When I was growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity to see many Asian-American representations in movies or TV shows, so I held onto every single character and actress I could (and watched a lot of K-dramas and anime to get the representation I craved so terribly). You could imagine my delight when I had to chance to speak with one of my earliest heroines, Jamie Chung, who has recently become the new ambassador for HBO’s APAV Visionary Program. Chung has a long career in the film industry, starring in much-lauded shows like Gotham and Lovecraft Country, and has most recently won the Golden Needle Space Award for Best Actress for her performance in Eden. Beyond her film repertoire, she has also become an outspoken advocate for the AAPI community, asking for communities to come together “to stand in solidarity against racism and domestic terrorist" in the wake of the horrifying shootings in Atlanta. When we spoke just a few days before the Atlanta spa shootings, Ahead, we speak about representation, uplifting AAPI filmmakers and actors, and the beauty of embracing your unique story in the midst of pain.
Hi, Jamie! Congratulations on your new role as Ambassador for HBO's APAV Visionary Program. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and your role as the Ambassador?
Yes, of course! As the new HBO APAV ambassador, we’re helping to promote this competition; it's a great launchpad for young and upcoming filmmakers. And it’s really a great opportunity for our group of people to tell a story from our perspective and our narrative. This is the fifth year of the competition. The top three winners will all get a cash prize and have their film premiered on HBO and available to stream on HBO Max following a theatrical screening at the 2021 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It’s such a big deal and an incredible opportunity to get their projects seen by a huge audience. We need more AAPIs behind the cameras to tell our stories!
How did you become the new ambassador?
HBO directly approached me! It was Leonard, who is a good friend. HBO actually approached me after playing Ji-Ah in Lovecraft Country. That role made me feel like I finally found the confidence to tell my story, and it was the first time my work fully validated my experience of being Korean American. And I had to do so much research about Korean history for that role, too. Ultimately, I was so proud to be part of the experience of shaping my character. I was talking to Misha Green, who produces Lovecraft Country, about ideas about my character’s story, just bouncing ideas off each other. I asked, “Well, how do these ideas serve the Atticus’s story?” And she was like, “No, no, no. How does it serve your character’s story?”
And I had never thought about it like that before. It was such a revelation. I’ve always felt like a supporting character, and I always just put my story second to the main story. Hearing that from Misha Green really changed my way of thinking. I can’t believe I’ve been in the business for over a decade and I never thought about that.
That revelation really lit a fire in me. After that job, I learned that my perspective matters, and I pitched my own show! I can’t talk much about it, but it was such an awakening and I really want to share that experience and revelation with other Asian-Americans. To show movies and stories about Asian-American experiences, because our stories matter and they’re so precious.
It’s so incredible that HBO has an established short film competition specifically for filmmakers of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. As an Asian American actor and in light of the past year of rising hate crimes against us, how does it feel to be part of a program like this?
I feel like it’s helping to combat anti-Asian hate. I think that hate comes from fear of the unknown, and the more we share our stories, I’m hoping that the bridge between us and the unknown eventually closest the gap. And I think Asian-Americans can relate to suppressing our anger. I’m sure every one of us has experienced racism throughout our lives. And it’s healing when you finally recognize that it's not right to be treated that way. It’s so liberating to just say, “Yes, this is happening!” And I think art is a great way of expressing that. I think that expressing our stories through art can really be healing. And it’s so important to acknowledge that there is anti-Asian hate. It exists! Instead of just brushing it off, until another pandemic hits it, we need to tell our stories. It’s such an incredibly powerful way to combat hatred.
This year’s short film theme is “Taking The Lead” and Hollywood has historically not represented Asian stories and faces to great detail or accuracy. This is changing, but as an Asian-American actor, how do you wish Hollywood would “take the lead” when it comes to telling our stories?
It’s giving us the power to tell our story and to tell our narrative. And this HBO’s way of saying “tell your stories!”, Instead of having a white person telling the story of the Asian-American experience from his perspective. It’s giving us our own shows and stories. And there’s quite an appetite for it! Look at Crazy, Rich Asians and To All The Boys! There’s a voracious appetite for it! It’s literally the business saying like our stories are worth something.
I think Asian-Americans are really rallying with pride and solidarity because of the recent attacks on us, but the more I talk to Asian-Americans, the more I’m learning that so many of us have tried to distance ourselves from Asian culture when we’re younger. Can you relate to that experience at all?
Hell, yeah—are you kidding me? When you’re teased and bullied for having almond shaped eyes? Of course you wanna adapt and make yourself look more [white]! When I was growing up, there was never anyone on TV who looked like us, it was always a blonde person with blue eyes. And I remember when I was a kid, I was told to draw a picture of myself, and I drew myself with blue eyes and blonde hair. Like, how awful is that? That is what I always wanted to be, and as an adult, it makes me so sad that that’s what I felt as a child. In my opinion, there’s nothing more American or beautiful than to embrace your own story. What I’m so grateful for, is that the younger generation and role models to look up to, whether in the White House or journalists in the field!
What do you want to tell young Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, who want to be creative but feel like it’s not a space for them or feel like there’s no room for their stories?
No. No. I don’t believe that at all. Our time is now, and it’s just beginning. Your stories and voice matter. Stop waiting for the perfect opportunity to fall into your lap. Make your own opportunities and tell your stories! It’s so important that we have representation everywhere in entertainment—in front of the camera and behind the camera! I encourage everyone to tell their story and to get involved. If not this year, now you know about it! You can prepare yourself for next year!
HBO APAV is accepting short film submissions until April 1 at HBOVisionaries.com.