Nancy Wang Yuen Interview Transcript
Nancy Wang Yuen: Thanks for having me, David.
Masami: we’ll get started in bit, we’ve been through this whole pandemic. We’ve gone through so much in life right now.
obviously the shootings are terrible. I saw your article that came through after the Atlanta. how are you feeling? And how are you doing after a couple of weeks now? And we’ve even seen new mass shootings today
and how are you taking care of yourself? practicing self-care
Nancy Wang Yuen: So this morning, I did some self care by just cutting fruit. It feels so Asian to cut fruit. Although I made a fruit salad, which is not very Asian or actually, I guess it is, I don’t know, depends on maybe what part of the Asian continent subcontent but yeah, I just cut fruit. I found it very meditative because a lot of times I’m cutting things or making food and it’s just a rush, but I decided to just take my time and taste the fruit as I was cutting it and just enjoying.
making, preparing and eating and the sensory experience of food, because that’s something I think very Asian. I think whenever I post something on Twittersend me your favorite Asian food. People get [00:01:00] really excited, because we have such variety and it really represents, I think what Asian America is.
I think we, we have so much excellence. We have so much appeal and we also very much enjoy the diversity within our community. And then yet it feels there’s overlaps, right? Like we, we love noodles. We love rice. We love, spices. And so all that I think was something that I did in a meditative way this morning.
Nancy Wang Yuen: But yeah, it’s hard. I think it’s hard. We’re still living in a pandemic. It’s really hard to. continued surviving in the midst of fear, in the midst of grief, in the midst of anger and rage, and also just confusion. I think it’s like, what do we do in this moment? And I know that as a scholar, I’ve had to step in and speak about racism and sexism in ways [00:02:00] that I usually do in the classroom.
But all of a sudden I’m doing it on TV or on radio. And it feels like really positive in that people are understanding what anti-Asian racism and sexism and misogyny looks like, but it also feels horrible that it had to take something like hate crimes to, to have our country finally listen to us and want to hear what we have to say about the experiences of growing up in a racist society as an Asian-American.
Masami: Yeah. and in a moment that we just want to heal, we just want to just be in our grief for a minute and just do that, but we’d have to step up and it’s we would have to something feel like you have to say, since such people are asking you such someone like yourself, like so knowledgeable.
Nancy Wang Yuen: and we’re all spoken on it that someone really like yourself has to step up and sometimes you just want that breath just to be silent not. yeah, I had to write, I was asked to write a piece the day after. it happened, [00:03:00] the night I think it was a Monday night and then that Tuesday I was asked to write something and they gave me one day to do it. And so I basically processed my feelings through the article. but I didn’t really process my feelings and maybe I process my thoughts right.
Through the article. And then there was a barrage of CVS and NPR and several NPR. I didn’t know how many different NPR she was there or until this often and choose, feeling okay, which ones do I choose? I can’t do them all. There were like, at least several that I had to say no to. only because it wasn’t just a matter of time, but it was really a matter of emotional capacity.
I didn’t know how to do it without, I really had an emotional breakdown actually that weekend. and I still had appearances the next week. So it’s, it was incredibly hard. And the only reason I stepped up was I felt like this was the only thing I could do in a pandemic time is to use my voice and use my words, through writing and to [00:04:00] educate the public about something that I feel like.
Everybody should know, not just Asian Americans. We should understand how racism functions, not just in terms of overt words ormessages, but actually unbiased, subconscious biases that people aren’t aware of. the kind of microaggressions that we get, that aren’t jokes, but, really add up.
So all these things that we experience on a regular basis, but the average person takes for granted and doesn’t even consider to be problematic. Like I think it’s, especially in terms of anti-Asian misogyny. I think people think of Asian women as attractive. And the fetishization as positive, right?
They think of it as something that Asian women want or that everybody thinks that someone would want, What’s wrong with being attractive, but they don’t understand how it quickly turns into violence, and an unwanted attention. And also [00:05:00] always racist. Like I wrote in one of my articles, it’s really hard to separate out racism and sexism. Um, whenever I get catcalled on the streets or just any kind of road rage, cause I’m in, the LA area it’s always connected. and so I think that people just, I guess I didn’t realize how clueless America was about all of this until I saw the police actually say that it wasn’t racist because the murder called it, said it was just a sexual addiction.
And they took his word at it. I think I felt so enraged that I was like I have to go out and tell everybody why this is racist and why we need to not take his word for it. and also I think all these Asian American women had to basically say and list all the horrible things that we are told on a regular basis, growing up here in the United States.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And it was very personal. I was saying this stuff, I will [00:06:00] say this on all things considered. I had a conversation with the amazing Elsa Chang and we were both talking about all the things that we’ve been called. And it was, it felt like a conversation between two Asian American women and friends, even though I just met her, but it was for the entire country to hear.
And. yeah, I feel, I think I look back I’m like, wow, I just, I guess I was just so mad and I didn’t care, but it was really personal and really, it made me very vulnerable and I got hate mail for it. For sure. And yeah, I know. So it’s the, I’m already used to that because I, I speak on Hollywood and racism and there’s always some fandom that’s mad at me at all times.
and as an Asian woman, I get, I get raped threats and all sorts of scary misogynistic problems that a lot of almost every woman of color, I know that’s at all online and speaking out, they always get, Isomeone like Kimmy yam, who’s a journalist for NBC news. [00:07:00] She gets 45 plus hate mails a day.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And this is on the regular and she’s, I don’t even think she’s 30, she’s so young and she’s, this is her life just. Being a journalist who is writing pretty objective stuff. there’s always takes right. Which is not saying anything that I’ve ever read that was, totally off.
