Marilyn Tokuda - Interview Transcript
Masami Moriya: [00:00:00] Marilyn, thank you so much for joining us on the strong Asian lead podcast. I’m so glad to have you on this, on this interview today because you know, we’ve had a conversation before and then you’re just sitting in a wonderful person to be so open.
And I’m really interested in hearing more in depth about your work and sharing with the other audiences. Cause I don’t think they know you too well. So, please introduce yourself,
maybe your job description and what you’re doing and where you’re calling in from.
Marilyn Tokuda: well, hi, my name is Marilyn Tokuda. I’m the former arts education director of east west players. And was there for. 14 years, at least 14 years. before that I was an actress, so worked in the industry many years. And then when I was offered this job, I just, I leaped at it, because east was players really was my foundation.
That’s the whole, my whole reason for coming down to LA.
Masami Moriya: yeah. no, it’s, it’s been, you switched places has been around for a long time. I think a lot of people know, the great work that’s been going on there. And so thank you for leading that for so [00:01:00] many years.
Marilyn Tokuda: I remember, actually my mom showing me an article in the Japanese newspaper about this new Asian American group that was starting east west players. And that was, I believe in 1965, that article was there. And before that, you know, I really had no role models. I’d see. Agents sporadically on TV, but many times, unfortunately in very stereotypic roles, but all of a sudden there was this Asian American company So I was so excited. And so ever since I was really in about the seventh grade, that was my, goal. I knew it I wanted to do
Masami Moriya: Yeah. W let’s talk about that for a quick second. what was, what was that impact? You know, I feel like seeing Asian Americans in search of good roles, but then, having this organization to then kind of lead the charge and, make a difference in the community. What was it like to feel that, that presence of a.
Marilyn Tokuda: well, you know, growing up when you’d see Butler [00:02:00] agents playing butlers and maids and geishas and, roles, of course, that, you know, growing up with that, I felt well, okay, these are the roles that are going to be offered to me. And I sort of accepted. I mean here I was, I was very, I was born in Seattle, Washington.
And, I guess that, that would be my destiny that I’d be playing geishas, you know, for the rest of my life. And so hearing about and reading about east west players, that it was Asian American, that they were doing classics, that they were started by small group of who are frustrated with the industry was very exciting to me.
And all of a sudden it really did give me hope.
Masami Moriya: Yeah.
it’s fantastic for all of those who don’t know e-sports players is located in Los Angeles and little Tokyo. And so they’ve been doing, I still been doing shows and now that the dependent it’s kind of opening up the lot more now. I’d love to hear more about you and your background before we kind of get into more of that you suppose players and, job stuff.[00:03:00]
but you’re Japanese American and your family was here for many years. I looked up about your family background, where you’re coming from and you know, what it felt like being, Japanese American in the.
Marilyn Tokuda: You know, when I think about, I was thinking about it this morning, I was born in 1953, I’m 68 now. And really when you think about it, that wasn’t too many wars years after the war, know, and my parents being incarcerated were sent a minute OCA camp. Cause during world war two, the Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in to camps.
And so I think there was that sort of, burden, I guess I carried on my bat. That was just there being Japanese-American. so I think that.
Hearing about Asian Americans, that there is finally a group really impacted me very heavily, because like I said, I’ll all of a sudden I had this hope to do something I never thought I could do. Although when I was growing up, I took classes at the university [00:04:00] creative dramatic classes at the university of Washington, from Agnes Hager, who is one of the foremost, she’s no longer living, but was really, foremost in her field, which was creative dramatics and known really world rural world renowned.
Masami Moriya: yeah,
I think there’s a lot of, family, family ties and differences after that war. And just, what does that look like? And, you know, becoming, becoming, you know, drink individual strength. I think that’s a different thing to, when did you, get interested in acting and what, and how.
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, you know, it’s funny. My mom always us in certain directions. I was very lucky. My sister became a, went into politics. She eventually became a journalist. I have one disabled brother, Floyd. Who’s no longer living. I have another sister, Valerie. And then there was Kippy who ended up being a politician and I ended up being an actress.
So I thought, you know, I was talking to my sister and she said, you know, it’s not accident. I think that we, [00:05:00] you, me and Kibby ended up in very visual, in public professions. And, she says, I think maybe because butchy, you know, Floyd, who’s my disabled brother who we all loved, loved, maybe it was just sort of making up for that.
We wanted to make our parents proud. and, yeah, I think it was one of the major, very strong impetus for me to pursue the performing But when I was in seventh grade, Oh, so my mom, because she took an intern, pushing me in the performing arts, took me to dance classes and,enrolled me in summer acting workshops, drove me every week to the university of Washington.
So I could take creative from Agnes Hager. she was very supportive and, she used to do jazz or Dory jammies dancing, she was very, very good. So luckily she had sort of instilled the performing arts in me and I think that’s why she was so encouraging. My dad could care less because [00:06:00] I was a Bev.
I was the last born. I could do anything. But, yeah, my mom was very strong influence in, in, in my becoming an actress. Yeah. So seventh grade and then I pursued, went on, to study in high school. I was very fortunate. You know, how they always say just takes out one person to really in you, Mr.
Paul, Nicholas. Was that person. And I took acting from him and he was always encouraging me. And I’d always kind of laugh about, you know, me being an actress and he’d go, no, Marilyn, I really think you can do this. And he, he’s the one that made me take it seriously that I could have a career in it. And so I owe a lot to him and my father.
Masami Moriya: What was that next step? And you said that was the next step you’re taking it seriously. What was that? that thing was it, I’m going to go take new classes, but I’m taking in college.
Marilyn Tokuda: I think just auditioning, you know, number one, four plays in, east west Florida, [00:07:00] Hill, who everybody knows, was a classmate of mine. And I remember the very first play I did and she was in it with me, was a Mrs MC thing. And Mr. Nicholas encouraged me to audition. then I did several other plays when in high school I played Maria and Westside story and stuff like that.
So that was a big deal. And our was knew that I would pursue it in college at the university. I didn’t really, I enjoy my life in college, but I was so eager just to graduate and get out. And I felt the, the classes were a bit I didn’t really. There was one creative, a teacher who I took acting one-on-one from named what was his name?
Chorale, Mr. Crow. he was very open and very into improv, which I loved. I think that’s where I got my love for improv. My other agen classes were very, sort of stayed in kind of I didn’t learn a whole lot, but I’m glad I went through it. I’m glad I got a theater major and just glad I went to [00:08:00] college because taught me a whole other life skills, other than just acting you’re around people.
You learn how social skills and yada yada, yada.
Masami Moriya: Away from your parents. That was my
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, Y you know what my parents said, my mom of course, was very encouraging. She wasn’t pushy pushy at all, but anyway, another reason I love going there because my mom actually worked there and she was worked in the library. And so we would often come to school together and I lived off campus. And then at the last few years I actually moved home.
So I would often ride home with her work this cool.
Masami Moriya: cool. Yeah. how has the industry changed since you first started? So it’s been many decades. What’s been, some of the biggest changes or what, where do you see it?
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, I think one of the biggest things that I was, I was saying when I was young, growing up, I thought my future was playing geisha because nothing else was really there, but stereotypic roles really, [00:09:00] or that the shy, you know, Asian girl who gets saved and, and no. Asian-American woman heroes, but now, through the years, boy, it’s just evolved so much.
And that’s because of the work of a lot of work from,
the APAC, the Asian American media coalition. And JCL a lot of political groups that really stirred up and says, wait, you know, we deserve more than this. What do you, you know, we don’t have to be relegated just as play maids and we’re so, should be valued so much more than this, our talent.
Masami Moriya: And we’ll definitely get the APA CMT and JCL is I’m super interested in how the political aspect of making change within the industry is really important, fighting for those rights and looking at what, the stereotypes are. before we do that, I would love to know just one more question about your acting career.
Is there ever been a favorite experience, that you, that you remember over the [00:10:00] years or a negative experience? I mean, there’s always that. We always ask the question then, is there felt discrimination or ignorant? They need more for being an agent.
Marilyn Tokuda: I, there are probably many of those, but I just choose not to remember them, but I can’t remember having any really traumatic I think I was very fortunate starting with Paul Nicholas getting that role as Maria in west side story I’ll it was always, it was really for me. And, I know, I was always pretty confident, like starting cold tofu and stuff, my burning question, and we’ll get into cold tofu.
So I won’t go into too much, but it was like, why can’t we’re funny. Asians are funny. We’re funny people. We’re humans. We’re funny. We’ve got a sense of humor. it’s always been sort of a polit politically, too, to make a statement that, we’re not quiet and we’re not always, how would you say submissive?
And we’re very loud, angry Asians, you know, [00:11:00] growing up, I was very angry a lot because, I thought why can’t things be different, but in a way it was great because it gave me strong. It gave me power.
Masami Moriya: Yeah, I love that. And yeah, I’d love to get right into cold tofu. for those who don’t know, cold tofu is one of the first and longest running Asian-American improv and comedy troupe in, I guess, I guess in America, but it’s all over the place. some of the most well-known Asian-American comedians came from the comedy.
True. Even my uncle has been an alumni.
Marilyn Tokuda: Oh,
Masami Moriya: yeah, so it’s option mono, every
Marilyn Tokuda: so
Masami Moriya: Yeah.
Marilyn Tokuda: he is genuinely funny. Let me just say sob, without trying to be funny is just a unique human being number one. And he’s got his own offbeat sense of humor. He doesn’t even have to try. And he’s funny, but I love him. Plus he’s got such a generous soul in is just a good human being.
Masami Moriya: Yeah.
His voice is so recognizable to, I hear every time I hear them watch a movie, it’s like, oh, it’s Christmas, [00:12:00] but I would love to know the background of how Kofu cold tofu got started. why was it what the importance was and you know, just some background, something I didn’t know about for you? I think a lot of people don’t know, you know, that it’s around.
I think we know some contemporary people, but cold tofu has been around since the.
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, there was a group of small group of friends of mine. Judy, when we hired Denise Kim, a guy in Burma eskimia and we were friends. And, we would, whenever we got together, we would just laugh. Judy had her own, we all had our own unique, senses of humors and strengths. And so one day we’re saying, you know, Asians are funny, truly.
isn’t there anything for agents? I remember going to the Groundlings, which is a very famous improv group. A lot of famous people have gotten started there in hall in Los Angeles. And I went to take a observer workshop. And, I just [00:13:00] felt displaced. I couldn’t with anything, the senses of humor, what they thought was funny.
I did not think it was funny really. And I thought, you know, I can take care, I suppose, in learning the fundamentals, but I just awkward and feel there’s something more. And so I thought, why can’t we, need to develop our own sense of human humor, Asian American humor, and, Denise and myself, and, Irma and Judy all had that.
So were just kind of brainstorming. We decided to start a group. And, Michael Paul Chan was one of the early members also, and he was very funny. And, so it just came out of, a need from a lack of being opportunities for Asian-Americans and knowing that we were funny and we could do something really vitally important, for, in our committee.
