I hadn’t really thought about it much since being Asian my skin is light enough that I am almost white. I forget that I am viewed as different. I remember when I first moved to LA I did some extra work for TV shows to earn a little money and the only roles I would get called in for were the me-so-horny, girl hookers or a nurse. I didn’t really care, I needed the job. I found my niche as a costume designer on such hit shows as The Wonder Years, Party of Five, Jack & Jill and What I Like About You. I worked with some of the most talented people in Hollywood and they seemed to really appreciate me and my diversity. They treated me like gold. Regardless, I noticed that for the most part, the writers, producers and directors were mostly men and all white. There were always a few women which was good but never an asian, black or hispanic. I remember we had to cast the one black friend for the group of kids in a scene from The Wonder Years, but only one because two or three black kids would mean Kevin Arnold was going to get into trouble.
My first Sundance panel I found myself on a stage with the heads of YouTube, Netflix and iTunes. I thought they must have made a mistake, my company was so young and I’m a total nobody. I asked how they chose me. The panel organizer said, “We needed a woman and some color and you filled both requirements check, check!” Well, okay I thought. I’ll take it.
Cut to 2016. I am always treated with such politeness and in my role as co-founder and CEO of IndieFlix I am often in board rooms with all white men pitching my business model to raise money and the response is, “This is a great model. Who helped you with it?” Or even better… “You must travel a lot, who watches your kids?” I know these guys are just being nice and making conversation or just plain curious how I do it all. It’s not them, its societal programming. I am sure that if you asked any one of them they would say they view women as complete equals. I think we all wrestle with unconscious bias. I used to think stay-at-home dads couldn’t find a job. Now I know better. So how do we make change? Diversity and inclusion, gender and ethnic equity and equality are a good start. I am not even remotely knowledgeable in this arena. So, I feel a little out of place talking about it but its really important that we address it. We need to see more women, more color and more ethnicity in writing, directing, leading actor and producing roles. We also need a lot more women investors. Thankfully technology today allows us to tell our stories and bypass the Hollywood gatekeepers. The audience supports us through crowd-funding and we can now prove that the return on investment for content, written, directed or starring diverse talents is real and meaningful.
In fashion they say the street influences the runway. I see the independent film space as the street and Hollywood as the runway and I think the street can most definitely influence the runway. We have the technology. We must make the films we want to see. We don’t need to ask for permission any more.
Sometimes things fly out of my mouth and I’m hearing it for the first time… thoughts I didn’t even know I had… The other night when I was on a Women in Film panel about diversity, I made a statement and as I said/heard it for the first time I could feel a change in me, “I now feel an even greater responsibility to make IndieFlix a huge success because as a woman of color and a CEO in a white, male, dominated industry I’m not just doing this for the filmmakers, the movie lovers, my team, my investors and my family but for other women who aspire to lead disrupt and change the world. I am a role model and I want to be a great one.”
I was privileged to be on this WIF panel with the talented, Brian McDonald, Eli Kimaro, Kathy Hsieh, Tracy Rector and Roger Tang. Thank you Virginia Berta Bogert for putting it together and Isabella Price for your incomparable moderation.
I learned a lot. Some of the comments and ideas were tweeted. Here are a few standouts.
“Being the subject of our own stories not the object in someone else’s” @elikimaro #TSTdiversity
“It’s about #diversity, but it’s also about #representation. We need good role models.” @IndieFlixCEO #TSTdiversity
“We’ve built an infrastructure in America to make $ from black bodies, but not from black minds.” @BeeMacDee1950 #tstdiversity #mediaequity
“A black writer won’t get hired to write for white characters, but who knows the other better?” @BeeMacDee1950 #tstdiversity
#tstdiversity I will find a way or make one! Thank you @elikimaro