Olivia Liang, Sydney Park, Leah Lewis, and Nico Hiraga Talk Asian Representation and Solidarity
The actors discussed recent violence against Asian and Black communities, the casting environment in Hollywood, and how they're coping with it all.
The past year has been particularly heavy for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Over the course of the pandemic, there has been an alarming increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, with nearly 3,800 reported racist incidents targeted against Asian Americans since March 2020, according to a national report by the group Stop AAPI Hate. On Thursday, young AAPI actors Olivia Liang (Kung Fu), Leah Lewis (The Half of It), and Moxie‘s Sydney Park and Nico Hiraga got together virtually to discuss how the recent news cycle has been weighing on them, their experiences in Hollywood, and the way the entertainment industry is changing.
Their conversation was part of “The Revolution WILL Be Televised,” a roundtable discussion hosted by A3, Meredith’s Asian American Association, in collaboration with Entertainment Weekly. Park, who plays Kiera in the Amy Poehler-directed teen drama Moxie, says “it’s been an especially tiring past year” for her as both a Black and Asian woman.
“There’s just so much hate going around and I feel like my way of protesting or even my way of just coping but also acknowledging what is happening in both cultures and in the Asian community is being unapologetically myself,” Park says.
While Park is working to celebrate both aspects of her identity, she says the media often does the opposite. “Black and Asian people being pitted against each other at this time is so inappropriate,” she says. “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.”
Hiraga, who is currently residing in San Francisco, says it’s made him “fucking furious” to see reports of anti-Asian hate crimes—a lot of which have been happening in the Bay Area. Even though the actor says he’s been using his platform to try to “share what’s going on,” he says it still feels like progress “seems to move an inch, like real slow.”
Though the actors on the call agree the recent attacks on the AAPI community have been disheartening, they’ve also noticed positive changes in the entertainment industry recently.
Liang discussed how being on Kung Fu, a predominantly Asian-led show, has shown her that “the camaraderie and the community runs so deep” between her fellow AAPI entertainers.
“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 said. “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.'”
Lewis, who played Ellie Chu in The Half Of It, says, “it’s such a beautiful time to be alive and working right now,” explaining how touching it was to see how people identified with her character on screen. “One of the biggest things in the feedback that I’ve received was just, ‘I feel seen and I haven’t felt seen in a very long time,’ and that was a repeating comment,” she said.”
Park also noted some of the positive changes she’s seen in casting. As an actress of color, she’s no stranger to auditioning for roles that were “mostly built for the white girl.” On Moxie, she said it was “so uplifting” that she was cast alongside Anjelika Washington, another Black actress who had experienced her fair share of casting limitations.
“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.'”
Hiraga also shared what it was like to score his role as the lead heartthrob in Moxie, having assumed that the part would go to a white man. “I was like, ‘No way this Netflix heartthrob role’s gonna go to this Hapa kid,'” he recalled thinking at the time when he was asked to audition. Of course, the role did go to him, and the skater-turned-actor, who also had a part in Booksmart, has been solidifying his place in the entertainment industry.
The actor also expressed how comforting it was for him to be on a call with fellow AAPI entertainers. “There’s already, like, a big blanket right there to fall back on; it’s wholesome,” he said.
Liang shared a similar sentiment, expressing how much love she feels for her coomunity.
“Every month is AAPI Month for me,” she 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 always AAPI month for me.”
Watch the full conversation over on EW here.