It was. She’s very brave and speaking up. And so she’s just one of many right. Asian American women who are on, on, on the PO in the public sphere and getting attacked for speaking truth.
Masami: Yeah. I can’t imagine being a woman in this time and II know women go through so much and just the back channel it’s having the public stuff is all the private DMS and emails and it’s awful. And I, I wish I could help stop that. All I can do is try to inform people not to do that.
And I don’t know. I really. And just add Mara, the strength of women to have to handle all that I had as a privileged Asian man. I just [00:08:00] don’t. And so I can’t even imagine how much it that’s exhausting and tolling on just the mental health. And it’s awful. thank you for doing all those and putting up with people that’s a lot.
I’d like to know how you identify. There’s no one Asian American, so I would love to know how you personally identify.
Nancy Wang Yuen: so I identify politically, first of all, as Asian-American, because, as, as you may or may not know your listeners that it was a political identity that came out of the civil rights movement and it was atit was in the think of S San Francisco state. Okay. Now my memory is it’s either San Jose state or San Francisco state, where it was Japanese, Chinese, and Filipinostudents who came up with the term Asian American as a way to have coalition, In order to have a solidified, more solidified voice in order to protest the kind of racism that Asian-Americans received. And so I definitely identify as Asian-American politically. but I guess ethnically I identify now as Taiwanese American, I didn’t always [00:09:00] grow up identifying Taiwanese American.
And I think that people have different ideas. I’ve even talked to, I just identify myself to somebody who I assumed was Taiwanese American. And they were like challenging me on it because I don’t speak to him and he’s American and Oh, I don’t speak Taiwanese. my family came immigrated to Taiwan from China.
And so in, in Taiwan, we were always called Weiser run, which means outside province people. because we were immigrants, And my family were immigrants from China to Taiwan. during the communist revolution. I actually went to Taiwan right before COVID kind of hits.
I was there December slash January of 2020. And I just started to, I actually started to interview relatives who had come during that same time. And they identified as Taiwanese I talked to a taxi driverwho was talking about, who identifies Taiwanese, who I think spoke Taiwanese fluently.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And I asked him, do you think I can identify as Taiwanese, even though I don’t speak Tony’s and I just, I was born here, but that’s it. And he’s of [00:10:00] course you can give me like, like the biggest encouragement. And I think he had a lot of time when he’s pride and of course everybody should just identify as Taiwanese, but it took me a long time get here because I think because of my own family, And also feeling like literally like outside, even though it’s the only country I know besides the United States.
Cause I was born there. I came when I was five and so I don’t know China at all. and I do support Taiwan and and the time of these people. So yeah. So I think in the last year I’ve been saying, and he’s American, but before then, what is the Chinese Americans? So that’s where I am, but it is this is a child’s understanding right.
Of identity through a lens of considering what it means as an adult. But I definitely feel Asian American because I grew up in Seritos California. which is I mean I went to a school that was, I think, 80, some percent Asian American, and it was truly Asian America because it was all over.
Like we had South [00:11:00] Southeast Asian. East Asia and I had friends from every part of, almost every major part of Asia. I realize it’s so formative right. Where I really feel like I grew up in Asia America. and so that’s why I, it’s not just political, but it’s also cultural.
I definitely feel more kinship with other Asian Americans, including South and Southeast Asian Americans in ways that I think maybe people who didn’t grow up in that situation mountain might, but I definitely feel very at ease with anybody from the Asian subcontinent.
I feel very similar that way. why did it change from Chinese to Taiwanese? what was that pivot point?
Nancy Wang Yuen: Yeah. because I don’t even know China. I was born in Taiwan. All my memories of an Asian country is situated in Taiwan. And my food tastes skew my knees which is Taiwan. Taiwan was voted, I think when you’re CNN like the best food in the world, because it’s, it has a lot of fusion, like I think the Portuguese were [00:12:00] there at one point they have sausages, they haveShanghainese, like all the bow, all theall the soup dumplings, That’s all that’s from some high, but I think the holding tight foam phenomenon that’s coming out of Taipei, Taiwan. and and just all the street foods, like night market, like I grew up going to night markets like that’s, that is my culture. Taiwan is my culture. it’s wonderful. Blah, blah, all that’s all the best imported foods that I think define Asian America. A lot of ways East Asian Americais from Taiwan. And that’s, again, that’s like a little kid. Like this is me growing up, eating this food and also, watching the CV and all that stuff.
And I think that I culturally identify most with Taiwanese culture outside of, American culture is very diverse. I think Boba is officially American culture now.
And so I think that, yeah and also I support Taiwan. I support the democracy. I support. I don’t know.
