Coming-of-age films in Hollywood have often erased Asian stories on screen, but in 2021, young AAPI actors like Olivia Liang (Kung Fu), Leah Lewis (The Half of It), and Moxie’s Sydney Park and Nico Hiraga are front and center in their projects.
On Thursday, the four performers took part in “The Revolution WILL Be Televised,” a roundtable discussion hosted by A3, Meredith’s Asian American Association, in collaboration with Entertainment Weekly. The conversation, moderated by EW’s editor in chief Mary Margaret, discussed AAPI representation, community behind the scenes, recent violence against Asian and Black communities, AAPI Heritage Month, and more.
Being an actress of color, Park said she’s used to facing obstacles when auditioning for roles, because “looking at the history of Hollywood, they’re mostly built for the white girl.”
But with Amy Poehler’s Moxie, Park said it was “so uplifting” to be able to share the experience with Anjelika Washington, who plays her character Kiera’s best friend in the movie. She recalled how Washington, also fed up with constantly being limited in roles, was so relieved when Park was cast.
“Anjelika wanted to make sure that Kiera, my part, was a Black actress, because she was like, ‘I do not want to be a Black best friend to another white girl,'” Park said. “And her agent was like, ‘It’s Sydney Park. She’s Black and Asian. And Angelica was like, ‘Oh, we got this, let’s do this.'”
Sometimes the actors themselves are shocked at the strides made by projects they’re in. When he was auditioning to play the love interest in Moxie, Hiraga said he expected it to go to a white guy.
“I was like, ‘No way this Netflix heartthrob role’s gonna go to this Hapa kid,'” he remembered thinking. And then he got it.
Lewis is also hopeful that things are changing, and said that “it’s such a beautiful time to be alive and working right now.” She’s loved seeing all the Asian-led projects that have come out and won awards recently.
Liang also went on to discuss how being on Kung Fu, the rare show to be predominantly led by Asians, makes it so that “the camaraderie and the community runs so deep.”
“When we were all testing for this show, there was no sense of competition because for the first time it wasn’t we were all going for the one part,” she explained. “There were an array of characters that we were all going in for, and we weren’t looking around the room like, ‘I better take that girl down, it’s me or it’s her.’ It was just like, ‘If it’s not me, thank goodness it’s going to be one of these people because we haven’t seen this done before.'”
The actors also reflected on the past year, which saw tremendous violence against Asian and Black communities in America. Hiraga said he felt “f—ing furious,” and that despite the well-intentioned campaigns, progress “seems to move an inch.”
Park said she copes by choosing to celebrate her communities and by “being unapologetically myself.”
“And then of course, Black and Asian people being pitted against each other at this time is so inappropriate and how the news portrays us and the media and it’s like our job as people of color to fix it, when it’s really not our issue at all,” Park continued.
And for Liang, celebrating her culture isn’t just limited to May.
“Every month is AAPI Month for me,” the actress said. “[It’s a] year-round celebration. My favorite food is Asian food. Anytime I see an Asian person writing something, singing something, acting in something, I want to support it, so it’s it’s always AAPI month for me.”
Watch the full roundtable above.