So we started getting asked, you know, by and, Karen and I, our sock, I remember wanting us to perform. And,[00:14:00] no, it was Yazoo talk yet. Irene Hirano invited us to perform there. We gave one of our first public performances at a party she had in her backyard this slowly but surely through the community, we got to be known.
So that’s how we started generating work. And how, what gave us the impetus to, to continue,
Masami Moriya: Yeah. What was that like in the 1980s, by the way audiences we started by for Asian American women. that’s.
Masami Moriya: But anyway. yeah.
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah. Well,
Masami Moriya: excuse me,
Marilyn Tokuda: That’s all right.
Masami Moriya: research a little off. but what was it like starting in the eighties and building that community? How was it received by the Asian American community versus a broader Northern cultural community?
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, we stayed in our community because I mean, I’m just feeling this because I felt safe. I felt they would get our sense of humor. I don’t know if, you know, Caucasians would have gotten our sense of humor, [00:15:00] because we were always still pigeonholed. So anyway, the greatest thing about caught up was that we did it for ourselves.
We did it because we felt, we’re funny and, and, we can contribute to the world of comedy. We definitely thought our community would be supportive, which they were, and, Yeah, we just, we took a risk, but for some reason we just all knew was going to be a good thing. And sure enough, like in the early, when we started and needed a place for workshop, we got home a janam thanks to the Japanese American national museum gave us a room for no rent or maybe it was 25 bucks or something.
But, we felt very lucky and honored to, you know, to work there. So once a week we’d go there and we’d work out and have classes before their I’m sorry. worked out at the heliotrope, theater, which is a little theater off of,Melrose. And, the first teacher we really real teacher we had [00:16:00] was with man named Steven book.
He was a professor at USC and, he taught improv in this. Green building at USC. That’s no longer there, but we would go there to have classes to begin with. He’s the one that really, taught us about, work, working together in improvisation. He was excellent. And he gave us foundation of all our other, you know, our, our, our, our future.
Really. We started with him for, I feel two years or something. went cold to. To interview him at his apartment. He lived off of Franklin and I said, would you be willing to do this? Well, let me tell you we’re an all Asian group. We want to find our unique voice. We don’t want to be, you know, learn anyone else’s sense of humor.
We need to find hook what Asian-American means. And, he was very open to it. He was an excellent and kind of this laid back hippie, you know, he was like a hippie. He wore sandals and shorts and had a scruffy started beard. [00:17:00] And, but anyway, was a wonderful teacher. And actually years later I took from him for maybe six months to a year.
I went back cause he was teaching acting in his own space. But, and he was sort of teaching the same principles. I was very happy to see a little bit more structured, but anyway, Stephen book, yeah, he was our first. First teacher. we later studied with a guy named Gary Austin, who really was one of the founders of, the Groundlings.
he was very good too, in a different way. He was good with character work instead of punchlines and stuff like that. But, those were, I believe the two, two main teachers, Felton Perry, who was an amazing actor taught us. I’m sorry if I’m leaving some people out, but anyway, these are the people who strongly impacted me.
So I remember them. Of course.
Masami Moriya: you had mentioned, you finding your own unique voice for Asian Americans. When did you find that was different? I’ve definitely listened to other comedians, Asian comedians on [00:18:00] podcasts. They’ve talked about shorthands and being able to say, you know, saying certain references of agents, agents are going to get automatically, but did you find something that was
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, for instance, taking who else? So he directed us and he taught us for a while too. He was wonderful because he had this free spirit. I think he was just funny. But for instance, we did it in front of a regular white audience say, and, because Saab did this and it was so funny, he did a riff on
Now Japanese would get what that is, right. is rice with a T over that we often have to finish our rise to have with and. He did this whole thing about and he stood there and only had to do his own or Chaz zoo. How I love my chair zoo KIPP or Chad’s. It was so funny. He ripped on that one word for, I [00:19:00] felt was like three minutes or something.
And he was so funny, but who would get that? That’s what I mean, unique vocabulary, unique culture you know, Asian Americans would get. so that’s what made us unique. I think did it, like I said, ourselves and for our community and, for the love of our culture and just wanting to define who we are, not anyone else, but to say, this is we think is funny as Asian-Americans.
more storytelling. Yeah. Like comedic way, you know,
Marilyn Tokuda: In the comedian funny way. Yeah. Not heavy at all. Although we would have heavy themes sometimes, but we’d approach it from a sounds of humor.
how has cold tofu developed over the past 40 years? have you seen, I don’t know if you’re still. They’re all the time, but when did you see.
Marilyn Tokuda: Oh, I haven’t been there for [00:20:00] many years after I was artistic director. Denise chromogen, took over and what she, it has evolved a lot. what Denise wanted main thing she did is she got us touring. we went to Arizona and I think they went to Massachusetts. They went back east, and she was terrific.
She really, stepped to it and made sure we were in. Media, you know, had to audition, had to keep it’s really hard to keep a non-profit together. No one’s getting paid, you know, it’s really for the passion of it all. And,so she took over and then Helen and Robert Covarrubias, Helen Orta Robert Covarrubias took over.
And, I forget how many years, but of course they took it beyond to another step. got us very involved with community cause you know, she’s the community queen Helen and,and then after that, Julie, Lee took over who is currently the artistic director. And forgive me, I know there’s an associate.