I want to say that I support, like independence, but I don’t really know what that means because unfortunately I grew up in the United States. I have no knowledge of Asian [00:13:00] history besides what I could read as, as an adult. and I didn’t study, East Asia. So my knowledge is.
maybe it’s better than the average person, but I still feel like I don’t know enough about the history to definitively say where I stand politically because I don’t live there. but I definitely, and I’m in support of non colonialist, non imperialist. And I understand that when, when the Chinese immigrants came during the commerce revolution, there was a lot of I thinksubjecting, Taiwanese people to powers that were not welcome.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And but then of course, I grew up with a family that was absolutely approach. And so I’m learning myself what it means to be Taiwanese American. So that’s why I think there was some hesitancy because I don’t have that very strong. Taiwanese nationalism that a lot of, my friends who come from, the previous generation, that the ones that came, prior to the Chinese, and this is like history that, again, I’m speaking, I feel like I’m like a middle schooler or talking about Asia, East Asia, but this is what I was able to glean, [00:14:00] like all the while growing up, and also, so I say grow up cause I would go to Taiwan every summer. From after immigrating here, I was five because I was raised by my grandmother and I was stay with her every summer until I was a teenager. So I feel like I saw the changes in Taiwan actually through television. I remember when I was growing up, it was only Mandarin. And then as the years went by, the channels would have different dialects.
And I knew, I think that something was changing in terms of power, That there was more representation. And all I saw it was, and I saw it through TV. This is why I studied TV and film because you can learn so much about a country’s culture and even politics and identity through the way that it’s represented.
Masami: Fascinating. Yeah. And I need to know, I need to learn and study more about and just what’s going on. Cause there’s so much to learn about Asian culture in general
I’m still learning about Japan. So my rather cultures, what they’re doingtheir political beliefs, culture in itself, [00:15:00] it’s so different. So yeah.
Nancy Wang Yuen: Yeah. And Taiwanese and Taiwanese has a lot of intersections with Japanese culture because it was occupied by Japan and my Taiwanese friends, their parents growing up, they spoke fluent Japanese. And they would make these, I started with, they would make these like rolls with like dry pork inside. I was like, Oh my gosh.
I like, and I’ve never seen this. Or I, actually there are versions of this, but not like with seaweed and everything. I still remember seeing that. And again, it’s I remember things about culture through food
Masami: Yeah. Yeah,
Nancy Wang Yuen: child. This is what you remember. and I just saw the fusion there and yeah.
And so Japan is part of Japanese food and culture is, there’s a lot of Japanese architecture in Taiwan. Like when I went to their modern art museum and also there, they have lots of homes that are modeled after Japanese homes. And so it’s that the country is just so interesting. It’s very interesting.
East Asian countries have, Cynthia Korea and Japan, There are a lot of overlaps because [00:16:00] of colonization and war and there’s so much pain and all that, but then there’s, but then you see the kind of aftermath in terms of how the cultures have intermixed.
Masami: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting thing that we don’t always think about is how they’re mixed at certain places even within the country. But I love the fusion of food and the I think like food migration, how food moves and and changes. I think that’s fascinating. so what got into an entertainment issue?
you saw said TV and Taiwan changed. what got you like really interested about going in depth into this field?
I was an immigrant at a very young age and. I was a latchkey kid. So I just grew up watching TV, like every day after school and learned about what the United States I think thinks of it. I don’t want to say that I learned what the United States was through television, but it certainly was very white and look, nothing likethe kind of friends that I had growing up in Southern California.
Nancy Wang Yuen: So I learned a lot [00:17:00] about representation. And and to how the United States conceptualizes and identifies itself through its television. And then later on I watched a lot of films. I also worked out Buster. I dated someone who worked at Edwards theater. So I just consumed so much. it’s funny cause I didn’t go to film school, but I certainly became a cinephile through, through those five free rentals.
I got as a, as an employee of blockbuster. So I yeah, so I, I. I loved. Yeah. I love television and film growing up. And I think it was when I entered college and became an English major that I started to critique, film and television as discourse. And, I’m really break downwhat does this mean when you know, Southern things set in Southern California don’t include anyone that looks like me where my friends. So I think that three’s company was a big show that my dad watched and I was very little and I would watch with him and that was set in like Santa Monica and Los Angeles area. And [00:18:00] it was, it was so white. It was so white even at that time, it wasn’t white. but like the demographics weren’t what was seen on screen.
But even to this day, like now that I research film and television, the way that cities are represented, it’s still a skewed viewpoint. we need that in cinema and TV. if we’re just consumingand just accepting that this is what fictional reality is and thinking, this is what America is, we’re not discussing it, having the discordlooking at it, critiquing it and seeing how it affects society.
Masami: it’s, that’s the important part of Like the responsibility of Hollywood to do that kind of thing and show a reality rather than a gaze what they think the city cities are. And it’s such a valuable work and going to that. So being a sociologist in this field, in, in cinema, which I even know if there’s a lot of people in this, the category of cinema, but as a scholar and as sociologists of cinema studies[00:19:00] society in itself, Adrian Marikanaand looking at it through in a very unique lens what got you into that particular part of it. and what’s the most interesting of you found.
Nancy Wang Yuen: I think that as I break down and look at how cinema and television influences society it’s very difficult to have a one to one link. But we know that psychological studies show that children’s self-esteem children of color, their self-esteem are completely affected by the hours of television that they watch.
