Asian American and Pacific Islanders Finding New Opportunities in Film

AAPI representation in film, television and streaming is growing, but still has a way to go. 

The entertainment industry is making progress towards greater diversity at many levels. Hiring diverse writers, directors, lead actors and actresses is not only good for a company’s image, but also for their bottom line.

According to Pew Research, Asians (including East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Filipino, Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders) represent about 7 percent of the United States population. However, in 2019, only 1 percent of leading media roles in TV and film were Asian, and between 2014-2019, only 12, or a quarter of 1 percent of American films, had Asians in lead roles. 

But two years later, in 2021, those numbers shifted. The 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report (HDR) and the 2022 Directors Guild of America (DGA) Inclusion Report reported that in 2021 nearly 6 percent of leading film roles went to Asians.

So going from 1 percent of leading film roles to 6 percent in only two years seems like a big jump. What might have caused this?

The short answer - Crazy Rich Asians. The first movie with an all-Asian cast from a major studio since Joy Luck Club in 1993 took the world by storm and raked in $239 million world-wide on a $30 million budget. At this point, Hollywood decision-makers realized Asian or Asian American-led movies could be profitable. 

That wasn’t the case in 2014 when I started pitching my movie, the Jeweled Bird. Even though it placed third in the Cinequest Screenplay Competition in 2016 and garnered other accolades, the few producers who requested the script, eventually passed.  Because of these letdowns, in 2018 I decided to produce it myself. Back then, I had thought the only way to get an Asian American story told was to star a white woman.  

Since Crazy Rich Asians, several more Asian-led movies have debuted in theaters:

Streaming has also been a hotbed for Asian-led stories like Turning Red (Disney+), Finding Ohana (Netflix), To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix), Always Be My Maybe (Netflix), and more.

Now, all the studios and distributors are clamoring for Asian-led content. I now have a co-producer, and we have decided to change the protagonist to a Chinese woman. What started out as a biopic of a white woman in turn-of-the-century San Francisco Chinatown became the story of a Chinese American woman’s resilience and heroism against all odds when the sidekick character turned into the protagonist.  

Asian-led projects have established a good track record. Now than ever before they have a much better chance of getting green-lit. I’m looking forward to seeing (or making) the next one.

Image for Jeweled Bird © Blue Carp Productions

Read more about the 2022 Directors Guild of America (DGA) Inclusion Report in this article from Deadline. Read about 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report (HDR) on their site.

Asians received:

Carol Lee Hall

Screenwriter, Producer  Blue Carp Productions
WIFSFBA board member and Script Incubator Coordinator