Searching for Anna May Wong Press Conference on Nov 12, 2020

On November 12, 2020, filmmaker Quentin Lee and the cast of “Searching for Anna May Wong,” that includes Natasha Liu, Amy Hill, Anthony Ma, Albert Park, Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa and publicist Matt Rivera, held a press conference via Zoom and discuss their upcoming film release. Below is the full transcript of the press conference.

Press Conference for “Searching for Anna May Wong”

Quentin Lee: This is like brand new for me, so I’m recording right now. So don’t say anything you don’t want to say. I’ll be right here. So I’m Quentin Lee, I’m the producer of Searching for Anna May Wong. And I just have a housekeeping item to talk to you guys about. It’s that I just received an email from Laemmle yesterday saying that theaters are not going to be open on time for our theatrical. So unfortunately, we’re not going to be premiering theatrically on the 20th. But we have moved up the streaming release date to November 20. And by SVOD is going to be on, and then TVOD is going to be on Amazon Instant Video. So that’s the news of the day and go to Natasha.

Natasha Liu: Hi, I’m Natasha. I am an actor, I’m obviously in the documentary. Yeah, I’m just quarantining right now. I got a cat and he’s sleeping. I just got him a few weeks ago. His name is Kitty Cat, super cute. Yeah, I guess that I don’t know because I should care about myself, but that’s me right now.

Quentin Lee: How about Amy?

Amy Hill: I’m Amy Hill, and I’m an actor. I’m currently blessed to be working on Magnum P.I. we are shooting. So I have a job. And I feel fortunate about that. And also, I’m located in Honolulu, which has very low COVID cases, which makes me very happy as well. Yeah, it’s very nice to be here. I have to say and it was a privilege to be a part of this documentary.

Quentin Lee: Matt.

Matt Rivera: Hi, I’m Matt Rivera. I am the publicist for the film, and I’ll be moderating and taking questions from any journalists.

Quentin Lee: Kurt.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Hi, My name is Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa. I am an actor. I started off as an opera singer. And then I became an actor. And now I’m here in Los Angeles to quarantine, maybe a bad gym purchase, and everything else is good.

Quentin Lee: Albert.

Albert Park: Hi, my name is Albert Park. I’m an actor. I was asked to be a part of this project by Natasha and Quentin, and I’m happy to be here, yeah. The reason for this is because I have two children in the next room. So apologies for that if you guys hear that, so thanks for having me.

Quentin Lee: And Anthony.

Anthony Ma: How’s it going guys? My name is Anthony Ma I’m an actor. I also have a kid over here, I don’t have my headphones on. So if you hear him, he’s watching Masha and the Bear.

Quentin Lee: How old is the kid?

Anthony Ma: He’s a year now.

Quentin Lee: Oh, congratulations.

Anthony Ma: Yeah. Thank you.

Quentin Lee: Mine’s four.

Anthony Ma: I’m very happy to be here with you guys. Very honored.

Quentin Lee: Well, thank you for coming to this press conference. So I’m just going to tell you the story of my involvement with the film. So around 2017 filmmaker Z. Eric Yang came to me and said, “Well I have this idea I want to do this documentary on Asian American actress. And I know you work with a lot of them. And do you think you can produce it? And help me with it?” I said, “Sure.” And so we started interviewing anyone from Sandra Oh, to Tzi Ma to contacts between me and Eric. We interviewed maybe like about 20 talents.

Quentin Lee: And then a year later, he’s supposed to edit it. And then he says, “Quentin, I have no idea what to do with this footage.” I said, “Eric, are you kidding me?” and then I thought well I’d let him wait it out and see what he’s going to do, and then another year passed by, two years down the road I reached out to Eric and said, “Hey, what if you’re not doing anything with it, can I take the footage and try to finish this film?” And he said, “Sure, go ahead.” So he gave me the footage, he dropped me off the drive of about 40 hours of footage.

Quentin Lee: And I’m just kind of sitting at it and not sure what to do with it. And I’ve got another editor on board and he sat on it for six months and never did anything. So I finally, beginning of this year returned to Denise Chen, who’s a friend of mine and an editor and a director, a producer. I knew her back like 20 years ago from Singapore, she was a producer at Discovery Channel. And I said, “Denise do you think can cut this together? Because you can have a co directors credit and it’ll be really great for your career.” And she sort of took on the plunge and started cutting and then that basically brings us to now, that we finally finished the film, three years after.