So there was a study of black boys. And girls and white boys and girls, and it showed that with each additional hour of television watched black boys and girls and white girls, their self-esteem went down, whereas white boys, their self-esteem went up. And so these kinds of studies revealed the potential dangers of not seeing yourself or seeing yourself only as negative or [00:20:00] inconsequential characters that, that absolutely affects a young person’s self-esteem because we know that people and children are consuming so much media.
Now we have so many choices. It’s not just Hollywood, but also YouTube. Andand just every screen possible, right? The phone, the laptop, the television. And so the kind of, sometimes it’s I think some studies show that it’s 15 hours. Average right. In terms of screen time. that includes social media, but we know there’s videos, That are shared and YouTube. as well as now, we have every kind of streaming platform for every single television channels station platform ever, it’s all the NBC CBS is they all have their own, even like national geographic, like all these random stations all have streaming.
so we’re inundated with content and that content. so besides kind of self-esteem of people color, we know that research shows that when you don’t have contact with a [00:21:00] certain group. So if if I don’t have contact with any Asians in real life, most of my perception and concepts and framing of that group will come from media.
Nancy Wang Yuen: Even if I know media, is fiction. Even if I know what I’m watching is a story that, that isn’t real. Like I’m not, I’m letting it just go through my brain unfiltered, Because it’s entertainment, you relax. You don’t really think about anything. You just let it flow in uncritically.
And of course, it’s going to have an impact on what you think of that group. And so there is also research that shows that, the way that we serves, we can conceive of immigrants and lots of next groups that the, because if we’re watching Fox news, et cetera, news that, that frames them as dangerous.
And of course we’re getting it from the government at one point that all of that will have an impact on how we vote for, for immigrant rights or anti-immigrants. so there’s been research that it’s [00:22:00] hard to show again, the one-to-one link, but the likelihood that someone will have a skewed and biased viewpoint, if they don’t have, if they don’t know anybody in real life is very high.
And so the research is it’s hard because, we, we consume media, but we also talk to people we’re in silos. There’s. There’s a lot of influences on how on racism and bias. But I think the fact that we spent so much time in front of a screen, the fact that we know that social media that Facebook was right, showing only certain content.
still now I think I just get certain content based on my political preferences. the whole advent of fake news and, there is fake news and then there’s dismissal. Real news is fake news that the media is just, if we’re not studying media, if we’re not thinking about media, then we are missing a huge part of how society functions and influences on everyday people.
Masami: Yeah, I see it as like when [00:23:00] we’re kids, we have the education system we’re in school and we’re doing something that’s where we’re getting a lot of our information. But as we grow older we turn on the TV, like we’re consuming that now. We’re seeing that as information and if it’s not just cartoons, we’re seeing real people, though they’re actors, we know they’re actors, but because we feel so emotionally attached to these characters that they become real.
They become like family with, especially like TV, like sitting with their family for a long time. And you feel like, no, these characters I can join with. I want them to have them for dinner. you might even see some people see characters as heroes to be able to Indiana Jones is hero. Like watching Pokemon right now I looked at how many episodes times 20 minutes. And I was like, Oh, season two is 18 hours. And knowing that it’s 25 seasons, like I’m all going to do these first two seasons, but that’s so much con consuming in there.
And then as we go, we’re adults, we’re not going to the education system anymore. We’re almost only watching TV. what we’re consuming on YouTube and Tik TOK, that’s what we’re going to get. with more screen time, more apps coming through, [00:24:00] a cyclical and in cell, so I’m glad we’re having discussions about what that means to our psychology and to our kids, to having iPads and iPhones.
So it’s just going to be, that’s going to be a new world.
Nancy Wang Yuen: that world is
The world’s been here for awhile and yeah, and I think that, soundbites people you talk about Tik TOK or, attention spans are shorter and it’s hard to explain racism and sexism and. conflict and all of that in a soundbite, racism is easy.
That’s a soundbite, racist ideas are easy. Like there, whatever, criminals, whatever, and are foreigners, they know they can’t be here like that. The hate is a soundbite. Hate is easy, right. But actually explaining how systemic racism and sexism works. That’s not a soundbite and it’s so much harder.
To represent. I think that’s why actually we need better narrative storytelling that actually dissects this, because I think that to have news coverage or [00:25:00] evenmaybe podcasts can do it, but I think people are only listening to what they want to listen. So minds and hearts are not being changed unless they are watching unless, the Avengers start being anti-racist right.
And I think that like the most recent Falcon and winter soldier, they are actually representing some microaggressions and and they’re dealing with some of that and I applaud, Disney for taking that on, but we need more of that. we need ways of conveying inequality in a package, in an entertaining way so that people will develop empathy for those who are.
being continuously victimized,rather than, telling people don’t want to hear, Because they just start again, labeling it as fake news or whatever, or propaganda or, liberal, whatever. I don’t even know all the things I try to. I try to avoid all the horrible things that they say about progressive messaging.
but I think that it’s storytelling that is actually going to be the key and that’s why we need more representation.
People don’t like to be told something. They won’t in the day, it’s about their [00:26:00] feelings. That’s what really matters to a lot of people. cause at the end of the day, that’s how they personally feel. So if we can get to their feelings really quick, with this just, Hey, and it’s just so easy to pick on that emotion, pluck that guitar string, but I’m really learning something and being told it, no one wants their mother to tell them something or the teacher to tell them something and just this.
