Month: September 2013

Why I Wish Hollywood Would Reform “Breakdowns”

For years I have been tackling the issue of “race” in casting.  It plagues me, fascinates me, and at the same time, frustrates me to no end.  Is there a solution to the “race problem” in Hollywood, and if so, what can we do about it?

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The Racial Diversity of Asia (1904)

The solution I have come to over 15+ years in the entertainment industry is to create your own work, take a strong stance and lead your team in the direction you would like to go.  Write for yourself, because no one else will read your mind.  However, when it comes to casting “breakdowns,” the term used for casting purposes when “breaking down a script” circling all characters and describing the roles actor’s would play based on the information from the script itself alone, the descriptions tend to be very limited in terms of race alone.

While they only have the text from the original script to go by, Breakdowns Services duty is to find this information and place it in a catalogue for talent agents to submit their clients for potential auditions.  It looks something like this:
[ANNE (f, 20’s, Caucasian)] Lead.  Blonde.  All-American girl.  Educated, sharp, and lively.
[JOE (m, 30s, Caucasian)] Lead.  Rugged type.  [JUAN (m, 45, Latino)] Supporting.  Joe’s Mexican neighbor.
[MEG (f, 20s, Asian)] Supporting.  Anne’s friend from college.
and if you are lucky:
[SARA (f, 20s, OPEN ETHNICITY)] Florist.  One line. Supporting.

The problem being:  Like any other “race,” there are several types of people that fall into the categories.  “Asian” in Hollywood typically means Chinese, Japanese, or Korean descent.  This excludes the several other types of Asians on the market, mainly Indians (which is a category I sometimes but barely fall into despite my genetics).  Anyone who falls into the category of “ethnically ambiguous” or “mixed-race” (me) always gets shafted and never gets called in for the stereotypical role of TV casting, and thus never has a chance to “break in” with racial/culturally driven co-starring roles the traditional Hollywood way (Hollywood: honestly, you can keep them). 

Breakdowns Services are almost at a disadvantage when it comes to equality in casting as they only have the screenwriter’s to pull from and can’t make any suggestions or changes from the scripts they are given.  Thus, if “Judy, 23, Asian, Dog-walker” is all we see in the script, that’s all we will see in the breakdowns.  Then, it’s up to casting directors to bring in a variety of Asian-Americans or flat out Asian people to appease the director, whom also may have a highly limited view of casting color-blind.

So who’s to blame?  In the end, it’s the writers for their lack of imaginative description of minor to major characters, casting directors for not bringing in enough diverse options, and directors for choosing the same stereotype every time (mainly in television and commercials).  And of course, anyone that suffers from this type of casting, as it is our responsibility to write new stories and bring in new faces with strong, descriptive, diverse,  rich backgrounds not limited to the European colonial view of the world [White, Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, & Any Ethnicity].

While it makes me sad that I may never portray a Finnish person or any Scandinavian in live action media (which is a huge part of my heritage), I may just have to write that into my next script.  The general public already has such a limited view of the world and I believe it is my responsibility to open their eyes to a unique story like mine.

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Jenette Goldstein as “Vasquez” in Aliens

People who are mixed-race fall behind the curtain all too often in Hollywood.  Vin Diesel, who just earned his star on the Walk of Fame this August, had to fight his way to stardom by proving that a mixed person has a larger audience and relates to more people that someone who is one “race.”  I couldn’t agree more, however, in the end:  It is the human experience that we relate to, not the color of someone’s skin.  I’ve always believed that the best person for the role is the best actor for the role, the one who can believably physically portray the character, and the one who has the most talent to portray it [case in point, Jenette Goldstein, who portrayed the Hispanic role “Vasquez” in James Cameron’s “Aliens” is American white/Jewish.  And she killed it].

Bottom line:  I’m not asking for racial accuracy as much as I’m asking for diversity.  If the specific ethnic background doesn’t necessarily matter in the role, it would be great if writers could spell that out in the script, if Breakdowns could honor that, and casting directors call in a properly *diverse group of people, and if, in the end, the directors could select the best actor for the role regardless of race.

-Satu [the “multi-facial” actress]

*not limited to what only you think it is, but what the world does.

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Top 10 Music Videos About Female Empowerment

Coming off the hot heels of the launch of Katy Perry’s brand new music video for “Roar,” I was inspired to create a Top Ten list of music videos that make me feel like I could take over the world, if my soundtrack dictates it so.  In a world where women and men are constantly bombarded by patriarchal videos and images, it has always been refreshing to see artists speak at high volume through their music, spreading a clear message that women are strong in our own clever, sexy, intelligent, wicked, and wonderful ways.  In no particular order:

1. MADONNA, “HUMAN NATURE” (1995)

One of my all time favorite dance videos, Madonna moves into some serious BDSM imagery with tight black vinyl outfits, whips, restraints, and strong boxed in dance moves in this music video with lyrics that suggest anyone that has a problem with her or her antics can quietly screw off.  She is not sorry for being who she is and isn’t afraid to show in in the role of dominatrix, a profession many women daydream of being in their day to day lives as a position of ultimate power.