Quentin Lee: And then actually Denise also brought up that while the film has evolved so much that in the beginning it’s more about Asian American actors, we tried to do the Anna May Wong angle. So we interviewed Anna Wong, who’s the grandniece of Anna May Wong and then it’s sort of shifted more towards a personal story about Natasha’s personal struggle. And so at the end of the day, it’s really Denise and Natasha save the movie because we’re able to finish because they’re able to open up and let us tell their stories. Tell your story, Natasha. So I’m going to pass it on to you. And you can talk a little bit about your involvement in your story, and the drama.

Natasha Liu: Okay. So I initially found out about this documentary through Z. Eric Yang, and I actually auditioned for a feature film that he and Quentin were working on called Crossing. And during the audition process, he sent me an email asking if I was interested in taking part in a documentary and interviewing a bunch of Asian and Asian American actors. And I thought, that sounds really cool like, y’all have gotten such a great group of people together and yeah, I would love to interview them. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. But we just went all across LA going to people’s homes and interviewing them and just on the fly, just shooting all these interviews.

Natasha Liu: Like Quentin said, we did a bunch of interviews, and I got to interview Amy Hill, who’s right here, and Sandra Oh, and James Hong, and a bunch of super cool people, lam slim, and I was really excited about it. But yeah, a year went by another year went by, and I was like what’s going to happen with this project? I don’t know. And then Eric told me that he wasn’t on board anymore, and I got really worried.

Natasha Liu: I just kept waiting and then during quarantine of all times, Quentin reached out to me, and Denise did as well. And they said, “Okay, the last piece of this puzzle that we need is your story because we think that’s the only thing that can connect all these puzzle pieces together.” And I was like, “Okay, sure. What do you need?” So we did a zoom call, and then another zoom call and an interview and a bunch of other stuff over the internet, which is how we’re here today. But I think it’s just really interesting how things work in LA, one day you could just be auditioning for one thing and they could ask you to do other stuff. And yeah, kind of magical I guess.

Quentin Lee: Great. How about we go to Anthony because I know you got involved quite early on and actually, Eric brought you on, and I wasn’t even at the shoot.

Anthony Ma: Yeah, Eric. I haven’t heard from him, right? Yes so Eric, I can’t quite remember when I bumped into him or how I bumped into him, but he asked me if I could be a part of this project. I was like, “Great idea.” He asked me if I knew Natasha, I was like, “I love Natasha I knew her,” “And do you know Quentin.” I love Quentin, I’m like, “Come on, I know these people.” This Asian American community can be quite small. So we’re all rubbing shoulders quite often. So yeah it was just a no brainer. Of course, I would come on and share my experience. And I’m very, very happy that at least someone picked up the slack and just finished this because I’ve been waiting and yeah, thank you, Quentin. This is great.

Quentin Lee: Sure. And Kurt you can talk a little about your involvement because I know you guys shot a play and you guys did a bunch of stuff that I actually wasn’t there shooting.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Yeah. I was actually introduced to your Eric Yang through Natasha. I used to pre quarantine do a lot of reading. Just hosted them with a lot of writers and prioritized by pop writers, and actors as well. And Natasha had her script read actually, the Jira which is the one that’s also featured in the documentary. And so Eric came and filmed the whole reading and everything and got these really beautiful shots.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: And then he started to talk to me more. And I told him about this play that I was in with Tim Dang, who was the director of matters of East West Players, longest running theater of color in America. And the play was all for Asian Americans, so very much on topic for this documentary. And for me, I was just really grateful to be involved because I had just come back from Italy, I had just started doing TV stuffs over there, and then I came here and I really had no credits or anything at the time he was filming and interviewing me. I was introduced to a lot of people through this film and I’m really grateful. So thank you very much, Quentin and Natasha.

Quentin Lee: Well, thank you. I’m going to go to Amy, and then going to end with Albert because Albert came on later, pretty much at the end of the shoot. And Amy, let’s talk a little bit about your involvement and…

Amy Hill: Well, when you call me and ask me to do things all the time and what do I say? Yes.

Quentin Lee: Yes.

Amy Hill: So I wasn’t aware really of what it was. I feel like I’m always doing things and I looked at and of course I’m like it would have been nice to have better hair and makeup, but it’s the real me sitting in my backyard of my deck. And it was wonderful meeting Natasha, did I know you before that?

Natasha Liu: No.

Amy Hill: No. You were just so delightful, and so open. And I just felt really comfortable with you immediately so it was easy. I hope it was easy to edit because I’m sure I just went on and on and on. But Thank you very much. It’s always been good. Whatever I’ve said yes to has turned out good.

