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AAPI Women to Watch in Hollywood

July 20, 2021
2 min read time

Shyree Mezick is an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) transracial adoptee who’s yet to find out her exact biological make-up. Mezick became a casting agent in Los Angeles because she wants to “position othered others into their own stories, and to support additional access and opportunity channels directly to those who deserve to be at the center of their own stories.” 

Mezick's advice for the film business? “Every decision-maker should be asking themselves: "Who are the many Chloé Zhao-s Hollywood has missed — and why?” and “What are we going to do to make space for these filmmakers to tell their own stories?” once they are identified. 

If you haven’t asked yourself this question, do so today — right now, in fact. Now is the time to amplify their voices, especially in light of the six AAPI women that were murdered in cold blood in Georgia on March 16, 2021, for “being temptations to a sex addict." For merely existing. How does a man get these ideas into his head? Because Hollywood helps put them there with overtly sexualized and subservient AAPI female characters; sexual rivals to other women on screen. More television shows and films are guilty of this than not.

Since the spa and massage parlour slayings mid-March, a number of think pieces on the issue have emerged. But we need more than op-eds. Chloé Zhao may be “the great yellow hope” of this awards season in Hollywood, but it cannot end with her.

WarnerMedia’s Equity and Inclusion team senior director Kathy Le Backes wants to specifically acknowledge the implications Chloé Zhao's wins have on Asian representation behind the camera.

“This is something that isn't covered much, and it's a topic that I'm particularly passionate about, especially in my new position in the WarnerMedia Equity and Inclusion team. Women of color writers, directors and below-the-line crew are sorely lacking in our industry. The number of Asian women in those roles is likely dismal. How many Asian women in Hollywood can you name who aren't in front of the camera? I'm guessing even people who work in our industry are holding up less than ten fingers. It's time to change those numbers.”

Diane Paragas is a Filipinx film director who works in both documentary and narrative features, as well as in commercials. She’s best known for writing and directing Yellow Rose, her narrative feature debut which was released last year by Sony Pictures, making it the first Filipino-American film to be released theatrically by a major Hollywood studio. It’s eligible for Oscar® nominations.

“Everyone is super excited about Chloé Zhao really getting the mainstream recognition she deserves. She is a rare real auteur who just happens to be a woman and Chinese," Paragas says. "I’ve been a longtime fan of her work and her talent is exceptional. I like that she doesn’t limit herself in terms of subject matter and only goes on her gut to create films that speak to her soul. That being said, I am so proud of her wins.” Paragas believes Zhao will win the Oscar for Best Director this year. 

Vanessa Lee, a first-generation Korean-American woman, is a development executive at Janet Yang Productions. Janet produced The Joy Luck Club, the film that was supposed to jump-start a million admired Asian-American films but did not end up doing so. Though well regarded, it was directed by a man, about Asian-American women. About Nomadland, Lee says, “It feels like it would be difficult to make, with it being so grounded in reality. It resonated with so many people.”

So, where are your lists of “the next Chloé Zhao” of AAPI female storytellers? And do you have not just East-Asian diaspora women on there, but also South-East-Asian diaspora and South-Asian diaspora ones, as well? If not, go back and find some. They are everywhere. You can even #StartWith8Hollywood to find them.


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