‘What a year, to say the least,” said Jon M. Chu at Saturday night’s Unforgettable Gala. This was in reference to his own life — getting married, having a baby, and directing the monstrously profitable movie “Crazy Rich Asians” — as well as for Asian representation in Hollywood and beyond.
“We made a little movie this year and we made a big movement — and when I say we, I mean ‘we’ in this room,” he told the Beverly Hilton ballroom audience, a rare industry gathering of those of Asian descent. He expressed his gratitude for their support of the Warner Bros. film and “for truly experiencing and understanding what pride means for the first time in my life. Thank you for showing me that community is power, and we are powerful. We don’t need to ask for permission ever again.”
Aside from the widespread critical and commercial success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2018 has been peppered with milestone moments for Asian representation onscreen: Actor in Television honoree Sandra Oh nabbing a historic Emmy Award nomination, Breakout in Film recipient Lana Condor starring in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and Athlete on Another Level honoree Naomi Osaka becoming the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam tennis title.
Additionally, the year includes the more nuanced yet still notable breakthroughs, like Netflix’s viral clip featuring “Queer Eye” style expert Tan France dressing “Patriot Act” host Hasan Minhaj. “We were just being ourselves, being Asian!” France, the night’s Changemaker Award recipient, told The Times.
“Somebody wrote something along the lines of, ‘This is what it must feel like for Caucasian people every time they watch TV,’ and I got emotional,” he continued. “I never thought I’d be in a position to make that kind of impact, for them to watch TV and think, “I now feel seen and understood.’ ”
Likewise, Breakout in Television honoree Manny Jacinto has made waves for playing a lovable dummy on “The Good Place,” where he shared a scene with Mitch Narito and Eugene Cordero.
“To some people, it’s the smallest thing, but having Filipinos in the same scene, not talking about their culture or speaking the language, is very rare,” said Jacinto, who received the honor from co-star D’Arcy Carden and creator Mike Schur. “That was really special, and such a fun time. It just speaks to the movement, and hopefully that continues.”
Plus, Netflix’s addition of “Kim’s Convenience” has introduced the beloved Canadian series to an American audience. The actors were surprised they were getting recognized so often throughout their Los Angeles visit. “We’re proud of the work we’re doing, we’re proud of the work that everyone’s doing,” said Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. “We’re representing hard internationally. Let’s keep this momentum going.”
These seemingly minor steps are crucial to propelling Asian representation beyond the monolithic portrayals that have confined its communities for decades.
“Film is a cultural mirror, and I think I was looking at that mirror and seeing an incomplete image of myself,” said John Cho, who received the Actor in Film honor from his “Searching” co-star Debra Messing. “We’re developing, I think, a more collective identity.”
Chu echoed this sentiment by encouraging creators to support each other’s specificity within their stories. “We need more and we need each other,” he said with urgency. “The conversations are important, the debates are important, because we have to set up the rules for ourselves so others can follow them. The more they see us, the more they see us.”
Activist Amanda Nguyen, producer Livi Zheng, jeweler Ben Baller, Blogilates founder Cassey Ho, and the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” were also honored throughout the evening. Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Kevin Kwan, Adele Lim, Lisa Lu, Leonardo Nam, Jenny Yang, Sarayu Blue, Dorothy Wang, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, Ian Chen, Lucille Soong, Sam Tsui, Dante Bosco, Harry Shum Jr., Vincent Rodriguez III, Dianne Doan, Tamlyn Tomita, Apolo Ohno, Michelle La, Desmond Chiam, Bryon Mann, Kelly Hu and Lyrica Okano, among others, also attended the event, hosted once again by Jeannie Mai.