Last week marked the official end of #AsianAugust, the historic month that witnessed the critical and commercial success of three high-profile screen projects showcasing Asian American voices: Crazy Rich Asians, Searching, and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.
It’s a far cry from 2016 when actors in two of the three projects became the faces of a social media campaign that highlighted the lack of Asian American representation in Hollywood: #StarringJohnCho and #StarringConstanceWu.
The excitement — for on-screen representation of an underserved community; for screen stories that go beyond stereotypes — extended into Labour Day weekend, when Crazy Rich Asians continued its reign at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing Hollywood rom-com in nearly a decade.
Audiences are happy. Studios are taking notice. And, in Vancouver, our homegrown diverse filmmakers are ramping up their efforts with the knowledge that the crazy awesome success of Crazy Rich Asians could lead to more: more funding, more opportunities, and more representation on screen.
#AsianAugust might be over, but its impact on Hollywood — and Hollywood North — has only just begun.
“We’ve been here,” says actress and filmmaker Andrea Bang. “We’re all talented and we’ve got amazing, interesting stories to tell — and now, hopefully, they’ll be funded.”
Andrea stars on CBC’s hit sitcom Kim’s Convenience, itself an outlier in an otherwise homogenous Canadian TV landscape.
With her sister, fellow Vancouverite Diana Bang (an in-demand actress in her own right who turned in a scene-stealing performance as a North Korean official in 2014’s The Interview), Andrea co-wrote and co-directed Karaoke Mamas. The digital short is one of 40 short films funded by Storyhive that premiere Sept. 6 — and one of three that feature Korean Canadians in leading roles.
Karaoke Mamas tells the story of Sang-Mi, a recently divorced 62-year-old Korean Canadian woman in Surrey who enters a karaoke contest with her two friends in order to win a new television. The 10-minute comedy stars Eun-Sook Choi as Sang-Mi and Soon-Ja Hwang and Mi-Young Yu as Sang-Mi’s BFFs.
“A lot of women in my mom’s community — Korean immigrants, now Korean Canadians — they’ve lived a life, and we wanted to humanize them and put them at the centre of a story, because for the most part, they normally play someone’s mom,” says Diana.
The sisters wanted to showcase the women that they grew up with.
“We want people to fall in love with these women and see that they’re funny, they’re charming, and they’re strong,” says Andrea.
If they happen to energize traditionally marginalized actors in the process? All the better, Diana says.
“So far we’ve seen that the lead actors — one of whom is a non-actor; the other two have only done local Korean community theatre — are already feeling really empowered and seen, and that is awesome,” says Diana.
Karaoke Mamas had its unofficial premiere last week as part of a cast and crew screening for three Storyhive films that amplify Asian Canadian voices: Gong Ju, directed by Jerome Yoo and written by Yoo and Lawrence Le Lam, about a violent teen who is expelled from school in Korea and sent abroad to change her ways; and The Day We Met, Mayumi Yoshida and Nach Dudsdeemaytha’s moving film about a Korean Canadian adoptee (portrayed by the film’s screenwriter, Lee Shorten, mining his own experience) who must weigh the consequences of meeting his biological mother after deciding to start a family of his own.
“They can all be considered Korean Canadian films, and they’re all so different,” says Diana. “It just goes to show you that there are all kinds of Asian stories, and Asian Canadian stories, and there are so many more stories that need to be told and want to be told.”
And those stories will come from a filmmaking community that understands that when one of them succeeds, they all succeed. “We’re not in competition with each other,” says Diana. “We’re just trying to elevate each other’s work and we’re lifting each other up, and that I’m grateful for. For the past couple of years, I’ve been looking for a creative community, and I’ve found one with the Asian Canadian filmmaking scene in Vancouver. It’s feeling more and more like home to me.”
Karaoke Mamashits Storyhive’s YouTube channel and Telus Optik on Sept. 6. Follow @Storyhive @KaraokeMamas @thedianabang @iAndreaBang.
Sabrina Furminger chronicles Vancouver's film and television industry every week in the Vancouver Courier. She is also the editor of YVR Screen Scene.