Quentin Lee: I’m glad-

Amy Hill: Thank you. I know.

Quentin Lee: An outfit is actually the latest addition to the project and actually we’re in need of a dad to be Cast in Natasha’s short film. And you can talk a little bit about that.

Albert Park: Yeah, so Natasha and I were in a play at the Geffen Playhouse Man of God, which had nine preview performances before it was shut down for COVID. And yeah that was tragic. But hey, we got to be seen by nine audiences. So we’re blessed to have that at least. And after locked down, it was just a big low. And then all of a sudden, I get this text from Natasha, or might have been an email. And she said, she’s working on this documentary and she would love it if I’d be a part of it. So we set up a Zoom meeting, like we do now. And I met Quentin and Denise through that. And we had a nice chat. And then we actually, I think in the following days, we met up with three school aged children, who would possibly play my son to audition with me. So that was a really interesting time because that was my first zoom audition ever. So that was a kind of a new frontier for me.

Albert Park: And then, a few weeks following that we met in a black box in Hollywood. And as Quentin tells it, it was the only one that was renting. Like all of them were closed down. And that was the only one that was renting. So we filmed our scene in there, Natasha’s scene that she wrote. And yeah, that’s why I’m here today. And I’m very thankful to be here. When I first heard about the list of luminaries that were involved in this, I was like, “Oh, yeah. I have to do this. I’m obligated to say yes, this is amazing.” So I’m very, very proud to be here.

Quentin Lee: Great. Well, thank you. And actually, that was my first time shooting in COVID. And also testing out my COVID compliance officer certificate, which I’ve gotten in.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Congratulations.

Quentin Lee: Thank you. I think we can open up the questions to the press, and then maybe I can even bring them on and they can ask questions. Matt, how do you want to do it?

Matt Rivera: So I wrote in the chat if they wanted to ask questions directly there and then I can relay it to you guys. So attendees, feel free to start typing up your questions. Otherwise, Quentin you said you could-

Quentin Lee: I can actually allow them to. I think I can put them on.

Matt Rivera: Okay, you can like spotlight people?

Quentin Lee: Yes.

Matt Rivera: Okay.

Quentin Lee: Maybe anybody who want to raise their hands and then I can just put you on and then you can ask questions.

Matt Rivera: How about for a general question. Quentin, how did you get some of the talent involved like Sandra and James and Tzi and what was your connection to them?

Quentin Lee: Yeah, Sandra I met through just basically a kind of Canadian connection through Helen, my filmmaker friend. Anyway, so we had dinner a couple of times and then I just asked my friend, how’s that to you? Can you hold me up Sandra because Eric wanted to interview her and so she said yes. And she invited us to her backyard and we shot the interview. And with Tzi I’ve actually worked with Tzi on a low budget horror film called Chink that got retitled to Number One Serial Killer. And I really enjoyed hanging out with Tzi, so I said I’ve got to interview Tzi So.

Matt Rivera: Very cool. And what was it like interviewing or getting to know Sandra a bit? Natasha?

Natasha Liu: She provided a lot of really good life advice and industry advice. She’s just such a great energy, she walks into a space and then she changes the air, changes the energy, she’s just a force to be reckoned with. I think one of the most useful pieces of advice that she told me was like people like Christopher Nolan and the Coen brothers, they don’t write for people like us. And we shouldn’t get mad about us. They just write from their own experiences. So we should instead work with people that actually do write for us and collaborate with those who appreciate us and want to make work for us. I think another really useful piece of advice that she told me was that as Asians, we must accept the culture that we come from. But in order to break through in the industry, we have to break the rules and break away from the culture that we came from, and start finding freedom in ourselves if we want to see change. So it’s like, embrace where you came from, but also break the glass ceiling, breaks the rules, do your own thing.

Matt Rivera: It’s awesome. Does anyone here can they kind of share if anyone wants to? So Abesi Manyando, she just asked, “What do you want Hollywood to understand about the Asian struggle in film?” Why don’t we start with Amy and then go from there.