Masami: Like just so direct. You gotta make them feel something. I think that’s why storytelling is just valuable in itself because then you’re showing them through they’re taking them on an emotional journey and saying, Hey, this is what people of color feel. And can you empathize with that?
That we would love that.
Nancy Wang Yuen: Yeah. And I think that if they see leads and they see leads where their stories are compelling and they can actually step into their shoes without realizing that they’re doing that. I think that’s, that would be very effective. It’s we need Asian leads to be so cool that you want to become like them, or you want to understand that they’re human, that they’re not foreigners, that they’re notor even if they are, [00:27:00] we can actually respect someone from another country rather than see them as threats.
So changing that narrative of the threatening foreigner and changing the narrative that all Asians must not be from here. Like those kind of stereotypes that Hollywood has banked on for so long that it’s become part of the culture. And I think that, all of us have grown up with that in Asian-Americanas Asian-Americans and I think that.
Nancy Wang Yuen: To try to tell all sorts of Asian American stories that encompass not just the immigrant experience, but someone like you, Japanese Americans, especially people who have been here several generations. And there’s Chinese Americans who have been here since, since the railroads. And and Filipino Americans in the South.
And, and and we have, Mungs in the Midwest in Minnesota, right? So we have so many stories that we’ve, I think have, one, maybe one telling of maybe on one television show, but we’re not seeing them it’s for glory,
Masami: Yeah. And who was telling those [00:28:00] stories too? that’s of it.
Nancy Wang Yuen: right? The Clint Eastwood story about the mung community.
That’s not exactly what we’re asking for. We’re asking for better representation.
Masami: Yeah. I want to get into your book, really inequality,Hollywood actors and racism. Cause I’ve been reading it. It’s like my Bible right now. It’s so with information studies testimonials statisticswhat inspired you to write this book and how did you come up with this study?
when I started to think about how to approach media as a sociologist, I was interested in how the industry worked. and I wanted to hear from the actors themselves. and so a lot of the, I interviewed a hundred actors actually, but I also interviewed not just actors of color.
Nancy Wang Yuen: So I interviewed Asian-American African-American Latin X. but I also interviewed white actors because as a sociologist, we like to have comparisons. We like to say, okay, cause it’s, if I only interviewed actors of color and they tell me that there’s racism. Then people could say it’s just [00:29:00] white afters, also experience, barriers.
but I did interview white actors and I asked them all the same questions. So I kept them standard. I actually never asked about racism. I had to come out from their interviews. And so White actors did not experience racism. it’s not like it’s so easy to become a star, but they did not experience the barriers.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And certainly not the kind of things that happen in audition rooms, casting, places where they were asked to be more black or be more Asian or do it with an accent or do it more spicy. all these kinds of racialized expectations like white actors did not receive those. and they weren’t typecast racially.
They weren’tthey could eat the character. Actors could play a whole variation of different kinds of roles. Whereas Asian, black, Latin X, they were. Usually typecast has one type of role, right? So the limitations was absolutely, there was divisions along racial lines. And so I really felt like I really felt yeah, that these stories were important, so important because [00:30:00] it’s one thing for people to talk about like representation, but to hear straight from actors who are actually experiencing what we experienced in everyday life, that people color BiPAP experience in everyday life, because we’re stereotyped wherever we go, right?
the anti-Asian hate crimes are absolutely stereotypes that are imposed on Asian-Americans, who are just minding their own business going on the subway, walking to church. And so I was really interested. I became really interested in how afters experienced and a lot of the actors of color.
Nancy Wang Yuen: Actually, one thing that I found was really. Interesting was that they felt this racial burden to represent their groups. like that was something that was unique to actors of color. They all understood, they didn’t read the research that I just shared with you, but they all understood that their representation, that their image has an impact on how people in their groups would be perceived.
So they, they would do all sorts of interesting things behind the scenes they would actually. So you don’t know what happens behind the scenes when you see the final image, but there were [00:31:00] actors who were asking, who are changing scripts, they’re rewriting their dialogue. So it doesn’t sound so stereotype, right?
Like a one. black woman actually rewrote all the, like the slang and the kind of eights to arts righteous. And then when she was challenged by the director, she’s I’m a, I’m working at a bank. I wouldn’t talk like this. So they would use rationales of authenticity rather than this is racist.
Like they could never say that on set. Even though that was what happened. and Asian American actorsasking to change costumes I don’t think I would, you’re wearing this like kimono working in the store. I’ll be working if I’m working in like this, the store 24 seven, or, whatever, 18 hours a day I would probably wearing close, And so they would, there was all these challenges. And then also ideas that, Oh, if I did this role, I can make it not racist. I will change it somehow. And Th that’s extra emotional work and just extra labor on the parts of actors of color having to do this work because they feel responsible, right.
Even [00:32:00] though they’re not the ones that wrote it, They’re not the ones that are directing it. And they’re not the costume department. They’re having to battle a little, a lot of different people in the industry just to make sure that the final image isn’t as racist as it was originally intended. So I really loved seeing that and hearing about it.
and just being able to understand that boy, people all over this country are fighting back and here are these actors of color who are really, at the receiving end of all this trying to do their best creatively and artistically to create alternate images within a system that is, that is not for them.