I’m [00:21:00] sorry. I can’t remember the name. Howard hall, I believe associate artistic director, but so it’s just endured because I think the mission statement it’s is so utterly important that we have something, you know, to contribute in the world. And, that deals with the universal themes. So it amazingly, after how many years, 40 something years, it’s still, it’s still here.
I’m very thankful to all the great leadership man. It could have just died but because of people’s passion in, in the mission, it’s, it’s endured,
Masami Moriya: Right. I think that’s a really good Testament to, to the mission statement, but also for the need of what this is. so my question here is, as a nonprofit common group, I know a lot of other comedy groups that are out there and troops, in contemporary right now. But how does that stay stable? is it through Jewish donations?
Do show people doing shows and people have pink tickets. you know, it’s locked for so long or giving you advice for
Marilyn Tokuda: you [00:22:00] know, I
Masami Moriya: to work.
Marilyn Tokuda: really don’t know cause I haven’t spoken to Julie about this, but I’m sure part of it is grants.
Masami Moriya: Hmm.
Marilyn Tokuda: Private donations, probably because, like I said, I don’t think there’s a lot of money in getting steady gigs and stuff like that. So, as long as they’re getting, I’m hoping,a place to work out, which I hope, you know, then you have the people that you’re not getting paid, then it really is dependent on just people’s passion and, and, the importance to, I Le I think a lot of the people who are in cold and it’s become very multi-racial too.
That’s one big thing that has evolved it’s no longer Asian. I don’t know what the diversity mix is, but I know it’s not clearly all Asian, which is wonderful. It’s just, multicultural.
Masami Moriya: Yeah.
that’s super cool. I think that just having time and space people dedication to something, keeps it going. I think that’s what. how long to move on to at least twice players. so some [00:23:00] of us know where you suppose to play as I’m kind of game about. I’d love to, he, we already went over where it starts.
Let me back it up a bit. tell me more about your position in time at east west players. there’s been so much that’s been going on there, in the best ways. what was your, what was your.
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, it’s, like I said, it started in, when I was in the seventh grade, my mom showed me this article about an all Asian American group that was starting. and there were seven founders, many may know, beautiful Mako, Ray Krevi, pat Lee, Syntech. Oh, again, I’m sorry. I can’t remember all the founders, but anyway, they had a need and we’re very, I guess angry.
I’m sure a lot of it came out of angry because the only worlds they were being offered was geishas and butlers and all those stereotypic roles. And so out of that came this group in 1965 and they started at realist church, which was Bethany [00:24:00] church I believe. And,near sunset in that area since that junction.
And, so seven of them were tirelessly. They worked in a basement and, eventually they were able to get their own space on Santa Monica Boulevard. was like, It looked like a, just a one room black box. And I don’t know if it was a garage or what it was before, it was a small score space that became home for many, many years.
And, Michael was the artistic director for many years and, had that love and passion to, to this company going. And even though he was a working actor, he worked a lot, he was in San pebbles, many movies, but this was, I, I think, you his number one, passion was east what’s players and the need to make sure the Asian Americans had a place in the industry, for future generations.
So, he, and [00:25:00] this group of seven people just, started doing plays. And then I think slowly started getting grants and, After getting reviews and getting a lot of notoriety, then the press really began to take notice and they were real good shows. They had regular seasons and they gave, the opportunity to lie to people, young people, especially because they started these, conservatories during the summer where they’d have these six week conservatories where young actors could come and they could study dance and acting and dilate and, musical theater, which is wonderful.
And I always wanted to do it. I was never able to do it, cause I was in Seattle, I thought, oh man, that’s my dream to go to east, west players steady with Marco and meet all these people and you know, positive role models was so, imperative. Actually eventually when I was in the university of Washington, I wrote Marco.
I didn’t know him at all, [00:26:00] but I obviously had seen us work, heard of him and I wrote him I said, Mako, I know this may be a little far-fetched and I’m reaching for the stars, but would you be willing to come out and give us a workshop? I have,started a small Asian American group that was really part of the university.
And we have about 12 people. Would you be willing? And he said, it’s funny. I still have the letter today, but it said something like, I’m very, very busy down here, but shit, that, that diet, yes. Let me say, would be willing to come and give you this, do the workshop. And he did, and he changed all our lives.
And, I think here was a professional and without how this is a real actor, he’s a real actor. You know, I, even during that time, I had to pinch myself because I thought here he’s giving his time being away from the theater, being away from [00:27:00] work, away from the possibility of getting more work. And he’s giving us this time precious time, but this is how important it was to him and how much Asian American theater meant to him.
He was a great man. Amazing. And his wife was amazing too, Susie Hoshi and she taught dance. And you know, it was very, both of them were so committed to Asian-American, talent.
Masami Moriya: I’ve heard so much about Mako and I’ve seen a good handful of his films. Cause he always helped look up something like, oh, there he is. Again, such a wonderful actor. It’s so precious to have him come out and do that, with, with east west players in itself. And you know, even that experience you had, what, what do you feel is the biggest importance of having Asian American teachers, teaching Asian Americans in their acting, in their, in their roles and their ability to, have agency in that.
Marilyn Tokuda: [00:28:00] Yeah. Well, gosh, again, it’s positive role models and just valuing what we have to offer. I mean, I know when I was young, all I took from was I took from some really great people, but as I got older, I started to question and I’d say, why aren’t there Asian American organizations, performing arts owners? Why aren’t there Asian American teachers?
Why aren’t there Asian American professors? Teaching performing arts in college. so I think it was vitally. That was one of the things that really, was so important to me, to the east-west all of a sudden all this talent pool that were there. You know, I learned from that I valued that were so good at what they did.