Amy Hill: I feel like I don’t know if I can get anybody to understand our struggle. Unless they come from where we come from because they don’t have the experience of it. But I would like them to not dismiss us when we talk about what our struggle is, to listen. Basically all I want is just people to listen. So that we can maybe affect change, and affect change from the other side of the camera with directors and writers and producers who will give us the opportunity to be diverse in our careers, doing different kinds of things because I know that within the Asian community, I’m accepted as Asian American. Whatever I’m doing, it started out in theater. But when I started doing things in Hollywood, it was like, I didn’t look quite right or I didn’t do this right. I’m like, What do you know, you white person? Telling me an Asian American, that I’m not right or sometimes they say, don’t do the accent. And I’m like, well I come from my mother who speaks with a heavy accent, I know I can do a real human, and the accents just a layer. And this character I feel like because they’re an immigrant, probably has some little bit of an accent. Anyway it’s just hard working with people who don’t come from our culture. So I would love the ability to have that freedom to express myself in any way I want to, the choices I make.

Matt Rivera: Awesome. Did anyone else want to chime in? And then I have a question from Rachel from Entertainment Weekly after that.

Anthony Ma: I can chime in. This question is great because I feel like as Asian American actors, we’ve been sort of like props to certain say jokes or stereotypes. I can go back to when I was seven and when I was a kid, I had no opportunity to be on Seven Years in Tibet. But they said my eyes weren’t slanted enough, or small enough. Oh, okay. But it’s a background role. And then another audition came up when I was in probably early ’20s. And it was a bunch of us in the audition room. And then there was a sign that said, “If you’re offended by this material, you don’t have to audition.” We read it and it happened to be a tourist that was overlooking a big Godzilla shaped white dude. And he happened to be naked, destroying a town and our only line was to look through the binoculars, and then put down the binoculars and say in a very stereotypical accent, “Wow, I’ve never seen one that big.” And of course, that alludes to something, right?

Anthony Ma: So we’ve been through a lot, that’s the struggle. And obviously, it’s improved a lot more, right? But there’s still a lot more room a lot more stuff that we can improve on. But yeah, I feel like what Amy said, and what everyone’s reiterating we’ve experienced our own stories that we have these opportunities to fill in Asians in the writer room, the directors, behind the scenes, these are people that have actually experienced and know our struggles, and really amplify it and spotlight those things and respect our culture in some kind of way. And I think that’s happening, which is great.

Matt Rivera: Yes, Natasha.

Natasha Liu: Bouncing off of what Anthony was talking about. I really agree with what you said. And I believe progress has been made, but there’s still so much more work to be done. I have friends who tell me, “oh, I don’t think racism is an issue anymore in Hollywood. It’s pretty diverse now, isn’t it?” But we have made progress, but there are still breakdowns that say monolids, pinky skin, no spots, must be a certain type of Asian woman that just came out like I think a month ago or a few weeks. That was a huge scandal. But it’s like we have made progress, but stuff like that still happens. Like a well known casting director actually asked for my nationality after an audition, and that according to SAG rules, that’s not allowed. And would she have asked that to a white actor? Probably not. So it’s like work has been done, but we still need to do more work to move forward.

Amy Hill: Yeah, I feel like I could play somebody from London, I could play somebody. Because you’ll say, “I can do a British accent,” and they’ll say, Well then. I remember years ago, Bob Newhart had some casting thing… in the old days for you older people, you could go to a secret hiding place and unlock a box and you can find the breakdown on your own. Now it’s available to everybody, but I saw on The Bob Newhart show there was a character that I thought I could play. And I asked my agent and the agent said, “There are no Asians in Vermont,” and I went, it’s not they’re not even aware of their racism, they’re not aware. This is why we have to make as actors. We also have to take some responsibility for waking people up to we can play anything. Even if we look a certain way, there’s always a way to rationalize how we look with the character. Anyway.

Matt Rivera: And that’s why this film is very important and speaking up about this is really, really great. So going to Rachel’s question she asked, “As this film has been in development for a few years now, did seeing Anna May Wong’s story reach a broader audience with PBS Asian Americans doc and Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood have any impact when making the film or galvanizing you to make it.” So then anyone ever catch the Anna May Wong storyline in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix show?

Quentin Lee: Yes, I can talk a little about that was I think all these shows that develop literally parallel to us developing Searching for Anna May Wong. So again, in the beginning, we were just going to plan on doing like a general documentary about Asian American actress, and then we thought, oh, we’re interviewing like Anna Wong’s grandniece, we should maybe geared more towards Anna May Wong and we thought we actually had an actress on board and she was going to maybe write a play about becoming Anna May Wong.

Quentin Lee: So the final performance, we’re thinking, oh, maybe she could do a dance almost kind of become Anna May Wong, and then at the end that didn’t happen. So we still thought, well let’s call it Searching for Anna May Wong because it’s like searching for Bobby Fischer. It’s just really in the spirit of Anna May Wong but also telling the stories of all these multiple stories of these Asian American actors, and also Natasha’s story. So that’s kind of how it evolved. And by the time I saw Hollywood, and also the Asian American series on PBS, this film is already getting done and edited. So that’s kind of where we at.