Masami: Yeah. And then being an actor of color then having to do the jobs of other people, because the, having to look at it and correct it, make a better narrative of it and to do a better job, but at the same time, like actors, don’t have to do that , because the default of like, when you book says, like the defaults white, and so if you’re casting directors having to find somebody and just as an open ethnicity, [00:33:00] the generally that default of this white, it’s a problem to think, how do you push that against it?
have to look at it and say, why can’t this be somebody else? Why can this be a person of color? What does that look like? And then when that happens, an Asian person will have to go to the script and say we have to change a little dialogue a little bit here because this is not right.
Or this costume feels weird. It’s not the same thing. just a whole extra labor that people have to go through. And so there’s a lot to be done. what was the most shocking thing that you found through your research?
Nancy Wang Yuen: I don’t think that people know that actors have very little control over. I think we think of, we worship actors as celebrities, as stars, but they really, once they sign that contract and like I have one African-American after tell me that. He had signed a contract was flown to like probably Georgia or something.
some like some part of it’s a part of the country where there’s tax, tax breaks and they’re filming something. and he didn’t know in the script that he would be hanging himself at the end of the story [00:34:00] that was not told to him. And he had already signed the contract. And he was so devastated to have to play it.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And he was shaking. He was upset and because he didn’t want the lynching image, To B Disseminated to who knows where. and so he had no, no power to be able to say, let’s not do that. Cause he’s just a middle-class journeyman, working after, andmost of the screen is populated by working actors.
When we think of actors, we only think of the celebrities, but really a movie or a television show can’t be made without all the other actors that are populating the screen. So with all the, popular procedural shows, all the crime shows, there’s always guest stars, right? Every single week, the people that are the victims, the people that are the criminals right.
Nancy Wang Yuen: Every week, it’s a different cast. and so I think that people don’t think about these actors and how they’re not privileged there. They have to audition. they have to take what they’re given. And so it’s, I think, having this [00:35:00] focus on those actors, I realized how powerless they were and how much work they had to put, to even do anything, to, to combat racism.
and at the same time, they, they keep going. And I think the kind of motivation for all of us to keep going is to see that here are people who are working industry, where everything is stacked up against them. Even now, like one of the actors is Asian American on Twitter. And he’s a working actor who has to audition. He says that he’s still being asked to do an accent in every audition. He goes to. this is like, hello, post crazy rotations. You think that everything’s going to get better, because you see, you just see Steven Yamila, getting a an Oscar nomination or but the truth is that there are still those stereotypes for the everyday after of color. So Asian-American actors are still dealing with the same problematic criteria that we’ve seen, since the beginning of Hollywood. So I think that, yeah, that Mo I was shocked just to know, like what the average after color has to deal with.
[00:36:00] And. And yet I was also likeonce I found out I was, yeah, why even do it can barely get a job as an actor. And then on top of that, you have to do it all these isms. it’s already crushing to be rejected, but then it’s crushing to have to portray stereotypes.
But you know, these are actors who really love their craft. They just want to be able to perform right. They love being able to embody another person. They love the art of it. A lot of them are trained actors. And they’re doing what they’re passionate about. They’re pursuing their passions and they’re so many of them are activists, right?
They’re actually doing things to actually make society better through the representation. So that was, I was very inspired by them as well.
I think one of the most shocking things was the whole Be more black, be more Asian and how that’s literally against the law of this 1964 title seven civil rights code. Like, Whoa, how are we not seeing this as a law breaking thing? and how to change that? they say it’s just freedom of speech, right? It’s just freedom to be there. It just serves the [00:37:00] storytelling. It’s not that they’re racist. They’re telling a story that’s this way. So they get away with a lot. They can hire people based on race. They can, they don’t have to abide by, the laws that all other careers are, have to abide by because they can use the first amendment of free speech as their excuse.
Masami: Yeah. I want to try to change that somehow. Somehow I love to take on the Rooney rule. I think that’s something that’s helpful in how to start changing these things, but yeah, and just I’m interested in law and how that works. Butas a studio consultant and working with Asian media andconsulting students and getting them to think a different way how do you work with studies?
how do you them to see that this is that they should be changing and working with for the betterment of not only the community and society, but for themselves to look one, look better as PR, but two financially, they’re going to have more people watch the good stuff than not watch the stuff that we don’t see ourselves in.
Nancy Wang Yuen: I think the studios obviously are interested in the bottom line [00:38:00] and the fact that social media has been able to protest problematic images, especially white washing, scar Johansen with ghost in the shell. That movie bombed partly because, and the producers admitted that was probably because of the protests and the social media uproaragainst whitewashing.
And so they are concerned about that because now it’s threatening their bottom line, but it also means that everyday people can get on social media and actually rant. And it actually, if it goes viral, it could be taken up by, by the news media and make studios think twice.
But I, I have, I’ve actually have consulted with CEOs who are interested in, and this is based on my consultations, knowing that studios clinical care more because they don’t want to. They don’t want, protest to, to threaten their box office success. And and I think that some of them do also want to do right.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And hopefully, especially with the idea that maybe they can reach Asian markets to actually, tap that [00:39:00] market. So why not have a more Asian representation, although it’s not necessarily Asian-American in order to reach Asian markets. So then there’s that money to be made there. and so I think there is more interest in telling Asian-American stories for that purpose.