And, it just gave me the, the hope and the courage and, made me realize how much talent we have in Asian-American acting community. before that, you [00:29:00] see I’d just taken from, from Caucasian people. And so that’s all I knew. So when that’s all you have, that’s all you think is, you know, sort of valid.
But I changed, I think with yellow power everything, I really started to get angry and just, you know, why not? Why not? Why not? And, was the, one of the reasons why, There was a guy named Stan, a cease in Santa watching. He started a group at the group theater at the university of Washington. He was, that was the first group I ever became involved with.
We did from, Wilson. was the first piece we did. We did his poems. We didn’t like that. Wow. Carlos had, well, the sun was frigging amazing, man. And, you know, he, Stan really taught me, well, are Asian American playwrights out there that we have not explored or had the opportunity to explore it all.
So that was sort of a breakthrough for me too. Right. then [00:30:00] of course we have Wakako yum Uchi and all the, the moment called eco and all the Frank chin, my God, all the amazing American playwrights set that came out of the seventies and eighties.
Masami Moriya: Yeah. And, you know, I’ve seen some of those plates. They’re amazing. I think I’m very fortunate to find, just have the internet, that there are recordings of these plays in any of them. and they always seem to be. Some of the most powerful works that I’ve seen. So I’m past the representation on screen thing, because I’ve seen so many agents, you know, in your representation it’s up, but the writing, the directing, the actings are all in collaboration with each other, gives us this vibe that, presence of the people who were there.
it’s very different. And so I think that’s what was necessary now. I hope, maybe you can speak on this long, but I don’t see that as much, very often. do you see in that these west players, I’ve seen some other plays and people were putting on projects, but I don’t see that in, [00:31:00] the, this one from transitions at BAMC, didn’t television and film that much.
Masami Moriya: So how do you, do you see any translation and why certain projects work at, in theater versus.
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, that was the freedom at east hill as we could be and do anything we wanted, according to the artistic vision, not dealing, it’s a totally different animal when you’re working with networks. And, when I think of my history of what I was brought up on all the negative stereotypes, I mean, think how long it took us break those stereotypes to say, Hey, we’re Americans.
Hello. and, in 1999, was a pivotal year because there were no. Network shows at all that had recurring or starring roles. when the coalitions came together and said, what is this shit? There’s no Asian regulars. [00:32:00] There’s no, African-Americans there was no, Hispanic leading I go, what is this?
We are part of the American landscape. And so that’s when we, the coalitions got together. Karen non-starchy was the head of the Asian, AAMC, Asian Pacific American media coalition, Alex Nogalus and, oh, who’s the head of the I’m sorry,
Masami Moriya: We’ll find people and put
Marilyn Tokuda: yeah, you’ll find out. Okay. Yeah, African-American, NAACP, you came to get a Guillory.
Ben Guillory bless his heart, came together and. Got these coalitions together because we weren’t, we were as mad as hell and we’re going to take it anymore. Is that Peter Prince said in network. And, when we came together and, memorandum was formed with the networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and,some of the cable channels that they to, you know, start initiatives to increase the numbers before and behind the camera, [00:33:00] because believe me in the writers directors, all that, every one of those categories were deficient.
And so, it was really drawing the line and send you guys do something, or we’re going to protest, we’re going to do that can really hurt the networks because we were, you know, the audience, a huge portion of the audience, all of us, you know, so. That was a very empowering and so important. So we had annual meetings with the networks and we’d call them on it.
You know, we’d ask him for once we were, weren’t afraid to say, why aren’t there any, you know, Asian Americans in lead roles, you got 0% at this point, I think in 2002, 2003 numbers were really low. Anyway, it was a roller coaster ride, but, starting a coalition really. I don’t know, I, I don’t think, many actors today, even know about it, but we were instrumental in those [00:34:00] coalition still are instrumental, ensuring that we have more visibility behind and,before the cameras very important, because we, we are meeting we’re meeting with the presidents of the networks, all the heads of the departments, comedy drama, all anyone who’s important was that those means.
And so we really had to, to have our stuff together, all did our homework and, went in there with, you know, with ammunition. Karen, our Saki was a powerhouse and so it’s can, her brother, she is, was unafraid and she was fearless in going in unafraid to be confrontational. And she’s the one that taught me to really be, you got to stand up, can’t just sit there and be quiet like I did for, you know, a good portion of the time.
Cause I was so afraid and, and, and believe me, it wasn’t because of who, you know, I’m never going to work in that. I was beyond that. I was at Eastern was players in arts education, but I remember [00:35:00] Karen St. Berlin, you got to open your mouth, you got to voice how you feel otherwise. You’re just, you know, they’re not going to know how you feel and, and we remain invisible.
So, She really taught me about the courage to you have to say something because we’d each be in charge of comedy or, you know, what had happened that year we’d all have to call them out. So, but I saw it from really content butting heads the beginning to really having genuine communication.
That was, I think so satisfying to me, especially that they were hearing us. were, you know, we were able to communicate our thoughts and what was wrong and really sort of pound out these, what are the solutions cop up to it, to the short shortcomings, to the networks cap-ex or let’s find solutions for this, improve the numbers.
Masami Moriya: [00:36:00] Yeah. I think the work that the PMC has done and all the other coalitions happen, and we don’t know, I think we just don’t know that history of what we had to protest it and come up and say, we got to speak up about something. but two questions come, come about from that. one but one we want to, we want to do the same thing here.
