“There is only one huge void” – The Hollywood Reporter
Toronto director Andrew Chung says the Canadian entertainment industry has let down Asian Canadians like him for decades by mostly erasing their portrayal on national televisions.
But the success of the industry realignment and the controversy surrounding Kim’s convenience on Netflix led Canadian TV programmers to give the green light to more stories by and about Asian Canadians. It’s different from Hollywood where the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians of Asian Americans had already crossed the bamboo ceiling of American industry much earlier.
“The difference is that in the United States it’s in your face that the problems are faced, while in Canada we always try to hide it under the rug and pretend that everything is fine,” says Chung, a Canadian of Chinese descent born to parents who themselves were born and raised in Calcutta, India, before emigrating to Canada.
Chung points out the irony of being defined by his ethnicity as a minority in the Canadian television industry, when he grew up in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood in Toronto, and which Asian Canadians make up roughly. one-fifth of the overall Canadian population. “We make up almost 20 percent of the Canadian population, yet we rarely see each other on television in Canada. There is just a huge void, ”he said The Hollywood reporter.
Chung White elephant thematically discusses the impact of the lack of diversity of voices and faces on Canadian television. Her coming-of-age story, set in Scarborough, a predominantly black and brown neighborhood in eastern Toronto, follows Pooja, a 16-year-old South Asian teenager played by Zaarin Bushra, as she grapples with its cultural identity and racial tensions. .
“What she (Pooja) sees on television and in movies does not correspond to the reality of her neighborhood. The themes of the film are what it does to a young person’s identity because it makes your teenage years very confusing and your own real life experiences don’t seem valid or important, ”says Chung.
In White elephant, Pooja longs for forbidden love across racial lines as she innocently falls in love with Trevor, a local white boy just like the teenage idols she sees in Hollywood movies and TV shows everywhere. But as she and Trevor spend time together, Pooja’s dark-haired and black friends and her immigrant father confront her for mingling with a member of the opposing tribe.
Eventually, in Chung’s partial retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Pooja’s relentless pursuit of romance takes a violent turn and his quest for love as part of a Hollywood fantasy crumbles and becomes a discovery of self love. Pooja’s journey in White elephant also parallels that of Asian Canadians in their country’s television industry, of being the model minority for never daring to rock the boat or the perpetual outsider on screen.
That is, until Simu Liu, the titular star of Marvel’s first Asian superhero offering, Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, took the room of the writer of Kim’s convenience to the task after the brutal cancellation of the cult Canadian comedy that originated on CBC in Canada and in which he starred.
Chung says Kim’s convenience helped Asian Canadian actors and creators break their apparent invisibility on national television sets. The cult comedy, which portrays the Korean-Canadian family Kim running a convenience store in downtown Toronto, showcased the challenges faced by first-generation immigrants and their Canadian-born children as they weave their way through a new and often strange country.
But as the local success story grew with the seasons and international reach on Netflix, creative control increasingly left the hands of diverse talent, as white writers instead created characters outside of their own. own race or ethnicity. Kim’s convenience co-creators Ins Choi and Kevin White have been in the media spotlight following the show’s cancellation and subsequent comments from Liu and other cast members regarding inclusion and representation issues. in the wings.
“The issues the actors raised were precisely that there was no one on the creative side who could talk about the Canadian-Korean cultural nuances,” says Chung. He adds the controversy surrounding the Kim’s convenience The Writers’ Room could have been avoided if more diverse voices had jumped on board as the series gained in popularity.
“As Kim grew more and more, the opportunity to bring in Asian Canadian writers, especially East Asian Canadian writers or Korean Canadian writers, was there and it was just a huge missed opportunity, ”insists Chung. He argues that the Canadian television industry is making up for lost time by investing more in Asian Canadian themed TV series and creative development.
But it is the success of Kim’s convenience on Netflix and in the US market which first exposed the flaws in the Canadian industry. “If Kim’s hadn’t been successful in the United States, I don’t know if we would even talk about it now,” Chung said.
And Liu’s comments only followed the Canadian actor swapping his local celebrity status for a global celebrity with Shang-Chi, a luxury that is not offered to other Canadian actors and creators of Asian origin. “We are all gagged because there is so little work there. If one of us says something, we may never find a job again. So that’s what gagged us for so long, ”says Chung.
“I have the impression that maybe Kim’s convenience was the result of our inability to speak out, our inability to express these grievances in a civil and professional manner, ”he adds. This is about to change as CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, recently unveiled Running the Burbs, a comedy created by and starring Andrew Phung as it portrays a young Canadian family living fully in the suburbs, and Filipino Canadian comedian Gordie Lucius defined as the mastermind behind young adult comedy Frick, I love nature.
Chung is also a co-founder of the Asian Canadian Film Alliance, an advocacy group that seeks to uplift, develop and ensure an accurate portrayal of Asian Canadian characters and creative talents in the domestic film and television industry. television. And the White elephant The director says he also wants Asian Canadian creators to have the chance to tell zombie stories and create other non-ethnic content.
“It has very little to do with the ethnicities of the characters, but it does tell about the characters’ personalities and their surroundings. This is where the diversity of voices comes in, ”says Chung.