I procrastinated all summer and autumn long uploading this video. Watching it again and again, after a year-long slog of sitting through a seemingly endless string of panels, symposiums, and talks on how people of color can play a part in achieving workforce diversity in the mainstream entertainment arena, I’ve come around to an already well-known fact: talking about diversity, whether it be at a Sundance Film Festival, South x Southwest Film Festival, has become positively TIRESOME for people of color. And for us Asian Pacific Americans who like to play at possessing a modicum of “white privilege,” it’s long-been time we got into our heads this all-important truth: we are NOT honorary white people. If there is anything to be gained from this year of talking-headism, it’s that we STOP discussing diversity — in fact, throw “diversity” out of our vocabulary — and re-introduce concepts that confronted me when I first started working in independent APA media arts like, “self-determination.”
For anyone who cared to listen, I’ve long ago adopted a mantra around these matters — “diversity” is not the problem, or even the responsibility of artists and media creatives representing underserved communities. That is the problem of the producers and executives who run the studios that churn out what we see in our cineplexes, television screens, and smart devices. It is they who created this emergency by locking us out and turning out works that are wanting in perspective, honesty, and authenticity. GONE WITH THE WIND? CHARLIE CHAN? VIVA VILLA? Hello out there???
The point was driven home for me once again as a result of attending this panel discussion, “Whitewashing & Asian Representation,” a presentation that was framed as part of a weekend-long minstrel show organized by the presenters of the Los Angeles Film Festival under the banner, “Diversity Speaks.” And speak we did, apparently. For two whole days, entertainment professionals who weren’t white, gentile, Jewish, or alpha-male paraded up on stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre to basically ponder what they were doing up there, pontificating on our role as peoples of color to define and act on diversity issues. The presser from Film Independent, the organizers of the Film Festival, positioned “Diversity Speaks” as a concerted effort to “expand the definition of diversity and act as a call-to-action.”
And for me right thuur, is where the act of expanding that very definition of “diversity” is doomed to failure. Simply put: for a privileged institution as Film Independent to invite cinema and cultural workers to speak — without recognizing their FIND itself represents a mainstream industry that feels little urgency to enact radical, quantifiable steps to alter the ethnic and gender landscape of the industry that creates filmed entertainment — then I’m afraid that we’re doomed to endure more showcases that discuss cis-gendered media visibility, on-screen representation and “whitewashing”, documenting “marginalized” stories, and avoids creating opportunities for underserved communities to address issues from an emboldened POC perspective.
Or in other words, 60-minute soundbites like the one posted at the top of this article, that sounds entertaining, but will likely be forgotten by the following week. I should know — I taped this panel back in June, and pretty much forgot about it for the rest of the year. Not to fear…you’ll unfortunately see another one very much like it, with perhaps many of the same people, organized as another film festival coming your way soon.
And the struggle continues…