We want to still stand up. We want to carry on that mission of, speaking out, speaking up, like don’t be afraid of using your power and to be afraid of losing your job. Or I think you have to, if we don’t speak up, we’re not going to do anything. But you said you were, you had this fear before and it wasn’t a fear of losing your job.
What was that fear you might.
Marilyn Tokuda: I think that was the agent in this in me, you know, I mean being quiet, don’t rock the boat, all those things that I grew up with as a child, really, my parents remember it wasn’t too long after the war, it was war, but, and, and they were afraid because they were in the internment camps and. Really, that was almost like an ongoing mantra sometimes in life rock the boat.
Although my [00:37:00] parents were both very, there. I think my dad was very, you know, spoke very loudly and well-known he was his drug test in the community and,but it was just my upbringing, all of those layers of just don’t don’t don’t don’t it was really hard for me Bray. And even though I try to put myself up and say, Maryland, you’ve got to, you’re not stupid.
You’ve got to up. You’ve got to, I would just go into those meetings. And, you know, there’s a table felt like 30 people and they’re all networking. They’re all really important. You know, people who have anyway have a say in what goes on at the network. I mean, these were not just underlined say we were the heads that like, that’s an,Kind of scary for anyone?
I think. So it be anyone, I think that it was just layered with all those things that culturally I’d grown up with. So it was really hard for me. Whereas Sharon nurse, Karen was just out there with her thoughts and I go, man, I admire her so much. She’s a lawyer. She was very articulate. [00:38:00] But, I sort of broke that it just got easier and I became unafraid, I guess I became, it, it was a challenge and it was just like, just be prepared.
I’m not the most prepared person in the world. So for me, that was like, do your homework now. Don’t, you know, you can’t look stupid, you’re representing people, you’re resenting your community. And then all those Asian things start to creep. Shame, shame. If you don’t do good.
Masami Moriya: And then you’re studying too much, then you’re just more Asian as,
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah, and then you have to throw it out and you forget half of it anyway. And you don’t say half of it anyway, it’s funny. But it was for the, for the sake of east west players too. it, it was so important because you are representing the artistic community. Yeah.
Masami Moriya: And coming from that too, like protesting, standing up to a network, I mean, that’s a big step for any, especially young non-profits, but to say here’s the TV execs [00:39:00] who run all the TV. does they do better? What were some of those solutions that were brought up and how, how did it come about like you were butting heads in the beginning?
I’m sure they weren’t happy about it at
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah. I think no one was listening because we had so much emotion pent up this isn’t, it’s not normal. I mean, that’s just normal. You’re going to, you know, you’re going to fight, but that’s where the beginning of healing begins. I think in all of a sudden you start listening. And I know at the beginning I was so worried, but, you know, listen and then they would listen.
I mean, some of the solutions were, we need more Asian representation and not just in these subliminal roles, you know, give us roles, give us substantial roles. And ABC is, you know, really good. A lot of the networks started improving in creating like agents of shield would be no when and great worlds, Daniel Dae, Kim.
And,[00:40:00] I feel like this was years later, but what I’m saying, it took all this breaking, you know, this pioneering to get to that point. like I said, I think that the meanings became prolific towards the end because we were both listening and understood and they took responsibility for Yara numbers.
We have to get better than this. for me, more than actors, even, it was more important to get the creative people in the people in development, the writers, the directors, all those people behind the scenes. So we’d be more empowered that way. So it’s much better now. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I know they’re a hell of a lot better than when we started this.
Masami Moriya: I’m sure. Yeah.
What was, what do you feel was the thing that got them to. So I think the thing now is like, we have something that works for years and it’s the main PNC does a report card every year. And I see Fox, ABC, NBC, all those places. But now we have a whole bunch of streamers that [00:41:00] are, might not have that same.
I don’t see that on the report cards. I don’t think Disney plus Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, all those places. I feel like there’s a new need for that same thing for the streamers now that they have unlimited airtime basically. but that’s even more opportunities for less representation, but also more opportunities for representation.
So if we’re trying to get them to listen today, what was something that worked back then?
Marilyn Tokuda: yelling. mean, Asians are much more, are much more mainstream today, much more accepted in mainstream today. I have to say that a lot of our movement the road that African-Americans paid for us. I don’t think we, you know, it would have been much, much harder, but they really paved the way. And, I do, when I say yelling, you know, to get attention, I do mean, at the beginning of our coalition, we had to get.
have to get mad and you have to scream and you have [00:42:00] to, know, verbalize your articulate, your anger and wiring angry. I think that’s important, but I think there’s nothing wrong with yelling. You have to yell when we were babies, we yelled to get what we wanted. It’s so primal. So I think it’s really making And, now that relationships, like I said, I’ve been out of it since 2016 when I left. east-west but, but relationships, I want to believe, they were very good with the networks and it’s all due to conversation listening. still could be much more improvement, right? I mean, I can count the number of shows probably on network TV that are Asian-American driven.
mean, are there any today? I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Masami Moriya: A couple, maybe in some, some publicly on streaming, if anything, but like
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah. I mean, that’s, what’s so exciting about Randall park, like fresh off the boat and being nine agents, but still, those are kinda like the two I can really [00:43:00] remember. I think it’s just going to take more anger and more screaming. I hate to say it, but just, there’s gotta be accountability in making the networks accountable somehow.
Y whether it’s protesting or I don’t know, stop, we’re gonna stop spending money on those products. I mean, money is the root of it. All right. Money.
Masami Moriya: Money.
