yourself.

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CAAMFest 2024: Light of the Setting Sun

Going into this film, I didn’t know much about Light of the Setting Sun except from the CAAMFest program description:

Candid conversations meet photographic scenes, as the details of violence begin to take shape, and we witness how deep the secrets were held in the members of her family. When immigration to a far away place like the US should feel like an appropriate distance to leave everything behind, it’s not. It can’t ever be. Light of The Setting Sun is a poetic family portrait of what’s been left unsaid and how the shadows of the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 would leave indelible scars on her family. We find ourselves rooting for the truth, no matter how challenging the memories are to bear – and in that, we behold the power of the storyteller that asks the necessary in order to break generational trauma.”

This documentary was very much a cinematic memoir by Taiwanese American director Vicky Du, profiling her hidden family secrets of inter-generational trauma and the barriers geography, culture, language and memory over time. I think any immigrant child growing up in the United States, not necessarily just Taiwanese Americans, could relate to this film.

In the post-screening Q&A, Vicky Du expressed gratitude for the audience’s reception of the film and shares personal insights into its creation. Anita Chang and Du discuss the impetus behind the film, which stemmed from her family’s history and struggles with mental health.

Du reflects on her family’s reaction to the film and their ongoing dialogue about it. She also mentioned how the film draws inspiration from literature and discuss her background in studying primate behavioral ecology, which influenced her approach to filmmaking.

Du emphasized the importance of patience and understanding when discussing sensitive topics with family members, drawing on their own experiences. She also highlighted the therapeutic value of speaking openly about difficult subjects. Audience questions focused on the film’s themes of intergenerational trauma and the challenges of communication within families. She also shared her thoughts on processing grief and fostering understanding within her family, as well as her hopes for the film’s impact on audiences.

Her documentary will air on PBS in the Fall of 2025.

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Kanaye Nagasawa and the other Asian Americans who built California Wine Country

Kanaye Nagasawa

Asian Americans are generally not associated with California Wine Country, but they were key players in getting it established.  Chinese laborers built and worked in Sonoma’s oldest winery, Buena Vista Winery, as well as planting millions of grapevines between 1856 and 1869.  Japanese American Kanaye Nagasawa ran one of the biggest wineries during the early 1900s and became known as the “Wine King of California.” Amazingly enough, a relative of his is making wine there today!

Kanaye Nagasawa was born in 1852 in Japan to a samurai family and later smuggled out of the Japan to learn Western systems and technology. He eventually made his way to California and became the manager of the Fountaingrove estate. The winery there became extremely successful. Nagasawa set a foundation for the California wine industry by introducing California wines to world markets and having them win several medals.

Buena Vista Winery was established by Agoston Haraszthy a Hungarian immigrant who advocated for the use of Chinese workers. The caves they built are still in use by the winery today.  Many of the workers in the winery in its early years were also Chinese. Their names are forgotten today, as Census records would show their names recorded only as “John Chinaman”.

Kanaye Nagasawa’s family and the Chinese workers of wine country would eventually suffer from anti-Asian sentiment.  Many of  the Chinese workers in Wine Country and throughout the US could not become citizens because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. They were eventually driven out of wine country. Nagasawa tried to pass on his estate to his grand-nephew and grand-niece, the estate was seized by a local government though the California Alien Land Law of 1913. Haraszthy made enemies by employing Chinese, so he wore a gun to protect himself and eventually left the US.

Kanaye Nagasawa led an incredible life. I only cover the highlights and  – I encourage you to explore some of the links I have provided in this post. Paradise Ridge Winery, which bought land next to the old Fountain Grove estate, has a small exhibit dedicated to him and has a vineyard named after him.  In Japan, the Satsuma Students Museum has a collection about him. His family legacy lives on, as Nagasawa’s great great grandnephew, Eiji Akaboshi, makes wine in California today.

Buena Vista Winery has pictures showing the Chinese workers in its early years. There are efforts today to raise money to put up a traditional Chinese Pavilion in the Depot Park Museum in Sonoma.



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CAAMFest 2024: “Home Court” – The Basketball Journey of Ashley Chea

Director Erica Tanamachi, Producer Jenn Lee Smith, Executive Producer Diane Quon, and Writer/Editor Jean Kawahara

Home Court was one of the CAAMFest 2024 films I was most excited to screen:

Ashley Chea is a Cambodian American basketball phenom. Home Court, filmed over three years, is a coming-of-age story that relays the highs and lows of her immigrant family, surmounting racial and class differences, as well as personal trials that include a devastating knee injury. Despite the intensity of basketball recruiting, Ashley’s humor shines through and her natural talent inspires the support of those around her. This film was made with support from CAAM.”

Given the recent increase popularity of women’s college basketball, especially because of Caitlin Clark, I was really looking forward to seeing her story.  The movie reminded me of watching the documentary LINSANITY about Jeremy Lin at CAAMFest back in 2013.

Mini-Review (some spoilers)
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CAAMFest 2024: Opening Night and Gala with ‘Admissions Granted’

This year’s opening night film was the documentary Admissions Granted:

“In the run-up to the landmark Supreme Court case pitting Asian American plaintiffs against Harvard University, controversial legal strategist Edward Blum took direct aim at dismantling affirmative action, energizing activists on both sides. Admissions Granted tracks the case’s emotional, high-stakes journey to the Supreme Court. Directors Hao Wu (76 Days and 2022 CAAM Mentor) and Miao Wang (CAAM-Funded Beijing Taxi) weave interviews, news archive, and verité footage to produce an honest and hard look at the complexity of the affirmative action debate, revealing the divisions within the Asian American community and our nation’s increasing polarization on matters of race and inclusion.”

Because The Castro Theater is undergoing a major renovation, opening night’s screening occured at The Palace of Fine Arts – which I did not know had a HUGE 1,000 seat auditorium.

I thought the documentary was very well down and very well balanced, interviewing subjects on both sides of this complicated and emotionally fraught issue. I was particularly interested to see Edward Blum in the documentary, the controversial figure who has been leading the legal battle against affirmative action that I have often read about but not have seen or heard from.

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