Amazon Studios, fresh off a record 12 Academy Award nominations, isn’t focused on making movies this week. Its spotlights and boom microphones are instead trained on the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, in an effort to empower AAPI people while also taking a stand against all the hate that’s been aimed at them.
“We have been having these vital conversations as a company and are excited to bring these discussions, centering the API community, to our whole industry,” said Cheng, who is also co-head of television at Amazon Studios, in a statement announcing the free, one-day virtual event this Thursday, May 20.
The studio and streaming service is hosting “Amazon Studios VOICES: API Representation in Film & Media.” According to a press release, the event will include “conversations that examine Hollywood’s complicity in anti-Asian racism and how leaders can drive change,” in partnership with the Producers Guild of America and Gold House.
In addition to group panels and talks, the conference will also feature musical performances that Amazon Studios promises will celebrate “the richness, diversity and beauty of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.”
As Variety reported last week, actors Daniel Dae Kim, Sophia Ali and Stephanie Hsu are among the speakers lined up to take part, as is producer Christina Oh, along with several experts and academics.
The epidemic of anti-AAPI hate has skyrocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic: According to the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 149% across 16 of America’s largest cities. Data from Stop AAPI Hate released earlier this month revealed that the number of reported incidents surged from 3,795 to 6,603 in March of this year alone, as reported by NBC News.
But racism against AAPI communities is nothing new, and in fact dates back centuries.
“They were some of the very earliest pioneers fighting for immigration rights,” said Gillespie, the Executive Head of DEI at Amazon Studios and IMDb. “You were fine to come into our country and build our railroads. You can even educate your children here. You can even marry. But don’t you dare try to become a citizen. And I think about a lot of that work that was done. It was really the Asian community that was really the pioneer of some of those early court cases fighting for immigration rights and racial equality in this country.”
Gillespie credits being raised by a feminist father for helping her find her voice, from the classroom in Chicago to the boardroom in Culver City, Calif. But her background, she said, does not put her in a position to fully comprehend the struggle of other marginalized groups, including the AAPI community.
“I think one of the most dangerous things that we can do as professionals, particularly women professionals, particularly Black or any other specific racial group of these professionals, is to assume that our lived experience gives us the insight and authority to speak on another lived experience that we don’t have,” Gillespie said in a Zoom interview last week. “I am a cisgender heterosexual Black girl from Chicago. That’s what I can give you. I can’t tell you the lived experience of a trans person in this country. I can’t tell you the lived experience of an Asian-American person, but I can listen and I can educate myself and I can use my body, my voice, my resources to amplify their voices.”
A forthcoming study funded in part by Amazon Studios will address AAPI erasure and stereotyping in Hollywood, according to a studios spokesperson.
“Amazon Studios DEI has been diving deep into our own data, examining our systems and structures, and reimagining our policies to be unapologetic about what inclusive, authentic, and nuanced storytelling looks like,” said Gillespie. “Improving representation and eliminating harmful stereotypes will not happen overnight, and will not happen in a vacuum. That is why we are inviting the whole industry to join us in this event and in this work.”
“Identifying solutions that will create a better entertainment industry through engaging and thoughtful programming is a priority for the Producers Guild, said Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher, Presidents of the Producers Guild of America, in a statement. “The PGA is dedicated to achieving equality and more visibility for AAPI storytellers and stories across TV, film, and new media.”
The event begins at 9 a.m. PDT on Thursday. Registration is required but participation is open to all, at no charge.
Also, Amazon Prime Video is featuring a curated selection of movie titles all this month to honor the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. May is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The collection features AAPI actors, producers, writers, and filmmakers, and includes Amazon Originals such as Jimmy O Yang: Good Deal and Academy Award winner Sound of Metal, licensed titles such as The Farewell, and movies like The Grandmaster from IMDb TV, Amazon’s free streaming service. The entire collection can be found here.