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How One Independent Film Company Tackles Diverse Storytelling

Since 2003, Wong Fu Productions has created stories that represented Asian Americans outside the Hollywood gaze.
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How One Independent Film Company Tackles Diverse Storytelling

There is a lack of diversity in Hollywood. According to a recent UCLA Hollywood diversity report, people of color make up 13.9 percent of lead roles despite representing 40 percent of the U.S. population in 2015 and 2016.

Their studies suggest diverse films are lucrative, but Hollywood still lacks diversity in its casts, leads and production crews. Outside the traditional Hollywood scene, independent production companies are finding their niche by developing diverse content on their own. 

With mainstream films and series like  "Crazy Rich Asians", "Bao," and Netflix's "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," 2018 has seen more Asian narratives being explored. But Philip Wang, co-founder of independent digital filmmaking company Wong Fu, says there's still plenty of work to be done.

"I would definitely say that there's been progress, 100 percent. I'm not going to take for granted the hard work that a lot of my peers and other creators are putting in to represent themselves and get their voices heard," Wang says.

"What I don't want Hollywood to think is like, 'Oh, we get your show. That's enough.' You know, like, 'Oh, we gave you one movie this year, that's enough.' And I don't want the community to also feel like that's enough either, because if we take our foot off the gas and we just kind of cruise, then people are going to pass this up, you know. All the other communities in entertainment in media are constantly pushing," he said.

Wong Fu Productions went the non-traditional route and produced its own content outside Hollywood. They got their start on online in 2003 and have since amassed over 3 million subscribers. They create hundreds of short films and episodes with leads and a cast that is all or mostly Asian-American. They're funded, in-large part, by their core fans: Asian-Americans and Asians around the world who speak English. Their feature film "Everything Before Us" was independently funded. Wang and his staff raised over $300,000 from their fans. And even though their fans see themselves reflected in their work, Wang says Asian-Americans are often the invisible minority. 

He says: "Asians are last mentioned, when it comes to diversity. It's because of the model minority myth. It's because people think we're fine. It's because people think we're just happy, we're happy with where we are and we don't need anything else. And that's so far from the truth."

In 2016, 44 of the top 100 films in terms of box-office success didn't have any Asian characters in the cast. Also, Asian characters are often given to white actors like Emma Stone in "Aloha" or Tilda Swinton in "Doctor Strange."

Wang says: "There's a very big divide between Hollywood and Asian-Americans in Hollywood. … The traditional system still has a lot of power … It's a reason why movies are still as big as they are. … At the same time, I don't believe in just waiting around for Hollywood to give us those opportunities. I think if we do that, our progress is going to be extremely slow. If we're just waiting for the lottery basically of 'Star Wars' finally giving us an Asian character, you know. We can't wait around for that."

Wong Fu just released a five-episode series called "Yappie." Wang stars in the story about a Chinese-American man going through life and love while dealing with stereotypes along the way. Wang said he pitched the idea to traditional film channels, but unfortunately it didn't get picked up, so his team went ahead and created it anyway. 

"I realized, I don't want to wait around for this to be in development hell in the Hollywood world. We have a great audience that I know we're doing this. ... This is for them," he says.