Marilyn Tokuda: we’re going to, we’re going to write the sponsors who are going to, know, tell them that, you know, we’re not whatever anyway,
Masami Moriya: I’m always, I’m always wishing for a strike cause sometime just to, just to show them Joe,
Marilyn Tokuda: well, that may happen, right? Yeah. Right.
Masami Moriya: so I’m interested in that too, or as a, for me, a political background and knowing community organizing and grassroots organizations. how did this come together? So we talked about how it started, what was the necessary, but you have to bring people together, be on the same page. I feel like today people are very hesitant to get [00:44:00] on the same page with it’s something that’s against something that might give them a job. And so I’ve had talked to people who don’t want to talk about it because they don’t, they’re afraid of not getting their next job with them. So, but I think that the important thing is if we come together, As a community and say, there’s something wrong here.
You can still give him a job, but let’s think about what you’re doing because not only could you mean making more money with this, you’re missing a whole opportunity where Asian Americans, Asian American, not just Asian shows. We all love squid game, but that’s still in Korea. thinking about what power is today.
So do you have any advice on coalition building, within the community, even if it’s something that some people just don’t want to, they’re worried, they’re worried about rocking the boat. That’s the
Marilyn Tokuda: you can’t worry about that. It’s really gotta be within you as an individual that, that, it becomes your mission statement. It’s personal and I don’t fault anyone for not to get involved. I really don’t because I totally [00:45:00] understand it because I was there at one point until I said, screw it.
This is more important. This is the bigger picture, right? It’s not about me. It really is not. This is about these organizations like east, west players and future generations of Asian Americans. I know that sounds lofty, but it’s true. I think you just have to, it has to be in your heart to want to, to, to want to continue fighting this and we can’t let up the fight.
We always have to rhyme remind people, otherwise we’re going to become invisible again. And people, you know, when that happens, start saying, well, yeah, We don’t need to, you know, they’re not going to rock the boat or wherever, so we have to have this ongoing presence. That’s why I think these network meetings to go on, have to go on.
We have to constantly remind
Masami Moriya: Can you tell me, maybe, you know, or maybe don’t, but can you tell me how those meetings were started? Did someone just contact them.
as blue, some know somebody on the inside and get that. [00:46:00]
Marilyn Tokuda: Well, guy, okay. Was another one who, a strong sort of political activists, pure activists. and, and, people like he, and, but it was Karen NAR, Saki. That really, it’s been so long ago. I can let the fight. She was the one who was the conduit to the networks. You know, she was,with the Asian-American justice center, she was out of DC.
She was a high powered or is a high prior. Powered and very respected lawyer and person in her own. Right. And so, she came together with the other coalitions that’s why they started the media coalition, which included the Hispanic and, and the, African-American and the, let us not forget the American Indians film and television also.
but they all came together as the heads, the heads of all the organizations top, and then they all, they went to the networks and, I believe at the beginning, everyone was meeting separately or [00:47:00] something. And then they, we thought it would be more powerful if all the coalitions came together to form the media coalition, instead of all those little side groups.
so that’s how it came about. Karen and the other leaders and went through the, the, the, networks. And like I said, they created this memory. And initiatives and that’s how that all there are. The initiatives are in the books today.
Masami Moriya: Hm.
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah. Diversity initiatives and, you know,
Masami Moriya: yeah.
How were those diversity initiatives? And I’ve heard of that things that the diversity initiatives worked, you might’ve taken some years to get it working and it felt less like a diversity hire, which we still have problems with that today. what were some of the biggest goals from there, but what was some of the asks?
What were the, some of the solutions in that Zurich diversity? Was it just higher percentage?
Marilyn Tokuda: I believe, like I said, or the. In it initiative site, you will, you know, [00:48:00] different programs that would, if we didn’t have enough writers or directors give us programs to train us. So initiatives like that, training programs for writers and directors and give us exposure,increasing of course, before the camera was an no brainer.
We want more visibility as Asian-Americans. So, development, we want more development because how can we have shows with any kind of authenticity, if we don’t have, Asian-Americans writing or African-Americans writing our, you know, our own work or Hispanic Americans creating our own work, we have to have our own voice.
We don’t want someone else to define who we are. We need to have our own unique and authentic voice. So out of that, a lot of great programs started. Like I said, they’re still, still going on.
Masami Moriya: yeah,
we’ll put those in the show notes And I have to go search for them more. Cause I think there’s a, those are what we have today. We have so much to thank for people [00:49:00] like yourselves, too, for what we have today. Because even though we’re still stirring. to get, I feel like the same thing dead today.
We’re still talking about in my groups. it’s changed so much since then, so
Marilyn Tokuda: I’m telling you if we didn’t have leaders like Dan, Dan Maya, who is now the current leader of the APM, see, I mean, has hung in there. on the board of east-west player. He’s been in it for a long haul and I believe he’s still meeting with the networks, bless his heart. I mean, I, were him, I mean, it’s been years, not one or two it’s been and he’s always had the fight in him.
And,so articulate and unafraid just like Karen was and, made it a mission, I believe, just to ensure that Asian Americans would always have a place in the India. there’s so many people that are, you know, Gaia Hokkien, and, of course in kin are saying so many people to take my hats off to we all owed to being pioneers [00:50:00] in, in getting the networks to even listen to us.
Masami Moriya: It’s definitely.
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah.
Masami Moriya: Well, thank you so much, Maryland. as we close up, when it do the last three questions or last couple of questions that we do are all, I guess. what advice do you have for emerging filmmakers storytellers, actors?
