For racial and ethnic minorities, the way in which their population is portrayed in the media can influence their perception of their own beauty and role in society. The Asian American population is traditionally underrepresented in the media and instances of their representation are oftentimes stereotypical. DW’s Laura Harwood recently had the privilege to speak with a prominent member of the Hollywood community who is aware of the need to break free of these traditional roles and present a more holistic picture of the underrepresented Asian American population. Christine Yoo is the director of the award winning “Wedding Palace,” her debut feature film and the 1st US-Korea independent co-production. Shot in Los Angeles and Seoul, Korea, “Wedding Palace” is often referred to as the Korean American “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The film stars a primarily Asian American cast – Brian Tee (X-Men: Wolverine 2013), S. Korean award winning actress Kang Hye-jung (Old Boy) and comedians Bobby Lee and Margaret Cho. 5-time Grammy nominated jazz pianist David Benoit is featured on the film’s score. The film has screened to sold-out festival audiences and will hit theaters in December. Prior to making “Wedding Palace,” Christine worked for nearly a decade in Hollywood as screenwriter for film and television.
As a female director—a rarity in Hollywood—and an Asian American, Christine brings two unique viewpoints about the role of Asians in the media and the ideals of female beauty.
Laura Harwood: What was your inspiration and goal in making this film?
Christine Yoo: My goal was to create laugh-out-loud entertainment that would be fun for anybody to watch. For inspiration, I looked to my own family. My own dad and my mother’s brother – my Uncle Howard – are two of the funniest guys on earth. It’s because of them I believe I got addicted to laughter.
I was also inspired by what I see as a Korean obsession with plastic surgery. I created the role of “Na Young,” the lead character of the film played by South Korean actress Kang Hye-jung, to explore ideas of idealized beauty. Social acceptance versus positive self-awareness is the theme woven throughout the story.
LH: According to a report conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women account for just 5% of directors working in Hollywood. This statistic is also reflected in the Directors Guild of America, Hollywood’s union guild of directors. There are only a handful of female directors and the majority of them work in television rather than feature films.
CY: People ask me a lot if it’s harder to become a director since I’m a woman, plus being Asian on top of it. I would not be telling the whole truth if I tried to gloss over the challenges an aspiring female director would have to overcome to reach her goals.
LH: At the 2012 Women in Film Crystal Awards Gala, Meryl Streep noted: “Just 7-10% of directors, producers, writers and cinematographers are women in any given year. This is in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6 billion: The Help, The Iron Lady believe it or not, Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada. As you can see, their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tent-pole failures cost. . . . Let’s talk about The Iron Lady. It cost $14 million to make it and brought in $114 million. Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?
CY: I totally agree. There are a lot of great stories out there that deserve to be told that feature women in deeper roles. Evidently, they are movies that a lot of people have enjoyed watching too.
LH: Do you think it is important to encourage Asian Americans to get more involved with the arts? How do you get more Asian Americans into the mainstream media?
CY: Absolutely. In April I participated in The White House Asian Pacific Islander Initiative’s first ever National Briefing on Philanthropy. I was invited there as a representative voice from Hollywood. I heard the frustration from Asian community and grass roots leaders all over the country and a common theme of their frustration was invisibility. It’s an under-statement to say we live in a melting pot. Yet finding diverse images and female images can still be challenging to find in 2012. That’s one of the main reasons why I was driven to make Wedding Palace.
LH: What actions can people who are not working in the media take to have an impact on the industry and increase the numbers of Asians in the media?
CY: People can do many different things. You can get involved with realizing specific projects. You can support organizations. Despite the explosive growth results shown from the 2010 US Census, the issue of (in)visibility of our community still looms large. We are under-represented. That’s why producing content that offers more diverse images of Asians in the media is important for the economic health of our community. I think it’s also important that the portrayals are done authentically. We can’t just rely on Hollywood to make that happen.