When people hear the premise of East of Hollywood, the first thing they ask me is, “aren’t you white?” To which I normally respond, “I’m Italian American,” but that controversial distinction is best left for another time. Of course what they really mean to ask me is, “shouldn’t this film have had an Asian writer/director?” This is a good question. One I pondered very early in the writing process, because, let’s face it, what do I know about being an Asian American actor? I am neither Asian American, nor a trained actor. I am a complete outsider. But maybe that’s a good thing.
The film was crafted to educate the rest of the country on the absurdity of the situation and it is shot like a documentary because it’s not told from the perspective of an insider looking out, but from an outsider looking in. And yes, as an outsider I may not be able to relate to the specific struggle, but as a human, I can relate to the basic sentiment. Everyone, regardless of his race or gender, has felt limited by something beyond his control. Whether it is socially, professionally, romantically, or physically, we have all had to mask our frustration with a smile. This film is intended to embody that universal experience while exemplifying it through struggle of Asian American actors.
While casting my feature film, The Cocks of the Walk, I found myself on the wrong side of the equation. I had based the script on my own experience playing Badminton, and as a result, I needed to cast many Asian American actors, all of whom came prepared to audition in an accent and portray a stereotype. Not because they wanted to, but because it’s what they assumed I wanted to see. And they were right. But why did I need these stereotypes in my movie? What did it add to the final product? And more so, why did that seem more acceptable than asking any other race to become a caricature on film?
I couldn’t answer any of these question. Perhaps I was just subconsciously influenced by what I was exposed to in the media. After all, it seems that aside from misrepresentation there is very little representation at all for Asian Americans in Hollywood. And as I got to know the actors in my feature on a more personal level, I discovered they all had the same story. They all had to pretend to be more Asian to get a role, despite most of them being born and raised in America and not knowing a word of (insert language of choice here). The most vocal about the topic, and the person with whom I went on to make this film, Michael Tow, shared the desire to shed light on this often overlooked problem. And so, East of Hollywood was born.
I got the chance to work with some amazingly talent actors who simultaneously exposed and shattered stereotypes with their performances. Each actor not only created hysterical characters but brought them to life with improvisations that could have only come from their own experiences. I hope this film can do its part to keep the momentum going and creating more opportunities for equal and fair representation in Hollywood. And I hope it makes a few people laugh while doing so.