|Go to Film School Rejects to find out who these people are!
Paola Mardo over at Film School Rejects kindly asked about my thoughts on getting into the Academy, and wrote a great piece about the new class's potential impact on Asian representation in film. But I wanted to post my full answers to her questions in the hopes that they might further illuminate this whole Academy and diversity business. Here you go!
How did you find out you were invited to join the Academy and what was your reaction?
I found out over Twitter from producer Effie Brown, who tagged me in a tweet congratulating me and others. An email invitation was apparently sent before that, but it went to spam. I was very excited to find out I'd gotten in, of course! It was with the encouragement of Laura Kim, head of marketing at Participant, that I decided to apply--with just two weeks left before the deadline. I didn't even know one could apply! But apparently, that's the traditional way to be considered. I'm grateful that Laura reached out. She was one of the folks who sent that letter to the Academy expressing dismay about Chris Rock's Asian joke. So I imagine she was helping with the outreach effort for new Asian members. I then had to ask two producers in the producers branch to sponsor me, and my mentors Mary Jane Skalski and Ron Yerxa thankfully agreed. Then I had to write really long explanations of exactly what I did on each of the features I produced.
By the way, producers: one very good reason to not give away full producer credits like candy is that the more "producers" there are on a film, the more diluted your credit becomes. For example, if there are 3 full "producers" on a film, each producer only gets 1/3 credit--and you need 2 complete producer credits on features to qualify for the Academy. So you'd need to produce 6 of these shared-credit films before you can qualify.
What are your initial thoughts on the overall list of new Academy members?
I was very happy to see that the list was so variegated (sorry, trying not to use the word "diverse") and large. I was also shocked to see how many amazingly talented people weren't in the Academy till now. My friend Vicci Ho joked, "It was as though they opened up an old Cannes catalogue and just found all the Asians in it to invite."
How do you think this list affects Asian Americans in the industry or Asian American representation in Hollywood?
It won't...yet. The new members represent 10% of the entire Academy membership, and Asians make up just about 10% of the new members, so it's a fraction of a fraction. On the bright side, we're no longer 'the only ones in the room.' Even within my own branch, there are four other Asian producers in the class of 2016, including my friends Anish Savjani and Nina Yang Bonjiovi.
How do you think you and the new batch of members will influence this coming Oscar season?
I'm not sure yet! I just got in so I don't know how it all works. I'm still trying to get them to resend me the invitation email that went to spam so I can create a login! But whatever opportunity I'm given to speak my mind or cast my vote, whether to explain why white savior movies need to be stopped, or complain about how so many so-called auteurs use 'art' as a justification for female objectification, or how American movies have an unhealthy reliance on the lone male hero trope. I would also love it if this new class could kickstart the demise of 'Oscar bait.' Because I hate that mediocre middlebrow shit!
There is a thought that this is just a first step toward diversity. Do you agree/disagree? Why?
Yes, it is just one step. There is a very long way to go. The Oscars come at the very end of a film's life cycle. But there is homogeneity in every part of the cycle, from development to financing to production to distribution and marketing. Producers, financiers, and distributors all need to get on board with "diversity" (ugh, had to use it) for Academy members to even have the option to vote for films that aren't by and about and starring white people. But the new Academy class does, I think, represent a victory for democracy: the diverse Twitterverse hashtagged its way to this result. Press covered it ad nauseum, and the Academy listened. So, I'd like to thank the Academy for setting a good example for everyone else. Now everyone else: please, get on board!