Matt Rivera: Thanks. Elizabeth Rust asked, “Do you feel films like Crazy Rich Asians have helped, as in moving, or advancing Asian visibility in Hollywood?”

Quentin Lee: What do you guys think?

Albert Park: I actually brought that out during my interview portion because I think Natasha asked something similar to that, do you think things are getting better? And I felt that it was because movies like Crazy Rich Asians, shows like Kim’s Convenience and Fresh Off the Boat. These were all kind of and their predecessors too I think it’s been a few years before that since something like a phenomenon like Crazy Rich Asians happen. I think the last one was probably like, Joy Luck Club, where it was just the whole cast was Asian and Asian American. So I believe that it was helpful because it brought a couple of things it brought to bear that we have people, creative teams behind the camera, as well as in front of the camera, the content creators, that can make things that will affect people regardless of where you come from.

Albert Park: Second, it also brought to bear the fact that there’s a market out there for us, and that people want to see us and hear our stories. And so that was a very important moment, I think for Hollywood, in that money talks. And once you get audiences to appreciate. I can’t remember the box office numbers Quinten, but it made a big splash. And I think that really kind of opens eyes and makes people aware that we have something to say.

Quentin Lee: Absolutely because before, I think Crazy Rich Asians, I think that everything is working towards this environment for Crazy Rich Asians to become so profitable. But at the same time that’s really a milestone and a marker, just to say that, “Hey, you know what? We can actually because back when I was going to film school, both Justin Lin and I have written all these screenplays with Asian American protagonist, feature screenplays and people say that you can never make that.” It would be inconceivable to submit a screenplay with an Asian American protagonist to any type of studio or any type of production company. So we are basically forced to make our films for your independent budgets, like a couple hundred thousands under million kind of level, whereas I think Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell and those waves of movies become a milestone saying that, yes, now actually, Netflix will look at kind of like something with Asian American protagonists.

Amy Hill: Also, I feel like the community really rallied around these movies, more than ever before. We had that gold open, where people were buying out film houses, and really making sure that we had numbers at the box office to support these films, and we still continue to do that, which is good. That makes a huge difference, knowing that the community supports what we’re trying to do.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Yeah, I think that movie also, it’s brought so much positive things, even for me in my personal career, when Crazy Rich Asians came out after the first week I was cast on Grey’s Anatomy because of that role because that role that I was up for was a white roll. And I’m pretty sure I was one of the only Asians that was called into the office. And because they adapted Well, that’s why I was on the show. I 100% believe that, and thank them for that. But I will also say that, just like in the current climate, just like when Obama was elected president, people thought racism is over. And that clearly isn’t true. Just like Crazy Rich Asians, get millions of dollars means that diversity is fixed.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: That’s not true. There’s a lot of great things, it’s bought so many more great things and opportunities for us. But there’s such a big hill that has yet to be explored. I think one of the things too about it is that with the films that come after Crazy Rich Asians, we focus so much on first generation experiences of Asian Americans, and which is great and it’s really impactful on those communities especially. But Asian Americans have been in here in this country, since the late 1800s, you could even argue that they were the first Filipinos arriving 1500, on the West Coast, there is a deep history of Asian Americans who also speak English without an accent who maybe don’t even speak their mother tongue, in terms of their ethnicity.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: And that is not something that Hollywood has ever been able to explore. Because when they look at you, they think you’ve got to be holding some chopsticks and speaking Japanese. And I think that’s still the dressing that we’re still playing with and trying to find things, but without Crazy Rich Asians, we would never even be having this conversation.

Amy Hill: So I think just like in the 20s and 30s, where Hollywood was getting their film, the writers were coming out of theater, we are now experiencing a huge influx of wonderful Asian American playwrights who are finding their way into the film, and television for sure, and they’re creating stories that are eye opening, that explore our experiences as Asian Americans, and in a really new and interesting way. So I have a lot of hope that the writers that are coming up, are going to bust us open out of the old generational stories, which still are valid, but will bring us to another level of creativity that expresses our experiences.

Matt Rivera: So Alan Ng from film threat, he asked, “Growing up in the [inaudible 00:33:16] we were pretty much forbidden by our parents to consider careers in Hollywood. What do you think of the overall impact of the low supply of quality Asian actors? I think that’s maybe referring to how there’s a small pool of actors to have Asian actors to really choose from. So maybe they go back to those certain actors only, and maybe not giving a broader opportunity to more Asian actors. If I’m correct in assuming that.