But Hollywood hasn’t been really good. look at Milan. It just didn’t do that well. Because they didn’t do it. Correctly. They try to check off certain boxes okay, we have a star in China, with Louis Fe and we have, Asian Americans and we have whatever costume research that the costumer said that she went to some European museum about Chinese called.
I think they just, they don’t quite, and they did have Chinese consultants. But the problem, when you hire consultants, they’re not going to challenge you. in that way. They’re not going to say this is racist. I will. But with studios actually, I’ve realized that I my very blunt consultations, don’t always,
Nancy Wang Yuen: what they want to hear.
It’s I’m always was going to be blunt because I’m a sociologist and I’m not consulting for my own gain. I’m [00:40:00] consulting to hopefully change, the way that race is whatever conceptualize in a more authentic way that if you’re going to represent Asian and Asian-Americans, and it’s not just Asian Americans.
Nancy Wang Yuen: I think we have a pretty good group of. Critics of color. they’re not as powerful as they could be, but we have people who are very active on social media, across groups that will come together and say, we do not want to see it whitewash version of this. Or we don’t want to see a reconstructionist story about, where the South Reno won the civil war.
Like there, there were all these kinds of things, stories that were, that were announced that a lot of protested, We protest is something that was absolutely something that nobody wants to see.
And so I think we actually saved the money from producing right. Producing trash, essentially that no one’s going to watch. So I think that yeah, I think they call it council culture, but I think that it’s actually, it’s. Audiences [00:41:00] speaking up about things that we don’t want to see.
at least in the examples that I gave. and so I think that, yeah, that’s that this is where we’re trying to make a difference and not just it’s not cultural consultation to be PC, but these, this is actually reflecting the reality of tastes and desires of a changing demographic.
Masami: It’s great that , we have the ability to speak up on that and that they’re listening. I remember that civil war thing and I was like, no, that should not happen because that’s going to be wasting many questions. we only have a few minutes left, but I would love to know what’s the message you want future agents and entertainment to take away.
what’s exciting to me is more and more Asian Americans storytellers. so filmmakers that are also telling their own story like Lee, Isaac Chung, and Lulu Wong, who are telling their childhood stories and writing it and directing it. So the fact that this is happening, of course, through the indigence film routes studios haven’t jumped on it, but eight to four is like the distributor of [00:42:00] all these Asian American independent films.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And I think that for our future Asian American actors, to really seek out these kinds of stories, To not just only, to diversify, certainly, you want to do the studio films whenever you can, but. But it’s these authentic stories that are really going to be the meaty juicy roles that actually can get Oscar nominations.
This is so exciting, right? to have these for the first time. I was just wait. I remember when crazy rich Asians came out, I was like, I just want to see an Asian American drama that is going to get, Oscar hoopla over that people are just going to like it, get excited and actually give us awards for telling stories that are going to touch the heart.
and it’s only been a few years, That the malaria has come out and really been able to, to showcase Asian-American voices and acting ability. So I think that we just need more of these kinds of stories. I really want to see stories coming out of the diaspora and the Asian American [00:43:00] community that all the different kinds of stories and the stories that we haven’t heard of yet.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And there’s so many that are. Left to tell so many, because I feel like 90% of my childhood has not been told. so like I’m writing a novel, And I think now is the time to write more because Asia cause a lot of these stories if we think about crazy rich Asians and even like little fires everywhere, there are a lot of these are coming out of Asian American novelists, Who are put Pachinko is going to be coming out. and so all of these stories. Are emerging because Asian American novelists rock, their stories are amazing. I can’t put these stories down and they’ve actually always been around, Jolla club right. was fantastic. And and so I think that’s, we all just need to tell our own stories and, I’m working on a speculative, a novel that deals with I haven’t actually.
So you’re going to be like the first person that I’ve told publicly that there’s going to be, there’s going to be romance. There’s going to be high travel. That’s what I, that’s the kind of, that’s the stuff that I love. I love that stuff. And and we haven’t seen [00:44:00] enough of like speculative Asian American stories.
they’re out there. They’re definitely out there, but in terms of like movies and TV shows, if I think about Asian culture, like I grew up in type, so this is going back to Taiwan again, I feel like alternate universe and time travel and time warps. that’s very much in like the culture that I grew up in, because I think reincarnation right is very much a part of East Asian.
Nancy Wang Yuen: And so the idea that you can have a different life or multiple lives, or you can go back and change your life, like all those ideas are fresh here because, I, because Western storytelling always revolves around the Messiah singular hero, Or a group of heroes, but it’s not like the way that we, I think we think about.
we think about storytelling in, in in Eastern culture. there’s much more ensemble there’s interconnectedness and how our lives all impact. One another. I think that kind of storytelling, I think we need [00:45:00] that storytelling. We need more compassionate and more empathy and more, more communal society, ideas because the individual, all, everybody out for themselves that hasn’t helped our society at all.
our society is in trouble and I think we need alternate ways of telling stories. And I think that Asian-American actors and Asian American creatives can absolutely make that happen.
Masami: Yeah, all it comes down to the writing and who’s telling that story. So all you create creators out there. start writing get that practice in and just start creating. And for our last few minutes, we do a closing rapid fire question. what are you cooking these days?
