Three Ryerson students are sitting across from me, sipping milk teas at the trendy Infuse Café on Yonge Street. It’s a favourite hangout spot for the fourth-year journalism students. They’re taking a break from an editing session in the journalism lounge, where they meet every Wednesday to work on a passion project they started last September. That passion project is a podcast created to confront the lack of Asian representation in entertainment and Canadian media.
Not seen on TV addresses the issues that aren’t being talked about enough, according to the students. Since its inception, they’ve tackled white-washing, stereotyping and the lack of Asian leads. They’ve interviewed a casting director, theatre performer and Second Jen Canadian sitcom creators Amanda Joy and Samantha Wan. I spoke with podcast creators Oriena Vuong, Isabelle Docto and Danielle Lee to talk about the podcast and diversity in the media.
Where did the idea for the podcast come from?
Oriena: “I asked [Isabelle] if she wanted to do a podcast about entertainment and something related to diversity; we wanted to do something that was niche enough but we had enough knowledge in. We also really enjoy pop culture. After pitching it to The Scope, we were asked to focus on Canadian content so that’s what we did. We made it about Asian representation in Canadian entertainment and media but the trends also tie in with American media.”
What types of guests do you have on the podcast?
Oriena: “We’ve reached out to people in theatre, casting directors, actors, show runners and we’ve reached out to comic artists and illustrators. We’re looking forward to finding more guests in different areas of the arts.”
Isabelle: “There are so many talented Asian artists in the community. You just have to follow them on social media. The fact that the industry is so small here – it’s hard to find good Asian representation and that’s why we’re doing the podcast.”
Have you heard anything from a guest that shocked you?
Danielle: “When we talked to the creators of Second Jen Amanda Joy and Samantha Wan they told us about pitching their show and how they had a lot of trouble because they are women of colour and a lot of people just thought they were cute. You hear about stories where you have the white executives who look down on women and people of colour and just to hear that as a real scenario – that was kind of interesting and shocking to me.”
Isabelle: “Our last interview with Millie Tom – she’s a casting director and one of the only Asian ones here in Toronto. We asked her why there aren’t more Asian leads and she said it comes down to who’s making the story. We can complain about white directors and producers not casting people of colour but she said she was proud of people in the Asian community telling their own stories and using their own platforms like Ken Jeong or Eddie Huang who did Fresh off the Boat – actually creating their own stories and running their own narratives instead of just relying on all the white producers out there to come on and cast us. They just took it into their own hands.”
Is that what needs to happen to increase diversity?
Isabelle: “I think we just have to take it into our own hands.”
Oriena: “I agree with that. That’s why we created a podcast. We’re taking the narrative into our own hands, telling it from our perspective as Asian women in media and as journalism students.”
Have you read anything in the news lately relating to Asian diversity issues that angered you?
Isabelle: “In our last episode we talked about how Steve Harvey said Asian males are undesirable to people. We were like…ummm, you’re lying.”
Oriena: “That was rude to claim that and just dismiss an entire race of people and say they’re unattractive. To Steve Harvey that’s his opinion but what we did in our episode was bring it back to where this all began. It’s all about systemic racism and how Asian males were portrayed for years in American television and Hollywood. The kind of light you paint them in is what the majority of people now think of them as – secondary characters. We’re never leads. That projects into why Steve Harvey thinks the way he thinks, which is why we need to correct that.”
Danielle: “Also, white washing is always in the media. You can look at tons of examples, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, that play in London – In the depths of Love. It was based in China, all the characters were Chinese and they had an all white cast… There’s a lot of actors who deserve those roles because they actually are Asian instead of having white people play Asians.”
Isabelle: “People can say, oh, its just movies, why does it matter? But representation is really impactful. When I was a kid all I saw was white people on-screen and so I thought I could never do that. It’s impactful to the younger generation if they don’t see themselves represented on TV or anywhere in any art form.”
Is everyone your target audience?
Oriena: “Yeah, we would never single anyone out and that’s the whole point of this project. It’s to educate and enlighten people on our ethnicity. In terms of diversity, a lot of people tend to look at it as a black and white issue when really its broader than that and we have to think of every single minority group because we all matter.”