Quentin Lee: Amy, you should start, I think that you have-

Amy Hill: I think Hollywood is very simplistic, and that I know that I probably work a lot. I’m very lucky. But also, it’s like they go, “Oh, she knows how to, she’ll show up on time. She’ll hit her mark, she knows her lines,” you know what I mean? It’s not to a certain extent, there’s some talent involved, but they just want somebody safe, who has a little bit of a curating from my perspective, but when I see what’s out there, I think it’s from my youth because my generation never thought they’d make a living doing anything in this business ever. So you know, theater was our first choice. And there’s no money to be made in theater.

Amy Hill: So I was always happy if I could just pay the rent, you know what I mean? So but now I look around and there are people who are getting degrees in film, like Quentin got his degree from Yale as a filmmaker. There are kids coming up that are Asian American who don’t see these as boundaries, they are challenges perhaps, but they believe that they can do so much more. And they’re really well trained and they’re really talented like Natasha look at her. I know it’s still a struggle, Natasha. But I have every hope that once you break that little plexiglass ceiling, it’s not going to be that hard. Once you break that, you get your first series off. They’re going to be bugging you up constantly, but it’s just that one thing like Trista. Marie Lu. I’ve forgotten her name.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Yeah, Trista Marie.

Amy Hill: I’m bad with names. She got Star Wars, right?

Quentin Lee: Oh, Kelly, Marie.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Kelly Marie Tran.

Amy Hill: Oh, Kelly Marie Tran. Tristan is on that Television show?

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Yeah the Nikon one.

Amy Hill: I’m so good. But I do know them I think. Trista I know, anyway fuck me, but you know, it’s not like they were around forever. They were around for a little bit. And then somehow, it’s like a talent meeting opportunity being ready for it, they got it. And then it’s like, they’re just doing everything. So if you love this business, you will continue to just forge ahead, and there will be a moment where you’ll break through and then it’s kind of easier. You have to do that little break through.

Natasha Liu: I feel like on the subject of having immigrant parents who aren’t really supportive, I feel like it takes a lot of grit to be able to go through this particular industry. Personally, like my parents, they did not support me wanting to pursue a career in acting. And in fact, my mom was physically abusive, and like, we got into physical fights about me pursuing acting. But I feel like if anything, this helps me because it’s like, wow, my own parents don’t believe in me, and don’t want me to pursue this. So I basically have nothing to lose now that basically is partly right. Yeah.

Quentin Lee: I definitely grew up in the ’80s. And there was definitely Long Duk Dong, and all these kind of interesting characters. But at the same time, I think when I started making films in 1993, I really wanted to make like Asian films. So I couldn’t find any actors who want to be in my films. So I had to actually start my own first few short films. And then eventually, I came to UCLA for film school. And me and Justin Lin, were making this first feature called Shopping for Fangs. And I remember John Cho sending that hash shot and then I thought, oh, well to Carl, Let’s call him in and immediately he came in both just Justin and I say, “Okay he’s a character,” so he ends up playing this gay single porn character in Justin in my first feature Shopping for Fans, and then he went on to became like a big star, but then since that, it’s hard to get him back in my films.

Quentin Lee: So there’s this cycle that I’m able to… again, like Randall Park, I think Randall came in and he was just fresh out of UCLA, and then I put him into People have Slop Words. And obviously he blew up from there. And so I do say that I have discovered quite a lot of up and coming Asian American actors. And but then I think sometimes once they have become bigger, it’s kind of hard to go back and work with them again because of my budget levels at some point.

Quentin Le: So I’m not sure if I’m answering that question. But that’s been my experience a little bit. But lately, I’m shooting this improv gay Asian TV series called Boiler Club, I met this kid and he’s like, “Oh, I’m in this all gay Asian improv group.” I said, “Oh, really? Okay, let’s do it.” And So that’s how it became. So I’m glad I really do see this progress in terms of even as my coming of age of the filmmaker, that eventually I can see, there are more and more people getting involved. But in the beginning, I think there was just not a lot of people that you can actually get, get them to work on your film.

Matt Rivera: Did Albert have a comment?

Albert Park: Yeah, just to piggyback what Amy was saying with Kelly Marie Tran. I think now is also a cool time where Asian American kids can like take up space, whereas previous generations, those of us who are a little longer in the tooth didn’t have those opportunities. And kids now can totally attract eyeballs. And like Kelly Marie Tran had a YouTube following before she was a Star Wars star, and we have people who are-

Amy Hill: Who knew.