Nancy Wang Yuen: what am I cooking? I am making, I learned over the pandemic while everybody else was making sourdough bread. I made scallion pancake, which is actually harder than it looks no yeast involved, but you do need to let it rise and then you need to roll it out and then you need to put the scallions in and then roll it again.
And then you fry it and it’s delicious, but it takes a little bit of work.
Masami: What are you reading?
Nancy Wang Yuen: I just finished kindred, if you haven’t read kids by Octavia Butler [00:46:00] it was 1979, but it feels like it’s written today. So it’s a speculative novel about time travel and I read it and it was, it totally actually made me change my entire novel because I love the way that she did.
Did she? She did. Time-travel actually. And it’s about, yeah, it’s about someone in the 1970s, traveling back to antebellum, South and experiencing slavery as a, as a modern African-American woman. it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s not a, it’s not a romcom novel at all, but I think I finished in one morning.
It was that compelling. So that’s what I’m reading.
Masami: And what are you watching?
Nancy Wang Yuen: I am watching this show called the irregulars on Netflix. it’s got a North Irish Chinese lead.It’s about Sherlock Holmes times. It’s completely paranormal with teens, but the lead is in , Asian, Irish. I don’t even, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before Asian, Irish actress.
Nancy Wang Yuen: so she’s [00:47:00] completely new. And she is like she’s also like really bad ass, like really?
Oh. And the show’s already been renewed for season two, as I’m looking up because she is. And she’s the lead.
Okay. So she’s the
which is I don’t know why it’s so amazing to me to even conceptualize that. And so it’s I think because it’s I’ve never seen her before and she’s the lead it’s, that’s rare, right?
Where you, when someone, when an Asian after is the lead, that they’ve been in tons of things that you’ve seen, but here I’ve never seen this person before in my life. And I had to look her up and I was just, I was we’re still in a moment where we’re shocked when we see Asian leads, Because they’re still so rare. Her name is Sattia Graham. I hope I’m saying that. Could be Fadia. I’m not familiar with the
British name or Irish names. Graham. and. And she’s not, she defies stereotype because she’s not ultra feminine. [00:48:00] She’s very she’s not a dragon lady. She’s this kind of heart of this group where she’s the strength.
She’s also the compassion. She has a little silly romance because why not? It’s teen stuff. but she’s deep and she’s complex in a paranormal kind of period piece. And I’d love, I love those steam punk things, because I feel like there’s not enough where people of color are appearing in them because we want to be in fantasies too.
It’s a fantasy, it’s a fantasy. It needs to be like, only, and this one is there’s, it’s multicultural, it’s very diverse. and so that’s what I’m watching and I’m really enjoying it because, I need. Things where people are slaying demons. Cause that’s what it
Nancy Wang Yuen: feels like in society.
We need to slay some racist demons. And so being able to see that happening on screen is cathartic and it’s fun. And the fact that she is the lead is just. It’s so fun. it’s not an Oscar Emmy winning probably show, [00:49:00] but we don’t, not everything. Although I guess game of Thrones broke that mold where fantasy did start to get awarded, but game of Thrones had no idea, like had no, it did have like very few.
I didn’t even, I didn’t watch that show because it didn’t have enough people of color. And I didn’t appreciate that. And even though I love, I read fantasy just knowing that a show has dragons, not enough people color is just, it just made me so angry. And of course I talk about the show a lot because that show is a prime example of show runners who have never worked in television to white men getting their own show.
And so it’s a PR. So I talk about it a lot because it’s such an interesting case study of privilege. And and, but I’m, I want to see that show, but with people of color and, and I feel like the irregulars is is doing something like that. And, Netflix is. it’s really, it really is more diverse, I think than a lot of the other, things I’m also watching young rock.
Nancy Wang Yuen: I love
Masami: That’s so great. [00:50:00] I haven’t got up yet
Nancy Wang Yuen: I haven’t watched a sit-com since I don’t even know when, since a different world,
I just have not because the whole night, the whole like late the nineties and two thousands, like I just started to disassociate from sitcoms and now I’m back because of young rock, because it’s so great.
I love all the representation and yeah, so it’s heartwarming. It makes you feel good about yourself at the, I need things to really either be like killing of demons or you’re going to laugh and love a family to death. So that’s where I have in
Nancy Wang Yuen: terms of my consumption.
Masami: I’m so thankful more sitcoms to coming out with Asian people. I just can they Canada? obviously I have Kim’s convenience, but second gen I was, it gave me a screening of that and it’s online. I’ll send you a link, but J E N N. They have three, three seasons out too. It’s like a broad city
It’s just so much fun. I have you’ll die laughing. It’s
Nancy Wang Yuen: Oh, I love it. I love the Canadian show. Actually. I’ll take that back. I think Kim’s convenience was what got me back into sitcoms. Although [00:51:00] I still, I was still like, Oh, I’m not sure, butbut I really love their their brand of humor. And also I’ve met almost all the cast and they are so lovely. I
love Canadian Asians, not to say that Canadian Asians are the
Masami: so many, there’s the settlement up and wish they had the star power, they keep telling me there’s no star in Canada. I’m like, we gotta have some more.
we have single Lou is going to
Nancy Wang Yuen: be on shape once that breaks out. he’s already a big star, but I think going to be even bigger. for it.