Asian-Australian filmmakers push for greater representation in Hollywood


The success of blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians is proof there's an appetite for more Asian representation, say those in the industry.

Amy Wang is a Chinese-Australian filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles.

The 29-year-old's career in the film industry is beginning to flourish. 

She recently won gold for the Young Director Award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and represented Australia at the Parrot AR Drone Film Festival in Paris. 

But until now, she's found it hard to be taken seriously as an Asian woman in Hollywood. 

Chinese-Australian filmmaker Amy Wang
SBS News

From her Los Angeles apartment, she opens up about her experiences.

"For the first time in my life I've felt way more accepted than I ever have been in the States and at home," Ms Wang told SBS News. 

"I think more than ever now there's a push for more diverse voices and stories, but I think there's still a long way to go.

"There's this idea of hiring people like me based off of what I've done rather than my potential." 

Diversity was a hot topic at this year's Emmy Awards. 

Actor Sandra Oh was the first woman of Asian descent to receive a nomination for a lead role - but she didn't win.

In recent years, Hollywood has also been accused of 'white-washing' Asian stories. The film Ghost in the Shell - an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga series - was criticised when Scarlett Johansson was cast in the lead role.

70th Emmy Awards - Arrivals
Sandra Oh on the Emmys red carpet.
Getty Images

Chinese-Australian screenwriter Michael Leung is also living in Los Angeles. 

Two of his films just premiered at Palm Springs International Film Festival and one was among three winners of the HBO Visionary Competition for Asian-American short films. 

Mr Leung told SBS News the Asian-American film industry and the wider community have become more vocal. 

"Even as an Asian-Australian creative, the Asian-American film industry and even the community has become a lot more vocal about what will slide with them," Mr Leung said.

"I think that minority groups and diverse voices, creative voices ... are demanding to be heard now more than ever before."

I think that diverse voices, creative voices, are demanding to be heard now more than ever before.

- Michael Leung, Screenwriter

This year's blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians is proof there is a big audience for films about Asian characters played by Asian actors.

It's the first Hollywood flick to feature a full Asian cast and has become the highest grossing romantic comedy in a decade.

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians has broken box office records.
Movie still

"I mean with Crazy Rich Asians coming out, I think that's a huge step away from how Asian people have been represented," Ms Wang said. 

For five decades, theatre organisation East West Players in downtown LA has been a creative refuge for Asian professionals in the entertainment industry.

Sixty per cent of Asian talent in Hollywood films have come across their stage, including comedian Ken Jeong, who stars in Crazy Rich Asians. 

Carolina San Juan is the Arts and Education Director there. 

"We create a space to develop the talent and the material so that we're represented where we're in control," Ms San Juan told SBS News. 

"The shift in Asian-American representation in large part I think our theatre has been responsible for.

Its alumni include notable actors Nobu McCarthy, Yuki Shimoda, John Lone and George Takei - to name a few.  

"We started from a deficit, because of these really dangerous stereotypes," Ms San Juan said.

"I like to think of misrepresentation as a kind of fake news. We all know the problems that occur with fake news.

"Misrepresenting a community is just like fake news, because you can say, 'Oh, well, these people are ...,' which is not true, and the damage that that creates.

"So we're not only looking for equal representation but also to work against a lot of the negative stereotypes and perceptions about our community."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch