It is almost time for the fourth annual event of the National Asian American Theater Conference. The Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Actors and Asian Arts Initiative are bringing entertainment and conversation to Philadelphia this Wednesday. There will be performances by Dan Kwong, Dennis Kim, and other commissioned work. In anticipation, Howlround is engaging in a week long discussion about the role of Asian art in theater by live streaming the event.
I find during my discussions of representation in theater and film that my peers and I often use the term POC, but really what we mean is black people, occasionally latino. The conversation is never brought on by an example of Asian misrepresentation or mistreatment. Asian people are put to the sides of race conversation. Our minds often go White or Black. Asian gets mentioned at the end of the list. How often have you heard, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, hispanic…or I dunno Asian”? The popular conversation does not seem to be about Asian representation.
In film, Asians are underrepresented to a horrifying degree. In 2012, Asian actors only comprised 5% of the top grossing films released. Why are we not talking about that? Is it because we like to put all POCs in one giant group saying that we have the same problems? Sure, there are through lines between the ethnicities, but people are not willing to get specific enough.
We fought the battle of blackface, but yellow face is still common as can be. We still have small white children donning giant black buns, powdered faces, and a kimono trying to be geishas for halloween. There are conversations to be had.
The conference is a sign that I am not alone in begging for there to be a greater desire for Asian American theater. The problem is not that they aren’t out there. That’s never the problem. The problem is that this country lacks the interest in seeing. How do we catch their interest? I’m okay with the shove it down the throat method. I’m eagerly awaiting for the conversation to get going!