Strong Asian Lead's Gold Futures Challenge Application - 2023
By Masami Moriya
Another year, another application. We believe that understanding our mission, goals, and the work that goes into achieving them is key to building a strong connection with our community. That’s why we’ve decided to share our application for the Gold Futures Challenge with you.
This application is more than just a formal document; it’s a blueprint of our ambitions, the path we’re taking to achieve our goals, and the challenges we’re willing to take on. It’s a testament to the amount of effort and dedication we put into making Strong Asian Lead a source of empowerment and inspiration for our community.
By reading through our application, you’ll delve deeper into our mission, our objectives, and the specific projects we’re undertaking. We hope it gives you a more comprehensive understanding of the tireless work we do behind the scenes, and that it inspires you to join us on our journey.
Here’s the Issue:
Asian American representation in Hollywood is historically inadequate, with films often perpetuating stereotypes and objectification. (We’ll spare you the immense data to back this up, especially since you’ve probably heard it already).
Despite the longstanding underrepresentation and stereotyping of Asian Americans in Hollywood, there have been recent strides towards more diversity. A UCLA report noted an improvement in racial and gender diversity among television workers between 2019 and 2020, largely driven by the popularity of streaming services and a shift in demographics.
While there’s been an influx of award-winning features that highlight the narratives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it’s crucial to continue this momentum and not just rely on established celebrities. The growth of the Asian American arts community signifies a need for more platforms that encourage, empower, and educate a new wave of storytellers. We need a program and system that serves the many, not the few. Most programs only take a selection of 10 creatives to pair with a mentor or get support. That is an unsustainable model as our community exponentially grows in demand and amount of creatives trying to break in. Selecting only the top 10 also creates a competitive system, which is non-collaborative and divides rather than unifies.
As Hollywood evolves with new trends, formats, labor laws, and artificial intelligence, it’s vital to ensure that Asian Americans receive education and opportunities beyond conventional film school or college. This would further diversify the stories being told and challenge the monolithic representation often seen in media.
This encapsulates the problem we aim to address: increasing the amount of representation and narrative depth of Asian American stories in film and television. Our mission is to provide resources and education to emerging Asian American creatives, advocating for a more diverse and accurate representation of our community in the media.
Our programs and services are designed to engage, support, and inspire the communities we serve, offering unique avenues for artistic growth and success. Here’s an overview of our key initiatives:
Legacy Screening Series: This program celebrates the rich history and influence of Asian American cinema by honoring the work of Asian American filmmakers through curated retrospectives and screenings. By shedding light on unique perspectives and stories, we enable the community to appreciate the diverse cinematic heritage of Asian Americans, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of our cultural contributions.
Creative Directory: Our comprehensive pan-Asian directory functions as a pipeline for emerging creatives to break into Hollywood. By fostering connections and collaborations, this tool is pivotal in diversifying the industry and spotlighting the unique talents of our community.
Monthly Networking Events: These events provide a platform for Asian American professionals, artists, and cultural practitioners to connect, collaborate, and build relationships. By bringing together community members in a supportive and inclusive environment, we foster a sense of community, encouraging the exchange of experiences and ideas, leading to collective growth and advancement in the industry.
Screenwriting: Catering specifically to Asian American storytellers, our professional screenwriting services offer script analysis, feedback, and guidance. Our experienced team of screenwriters support writers in refining their craft and developing authentic, compelling stories. We provide constructive critiques, industry insights, and practical tools, enhancing writers’ skills and increasing their industry preparedness.
Thousand Lanterns Mentorship Initiative: This initiative pairs emerging Asian filmmakers with seasoned mentors in the entertainment industry. Through personalized feedback, industry insights, and career guidance, we empower the new generation of Asian American storytellers. The support and opportunities provided through this program help develop skills, expand networks, and build confidence, nurturing the aspiring talents in their journey.
Strong Asian Lead’s unique approach lies in its dedication to both celebrate the contributions of Asian Americans to cinema and to invest in the potential of emerging talents. We strive to create spaces for community connection, collaboration, and cultural expression, thereby contributing to a vibrant and diverse Asian American artistic landscape.
We’re the right people to do the work because:
As the founder of Strong Asian Lead, I, Mas Moriya, bring a unique mix of personal and professional experiences, all dedicated to enhancing representation in the film industry.
My family has been in the film and entertainment industry for decades with my uncle, Sab Shimono, being a steady working actor, one auntie produced and directed a film, and another auntie continues her employment at Paramount Pictures. They inspired me to go into the film industry and showed me that it can be a fulfilling career. However, these family ties offer limited advantages in an industry where Asian Americans often lack substantial influence.
My love for film led me to study in film school among a diverse group of filmmakers. Despite this diversity, there was an absence of a focused discussion on Asian American cinema. After graduation, I left for New York and immersed myself in screenwriting and digital film production, earning recognitions for my short films and screenplays while helping others with theirs.
My skills extend beyond filmmaking. As a website designer, photographer, and historian, I’ve honed a diverse set of skills that are critical to the growth of Strong Asian Lead. I also founded a nonprofit, Rogue Photo (defunct), which connected other nonprofits with local photographers for activist events, galas, and protests. Working with organizations such as the ACLU, African Communities Together, and the Women’s March, I saw the profound power of activism, representation in media, and the importance of community building.
Despite not having a steady income, I dedicate myself to Strong Asian Lead because I believe in our mission. I see the struggles filmmakers face in their careers, and I recognize the value of collective progression. While I continue my career, I understand the importance of supporting others on their journey.