Marilyn Tokuda: I think just be true to your own vision. Be true to yourself. Don’t listen to your parents. If you want to pursue the arts, be the good Asian, know, manner. Just do what your heart dictates. Tell the stories from your heart and being afraid. Don’t say if you’re a writer, oh no, one’s going to listen to this story.
That is what is going to make you as a writer is your own unique voice, but don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to all those voices that can get cluttered in your head that so easy to do. Don’t let the industry get you down, just a, be passionate and have a vision, have a goal, be studied. You know, you can’t just go in there.
A lot of people think it’s so easy to make it. You have to have the [00:51:00] knowledge. You have to have the experience, get experience where ever you can. When I was young being young, I would take any acting job that came in my path big or small. will, I would just, I would take it to become a better actor.
and, just follow your passion. Be true to dine owned self. Yeah. And. What was your other question?
Masami Moriya: And they have questions. what’s do you have any call to actions for people to get involved either with, APNC to east west players called tofu? anything you want people to say, this is what you can do to. whether it be in your organizations that you’re working on or, something that you think people should speak up about.
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah. I think it’s just a speaker, particularly being Asian. if you hear something that makes you angry, act on it, just don’t sit there and see and expect other people to do it. Do the action, be true to your words, be true to your emotions. [00:52:00] and, find out whose, you know, whether it’s a JCL or whatever, community organizations get involved.
Cause often. They will obviously speak out because there was a civil rights group or, know, maybe east west is doing something, but east was, is a performing arts group. So I don’t, you know what I’m saying, go to the groups that can have a profound impact, like the JCR, or other political groups you can get involved with.
But express, I think the most important thing is to have a voice. And if you’re pissed about something, then express it. Don’t don’t, just sit back and be quiet, be visible, be, you know, because that’s where the power is. The power is in numbers, the power centers in numbers, and saying that we’re not going to buy your product if you insist on having, and we will start a movement, Hey, we did it in the seventies and eighties.
Right? Really the power is a number. We don’t know how much power we have as individuals. And that’s what I would say [00:53:00] again is you don’t know how much power you really have is an industry. So acknowledge that power and when action requires you to do it, then, then act on it, be active, say something.
Masami Moriya: that’s a wonderful place to leave off. So thank you so much for your time today. I learned so much. I think there’s just so much to learn from you and just the gratitude for all the work you’ve done. All the people you’ve worked with to make it to where we are today. So thank you,
Marilyn Tokuda: thank you, David. I really appreciate it. I really do appreciate it because I’m, you know, I’m past my prime and of looking back, and this has been sort of a, a wonderful, a walk down memory lane. I know there’s tons of other people I have forgotten to think, but, just chalk it up to,old age.
What can I say? And I, I’m not even that old, but,
Masami Moriya: No, you look fantastic. Open
Marilyn Tokuda: well, thank you so much.
is there any place where people want to get [00:54:00] in touch with you, follow you and do you have social media or you just stay in common, you know,
Masami Moriya: or any projects you want to look up? watching? I just watched strawberry fields. That was fantastic.
Marilyn Tokuda: Yeah, you can just kind of, maybe how did you find it? How were they found? You found Starbucks? I think you could even Google my name and you’ll find I MDB or stuff like that. And if you’re ever questioned, just run it through David and I would be glad he’ll email me and I’ll be happy to get back to you.
Masami Moriya: Perfect.
Marilyn Tokuda: Okay.
Masami Moriya: All right. Well, thank you so much. again, I, I hope to see you.
soon. You’re gonna have again, then we’ll wrap up, so we’ll just close it out, but,I have Mo I make now they had handle pad. Everyone was doing the sourdough breads and making bread. I made Moochie. And so I learned how to make fresh mochi for your soup and your, grilled mochi, can bring that over sometime.
I would love to have a thing cause you know, also I just want to give to you, but appreciation.
Marilyn Tokuda: What time do you want to come [00:55:00] today, David? Just kidding.
Marilyn Tokuda: No, I would, are you kidding? I would love for a small, cheap,
Masami Moriya: It’s so good. It’s like you can’t find in the store and you’re I give my grandmother, she’s like pens in 40 years. Give it to me all the time.
Marilyn Tokuda: you know, the only place I saw that was in Hawaii, my girlfriends, they had a pounder and I was there for new years, one day and they pounded it their big wooden part. was like a out log or something. Yeah, it was so cool. But, is it hard to make more cheap?
Masami Moriya: No, no, I have, I have a machine. And I, and usually they’re expensive, but I found it on eBay used and it was like a vintage one. So it was pretty, pretty inexpensive. And so you steam there soak the rice for 12 hours. You steam it for 40 minutes or something to pounds for 15, then you just, the shaping is the hardest part is like making sure that each one’s similar size.
and I make them small so that not only can you freeze easier break apart easier, but when you make a new soup, you don’t take forever to, oil or, cook into it. So, yeah, they’re, they’re a great [00:56:00] snack. I love getting them out. Cause it’s just so they’re fresh and doesn’t come from Japanese American committee.
Masami Moriya: They know how to eat it.
Marilyn Tokuda: Oh man. One of these days, I’m inviting myself over to your place on January 1st. So they’d have some of that great. More cheap.
Masami Moriya: Perfect. Well, I’ll keep in touch about that. You got, you can do a whole nother batch again, so there’s more to come.
Marilyn Tokuda: cool. Wonderful. Thank you.
Masami Moriya: Sound good. Thank you. All right. Well, I’ll let you get on with your day and so good to see you.
Marilyn Tokuda: Thanks David.
Masami Moriya: Jeff. I got to stop the video.