Albert Park: And Quentin is an Asian American producer, director and can make these decisions on our behalf and bring us into the limelight. Whereas previously, there was a very small number of people with Quentin’s profile. So there is a gradual shift that’s happening right now, where people are taking up space-

Amy Hill: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Albert Park: … people are saying, I am deserved to be seen. So-

Amy Hill: Yeah.

Albert Park: … that’s what happening.

Amy Hill: That’s what I’m talking about. That is the attitude shift that’s happened. When I was coming up, it was like I’ll just stay in my little corner. I won’t bother anybody. I didn’t ever think it. I had the right to be in that space. And the young people now do and it makes me so happy.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: Yeah, definitely that’s in growing up.

Matt Rivera:I’m sorry.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: All right, go ahead.

Matt Rivera: I was going to say when I was growing up, pretty much the only Asian actor I could recognize was BD Wong.

Amy Hill: Oh, yeah.

Matt Rivera: And yeah, and just being able to see that there’s so many more new Asian faces that we’re discovering, has really shown that there’s been a huge shift and a big change. And even, I still audition as well, just a little FYI. But when I would go in, there would be like the same five Asian guy actors, like I’d be going against the five, same five Asian guys all the time, like every single time. And now when I’ve gone into when there were in person auditions, there would be more faces that I hadn’t seen before. So I think that’s also a testament to how things have changed. But yeah, Kurt, what were you going to add?

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: No, definitely going to add what you’re saying too, about the TV. I remember, I used to play, I’m from LA. So like, I guess I grew up in a west side. So in theory, I grew up in this. But when I would watch TV with my mom, I remember we would always, like literally point at the screen whenever an Asian person came up, and there would be very many evenings where that would never happen. And there was always something that would happen if they were in the background, or like a random commercial literally pass for a second, like Asian. But like that was that literally the beat nights where that would never happen. And I think I agree that yes, we have more platforms to showcase our talents. But when I came up, I was a musician first.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: And I think there were a lot more Asians, I think there’s just because of the suffocating effect of Hollywood and television that just does not allow any visual representation of different races, at least in the US in that time. I just knew in my head, even though I went to school with people who were in film and stuff, I was just like this is not even a possibility. But when you were a musician, or a dancer, or a singer, or a writer, there were other platforms of which you could express yourself and which there are a lot of Asians right now who have like in design and all that and who have just thrown themselves into these fields.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: And I think it’s really interesting to see a lot of them realize to the power of utilizing that and coming back now to this space where we were never allowed to be in and sharing that experience. So I think there actually is a lot of talent and out there, they literally have just not been shine. So it’s not a dearth in your question was slightly, it’s not that there’s a low quality supply. It’s literally that there is a huge supply that has not been shown yet. So it’s nothing to do with quality. In my opinion. Yeah. How many random actors, white actors literally did nothing, or were the son or daughter or something and won an and Academy Award like that? This quality conversation definitely clearly irked me because there is just so much about just that little opportunity to or even the thought to think yes, there’s an Asian in Vermont. Yes, they’re Asian. You can tell a Pearl Harbor story and have the Asian Americans, it’s not going to confuse people because you can tell stories about the Gold Rush in the Sea-

Amy Hill: Right.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: … he’s an American. We exist everywhere and have existed and I think we just need to expand our minds a little bit more and not worry so much about the quality.

Matt Rivera: Awesome. So if there are no more questions from the press, and we give them a second to see if there’s anything else, but otherwise, I would love to see if we could start wrapping this up with people’s final thoughts on the film. And just overall the presence in visibility of being Asian in Hollywood means to you guys. Also, Anthony just realized that Stanley Walker in your background.

Anthony Ma: I think they put Asians in The Office.

Matt Rivera: There were no Asians in The Office, right?

Anthony Ma: True.

Matt Rivera: The south Asian, and he blew up.

Anthony Ma: Right. Exactly. I guess I’ll start. Now, this has been great. I feel like you know, and with every project with every everything like Crazy Rich Asians down to something like Searching for Anna May Wong, it is progress for us, and it educates everyone about our struggle. I love pointing out to my one year old son right now, this could be you one day, okay. You’re going to dance, you’re going to act, you’re going to sing, you can do anything you want because these people are proving it. And they’re like what you said, taking space. And you can take that space, too. And it’s just a wonderful. Yeah, if you can hear him right now he’s screaming. He’s like, Yes, he’s green. So yeah, it’s just great. Keep going guys, we got this.