Through Strong Asian Lead, I aim to ensure that Asian American creatives are seen, heard, empowered, and united. With my unique mix of passion, experience, and a deep belief in the power of representation, coupled with my technical skills and dedication, I’m not just hoping for change – I am actively working towards it every day.
To assess the effectiveness of our initiatives and maintain a close ear to the needs of our communities, Strong Asian Lead implements a comprehensive approach:
Feedback Collection: We distribute surveys to our community members, artists, and cultural practitioners to gather feedback on program impact, participant satisfaction, and potential areas of improvement. This information is complemented by insights collected during intimate coffee meetings and focus group discussions. These small, open-forum gatherings foster rich dialogue, enabling us to gather nuanced perspectives and personal anecdotes.
Partnerships: By collaborating with other organizations, we access a broader range of data and insights, supporting a more comprehensive evaluation of our initiatives and a deeper understanding of community needs. As we continue to grow these relationships and partnerships, we see our events becoming more elaborate in what we can provide to the community.
Membership: We actively encourage community members to sign up for our membership program, creating a direct channel for ongoing communication and feedback. We can see a quantitative amount of people who sign up to become a member and who is receiving our emails. We can also track the platform usage from our members and what they are gravitating towards.
Ongoing Communication: Our channels of communication extend to email, social media, and our website, ensuring we are readily accessible to our community. We are committed to promptly responding to inquiries, maintaining a constant feedback loop.
Regular Evaluations and Adaptations: Our approach is dynamic and responsive. We conduct regular evaluations of our programs and offerings, utilizing the feedback collected to continuously refine our strategies and adapt our initiatives to better serve our community.
We’d also like to share with you:
We received the Asian Hustle Network Unsung Hero award in 2023 for giving back to the community.
We’re partnered with Emerson College and IW Group, linking us with corporations like Nielsen and Walmart.
Here is our Legacy Screening Promo Trailer (3 minutes): https://strongasianlead.com/legacy-screening-series/
Quyenzi Pham, a writing student, shares: “After your review and notes, I am confident that I have a working foundation to start with and which direction to move in in terms of my next draft. I gained writing skills and reading from an audience perspective so that I could become more detailed. I think deeper in character development and just overall grammar. Getting me to write and be inspired to do it and focus without getting into my own head.”
Our Budget Summary
Is your organization operating under a deficit? If yes, please explain why.
Strong Asian Lead is currently operating under a deficit. Despite our founder, Mas Moriya, donating his time as the only staff member, our total expenses surpass our revenue. Mas even takes on additional work to meet his personal needs while keeping our organization afloat. At present, we lack a consistent revenue stream, which contributes to this deficit. Our aspiration is to collaborate with major studios for fund raising, but cultivating such relationships and establishing a solid network takes time. This underscores the current financial challenge we’re grappling with.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your daily work? How can philanthropy help to alleviate these issues?
Over the past three years, Strong Asian Lead has made significant strides despite challenging circumstances. Starting in the midst of the pandemic, we had to establish and grow our community digitally, without the opportunity for in-person interactions. Our founder, Mas Moriya, had only recently returned to Hollywood before the pandemic hit, leaving little time to build an in-person community. Nevertheless, we have developed a robust and engaged community, boasting an email list of over 2000, and our highly popular monthly in-person networking events. Our presence in the community is strong and growing.
Yet, despite these achievements, the road has not been without its struggles. Mas continues to volunteer all of his time, single-handedly managing all facets of the organization, from grant applications to website management to event planning. The dedication is immense, but so too is the workload.
While financial gain is not our primary motivation, sustainability is critical to our mission. Participating in the Gold Futures Challenge is not about securing the maximum grant of $100,000 for us. Rather, we seek just enough to sustain our efforts and expand our impact. We hope to hire additional staff (accountant, grant writer, social media manager, event coordinator), invest in management education, and continue our screening series, increasing our ability to serve our community and further our cause.
In the spirit of the Gold Futures Challenge’s ethos of promoting AAPI representation, our humble request is for support to ensure our work continues and amplifies. Your consideration of our application would mean a significant step towards that goal, and we thank you for this opportunity.
That’s It. Thanks for Reading
Self-reflection is a powerful tool for growth and understanding. As a Japanese-American, I often find myself immersed in introspection, questioning the decisions I make and the actions I take. This constant self-analysis may be a common trait among Asian-Americans, or perhaps it’s just a personal tendency. However, when it comes to Strong Asian Lead, I harbor no doubts.
Strong Asian Lead is one of the most fulfilling decisions I’ve made in my life. Admittedly, I’ve had moments of miscommunication and perhaps ruffled a few feathers along the way. Still, these experiences haven’t deterred me, but rather fueled my determination to evolve and improve. I’m aware that my eagerness for recognition may sometimes lead to unnecessary situations or misunderstandings, but my underlying intention remains to serve our community.
I encourage those who may have formed a less than favorable impression of me during our initial encounters to keep an open mind. We all exist on a spectrum, and understanding one another often requires extending grace, especially when we’re not fully aware of each other’s circumstances or social dynamics.
Nobody is flawless, and I am no exception. Yet I am certain that Strong Asian Lead is one of the most positive impacts I’ve made, and I am committed to ensuring its growth and survival.
At Strong Asian Lead, our goal is to reach and support as many people as possible. However, achieving this requires time, teamwork, and collaborative efforts. We encourage you to consider contributing to our cause. You can make a difference by donating, volunteering for a staff position, spreading the word about us, or using our membership platform. For those interested in making a tax-deductible donation, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please consider sharing it with your friends and helping us make a greater impact.