2. M.I.A., “BAD GIRLS” (2012)

Used in the film “Heat” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, in an era where women are continually fighting for their voices to be heard, this music video pushes the envelope worldwide by featuring Saudi women dressed in men’s clothes performing stunts on hot cars in the desert, wielding guns and filing nails.  MIA is a compelling artist with her lyrics echoing personal experiences from being a Sri Lankan refugee and an all around cool and refreshing voice in the music industry, in which the presence of South Asian women is virtually non-existent in the West.

3. KATY PERRY, “ROAR” (2013)

Continuing to be a strong voice for girls and women everywhere, Katy Perry aces the image of a strong and independent woman that loves to have fun in her environment as a “Jane” to her failed “Tarzan/Explorer.” Like Snow White, she romances the wild around her and takes over as a Bettie Page type Jungle Queen.  I love this video all around and Katy will dominate once again as the biggest pop superstar on the planet.

4. THE RUNAWAYS, “CHERRY BOMB” (LIVE IN JAPAN, 1977)

Bad ass, edgy, in your face, young, and hot.  The Runaways dominate in this live video suggesting that f* you mom and dad, I’m out of here and I’m not afraid to be who I am.  Rock n’ Roll indeed.

5. NANCY SINATRA, “THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’ ” (1966)

Thank the Universe for the 1960’s in fashion, glamour, and women fighting for women.  Nancy Sinatra pushes the envelope with this subtle sexy and strong message of “Don’t even think about taking me for a ride.”  Hit the road jack!  (side note:  I actually met Nancy last year at a restaurant job where I wasn’t allowed to wear fancy shoes.  On that particular day I decided to say screw it, I’m wearing my tall black leather go-go boots.  And in she walked….).

6. CHRISTINA AGUILERA, “FIGHTER” (2002)

Dark, awesome, and a great message to all masochists that thanks for attempting to hurt me, but all you’ve done is create a monster.  And I’m perfectly happy to be that monster because I’m going to kick your ass with my awesomeness that you helped create.

7. TLC, “AIN’T 2 PROUD 2 BEG” (1992)

The safety-pinned condoms, over-sized soother necklaces, and giant neon hats were no distraction from the strong messages of ultimate female power-trio, TLC in the early ’90s.  I found them each highly inspiring as a strong and edgy group, daring to wear the baggiest of baggy clothes and shoving what you think of them off because it ain’t no thing.

8. DESTINY’S CHILD, feat. Da BRAT, “SURVIVOR” (2001)

A wild and strong message for women who just got out of a stressful and hard relationship, Survivor evokes a feeling of “I’m ready to move on and be better without you.”  Destiny’s Child was all around a very positive group for women and Beyonce continues holding that torch with her solo career, inspiring women all over the world to be cool, be professional, and it’s okay to be sexy in your own way “cause my momma taught me better than that.”

9. JANET JACKSON, “RHYTHM NATION” (1989)

Evoking sci-fi, “Blade Runner”-esque imagery, soldier-like uniforms, and bold dance moves that shake you to your core, Janet Jackson evolved into Rhythm Nation busting on the seems as a tough, serious, and commanding woman who is clearly the one in charge.  I always imagine myself stomping through the streets owning the world around me when I listen to this song.  Thank you Janet for making me strong!

10.  EN VOGUE “FREE YOUR MIND” (1992)

While this video focuses more on the topic of racism, it is highly empowering for people perceived as stereotypes and are treated with prejudice in the world around them.  As women, En Vogue always encompassed the image of strength, fierceness, and determination with a boldness rivaled only by Janet Jackson.  The choice of using a lit up fashion runway strutting down towards the camera with attitude, black clothing, boots, and a live band gives us a clear statement of “Don’t f*ck with me” that I live by day to day.

All of these groups and artists inspired me to be the woman I am today.  A few runner ups:  Alanis Morissette “You Oughtta Know,” and Joan Jett “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” These songs continually make me feel good about who I am and I hope the next generation of women will find their selves much faster than I did, as pop music continues to feature strong women at the forefront.  Thank you for allowing me to be who I am with no shame, no fear, and absolutely, no regrets.

-Satu Runa, actress, writer, producer, and singer/songwriter.