Amy Hill: He’s saying, yeah dad.

Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa: I’m sure Amy could speak more to it. But also, the more at least in my experience, the more auditions that I get, where I see that the writer was Asian American, the more interesting the project is, versus something that’s a little bit more exotic size. Usually, you notice that last names don’t match any of yours. So I think more and more people who are writing are really helping us.

Amy Hill: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Albert Park: Just going back to what Amy said about having those of us who are, I guess this would be what fourth fifth wave, Asian American playwrights coming in and writing all these wonderful plays. I think that’s going to make a big difference. And having decision makers, directors that are Asian American, that’s going to make a big difference. We are gradually making strides. We definitely haven’t reached parity yet. I don’t know when that will come. But we are still othered in Hollywood, we are still seen as the forerunner in many aspects. But in small strides, we are taking up more and more market share basically. And that’s what needs to happen for Hollywood because it’s a business. That’s what needs to happen for them to realize that there’s gold out there to be mined, there are stories worth hearing, that have not been discovered yet, that have not been told, for many number of reasons, but that we’re here and we’re ready when they’re ready to.

Albert Park: And that’s the other thing too, right now is a time where I think a lot of the creators, a lot of writers, producers, directors, who are Asian American, they’re not waiting for permission anymore. And that is also a big shift from let’s say the end of last the last century, where people were waiting, for scraps from the table. I think a lot of the creators now they’re just taking up space and making sure that regardless of who they’re not waiting for permission, basically.

Natasha Liu: Piggybacking off of what Albert said, I felt like in addition to having more Asian actors, more Asian writers, more Asian directors, I feel like there needs to be more Asian representation and all representation for we need more Asian executive producers, studio heads below the line like just all across the board, I feel like Hollywood is taking some initiative and helping us move forward. But yeah, it’s like been baby steps, but I feel like hopefully we get closer and closer and closer to equality in the near future.

Natasha Liu: I feel like one thing a mentor once told me that really stuck with me. His name is Chris chalk and he told me, “In order change the game, in order to change the industry, you need to play the game first. And even though you’re limited to one type of role, and maybe they’re only pigeonholing you in one type of thing.” He says, “make money doing that, and make connections doing that thing. And then once you get to a certain level, then you can start changing the industry changing the game in your favor.” So I thought that was really helpful for as an actor to help me learn.

Matt Rivera: Amy, anything else that you want to add?

Amy Hill: Me? Did you say Amy?

Matt Rivera: Yes.

Amy Hill: I’ve never been able to… Since high school I’ve been a character actor. And within the Asian American genre, In theater I started with the Asian American Theater Company, one of the people who started that thing going. And we wrote our stories, we portrayed the people in those stories, of course, there were a lot of Camp plays. So I did a lot of that. But I’ve always been sort of attracted to different characters, and I wasn’t thinking about. And I also did a lot of sketch comedy in San Francisco. And we had an Asian American sketch comedy team that worked together, we did improv and sketch, anyway.

Amy Hill: So we explored all the different things, people, characters in our communities, and it was so much fun, and it filled our passion. And so I’m kind of, like if you just… I know this sounds so I don’t know la-di-da. But I feel like I don’t want to try to pigeonhole myself into anything. I would like to just explore and be creative. And within the community sometimes I know I’d be on tour, and people would say, “Well, you can’t be funny because then people will be laughing at us.” And I thought, “Well, I laugh at my mom, sometimes she’s weird and funny.” We have to embrace who we are. And all the possibilities, be the best person, best character, authentic person that you can create. But I feel like let’s not follow the rules. Let’s just blow everybody out of the water by what we create. And hopefully, people will pay us. Who knows?

Quentin Lee: Well, thank you very much. And thank you very much to the actors for coming back and being on this panel. And thank you to the journalist for being here. I think I’m going to post this both on the Asian American Movies Facebook page, and also as a free extra on the Asian American Movies site for this film. And I’ll probably post it somewhere else on YouTube. But thank you very much. I think we’re good, right? We can wrap?

Matt Rivera: Yes. And just to reiterate for any press that might have missed it. The film is now on schedule to be digitally released on November 20, instead of in-person at Laemmle Theaters, and the updated press release is in the chat. So you can check that out. And yeah, that’s about it.

Share Button

Author: Gillian Sand

Gillian Sand is a veteran entertainment and film writer. She is also currently a publicist at

Leave a Reply