Asian Americans In Hollywood NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with YouTube personality Philip Wang about how far Asian media representation has come in the U.S.

Asian Americans In Hollywood

Asian Americans In Hollywood

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with YouTube personality Philip Wang about how far Asian media representation has come in the U.S.


OK, it's been a big year for Asian and Asian American representation in Hollywood. The Korean thriller "Parasite" is up for six Oscar nominations, including best picture. Actor Awkwafina made history by winning a Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy. She's the first woman of Asian descent to win that award.

Philip Wang is a co-founder of Wong Fu Productions. And he's been navigating the media landscape long before Hollywood was making movies like "Crazy Rich Asians" or "The Farewell." He makes sketch videos and short films for a following of over 3.2 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. And he is happy about the rise of Asian representation in the mainstream media, of course. But he says there's still a lot of room for growth.

PHILIP WANG: I think, you know, it's one of those things where we are still seeing evidence that we are othered in this system and that there is still a lot more room for improvement. But, you know, I definitely would not discount the strides we've made as a community and as artists and filmmakers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Give me an example of being othered. I mean, what are you seeing?

WANG: Yeah. No, I mean, it's funny. Like when growing up here in the States, you know, that - because we're relatively new to this country, there isn't a lot of established Asian American culture for us to kind of gravitate towards. So I think a lot of people - just based on our - you know, how we look - think, oh, they must be from overseas. They must be foreign.

And so a lot of Asian Americans, you know, were forced to assimilate in some type of way to try to fit in. And yeah, like a lot of times, you know, that meant, you know, silencing our own stories just to make sure that we weren't viewed as these foreigners. And now we're just kind of coming around to believing that what we've been through, what our parents have been through does have a place in the American narrative.

And I think for the first time, thanks to social media, we're kind of finally coming into truly being accepted in American society. And I think that's really great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I want to talk a little bit about social media. Before Hollywood was receptive to Asian American movies, YouTube was a major outlet for Asian American filmmakers. Awkwafina got her start on YouTube. How has Asian filmmaking sort of evolved over the years to reach the mainstream? And how important was a platform like YouTube?

WANG: Oh, man. I think digital platforms in general were immensely effective and useful for our community, I think, because - YouTube first came on 2005. So anything before then, if you wanted to pursue entertainment or any kind of storytelling or creator career, you had to go the traditional Hollywood route. And there's already so many obstacles for Asian Americans. YouTube was a very useful tool at the time for us to kind of like circumvent the system because the technology allowed us to create things on our own, put it out there for however many people to see and generate our own audiences.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think (unintelligible) this moment for Asian Americans? Other groups, particularly Latinos, are still sort of dealing with abysmal representation in Hollywood. You know, not to pit one group against the other, but are they seen differently?

WANG: Yeah. I mean, that's a really, really complex question. As marginalized communities, we just want to be seen in a way that perhaps mainstream doesn't normally see us, right? So we're always trying to battle that stereotype, right? It's kind of funny like, you know, a lot of Asians like, yeah, we want to be the jocks. And we want to be the tough guys or the gangsters. And you look at the African American community, they're like, no, we don't - we have too much of that. We want to be seen as the nerds. And we want to be seen as the educators and the doctors so...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know. The Latinos are like, yeah, we want to be crazy rich Latinos, you know?


WANG: So at the end of the day, it just proves that what we really need to do in each of our respective communities is try to build systems where we can have that control of what we want to see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have one final question for you.

WANG: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Awkwafina robbed at the Oscars, yes or no?

WANG: I would say it's - here's the thing. Like, I already believe that that system is already stacked against us anyways. But at the end of the day, like, I don't want to focus so much on the negative side of it. I would rather like, you know, say, hey, you know what? Awkwafina literally is having the most amazing few years right now. And it's going to inspire many more creators to continue pushing the movement forward and being proof to the business that we can have stories like this out there that are more nuanced about Asian, Asian Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hear, hear. Youtube creator Philip Wang is co-founder of Wong Fu Productions. Thank you very much.

WANG: Thank you. I appreciate it.


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