The best review of the worst restaurant

Tina Nguyen’s review of Trump Grill(e?) for Vanity Fair is a work of art.

Politics aside, Tina Nguyen’s now-famous review of the resturant inside New York’s Trump Tower is the stuff of legend and journalistic goals. She took a basic restaurant review and told a story out of her experience, from the atmosphere, the people around her, and most importantly, the food.

Nguyen is a political writer at Vanity Fair’s politics and business-focused magazine The Hive. Her other most recent pieces focus on breaking political news like Trump’s transition, Obama’s recent press conference on Russian hacking, and Democrats’ recovery post-election. Her articles all have the brutal honesty and voice of her Grill review, something I find refreshing in the always stoic news cycles of the NYT, AP, and so on.

Now I love a good Trump bashing as much as the next bleeding heart liberal, but I really loved Nguyen’s piece for its writing. Nothing about Nguyen’s writing sounds passive. I could easily talk about her use of analogy, metaphor, and her great use of imagery, but it’s something readers should see for themselves:

The restaurant features a stingy number of French-ish paintings that look as though they were bought from Home Goods. Wall-sized mirrors serve to make the place look much bigger than it actually is. The bathrooms transport diners to the experience of desperately searching for toilet paper at a Venezuelan grocery store. And like all exclusive bastions of haute cuisine, there is a sandwich board in front advertising two great prix fixe deals.

I asked the waiter what Trump’s children eat. He didn’t seem to understand the question, or, like Marco Rubio, appeared unable to depart from his prescribed talking points.“Oh, I’ve shaken hands with him before, and they’re pretty normal-sized hands,” he responded.

The steak came out overcooked and mealy, with an ugly strain of pure fat running through it, crying out for A.1. sauce (it was missing the promised demi-glace, too). The plate must have tilted during its journey from the kitchen to the table, as the steak slumped to the side over the potatoes like a dead body inside a T-boned minivan.

The fried shell, meant for one, contained a party-sized amount of lettuce and ground beef suspended in sour cream and “Dago’s famous guacamole”, which NASA might have served in a tube labeled “TACO FILLING” in the early days of the space program. Sadly, the taco bowl, perfectly adequate as it was, is not good enough to prevent Trump from deporting millions of Hispanics.

The Fifth Avenue — Grey Goose with Cointreau and a “splash of cranberry” — tasted like vodka mixed with Crystal Light, the ultimate drink for an 18-year-old pledging a sorority.

Savage. And wonderfully written, her own voice coming through clearly in her assessment of Trump’s restaruant as a possible metaphor for the man and his upcoming presidency. At the end she says she wanted to be generous in her review, but looks around the grill again and the parade of humiliated Trump enemies vying for postions on his staff going in and out of the lobby. Nguyen takes in the tourists and overwhelmed staff and has to “wonder if he cared about any of them, either.”

Of course the man who’s too busy to hold a formal press conference or attend intelligence meetings has more than enough time to respond to a bad review in Vanity Fair. He tweeted his anger, because that’s all he knows how to do, and specifically called out the editor of the magazine, Graydon Carter.

Interestingly enough, NPR reported back in March that Carter was the one who started the beloved running joke of Trump’s small hands. The satirical magainze he co-created, Spy, would lambast Trump and NPR says, “the magazine chronicled New York’s obsessions with wealth and social status, zeroing in on Trump’s questionable business dealings (of which there were many) and his outlandish personal traits (of which there were perhaps even more).” So really, this has less to do with the review and more with Trump’s easily wounded pride.

Fortunately, Nguyen, Carter, and Vanity Fair came out the stronger for the article. CBS Money Watch reported, “in the aftermath, Vanity Fair said Thursday’s subscriptions soared 100 times the level it usually gets in a day. Plus, Thursday saw the largest number of subscriptions sold in a single day for any Condé Nast publication. Further, Vanity Fair added 10,000 new Twitter followers.”

So I say read Nguyen’s article for its writing, stay for its scathing review of Trump’s attempt to con people into believing he offers a quality product — be it his restaurant, competency, or presidency.

Meet Christine Chen

The behind the scenes force at WongFu Productions now onto create her own outlet for empowering women.

What fans see: the golden hour in beautiful, green park, the yellow light hitting a young Asian American couple at just the right angle over their shoulders as they sit in deep conversation about the state of their future. What Christine Chen sees: filming permits, actor schedules, props, mic cables, staying on schedule, lunch for the crew, and passerby who could disrupt every take.

Chen was the production director for the YouTube channel WongFu Productions, one of the first YouTube channels to create original short films and a prominent name in the Asian American community. Subscribers often didn’t know how much Chen contributed to each video even though it may not have been possible without her organization, scheduling, planning ahead, and outreach. In 2011, she was the first full-time employee at WongFu Productions. In her early days she often had to make sure the team, Wes Chan and Philip Wang, had eaten, buy office supplies and snacks, and learn what it meant to go from event organizing to video producing. Over time she saw where improvements could be made during the shooting process and in office management and her role developed into producing for videos, events manager, bookings, office administration, human resources as the hiring manager, and more.

“My role at WongFu has been, for lack of a better term, like a mom,” Chen said of her time with the small production company. “You take care of so many things. They asked me to write a manual so that everyone else can reference it and fill in the gaps of what I’m leaving. I couldn’t even like write this stuff down because it was like, ‘oh yeah, I forgot I did that.’”

Over five years with WongFu Productions, during which she saw the company reach milestones like the channel’s ten-year anniversary, its first feature-length film, and nearly a dozen international tours. Chen decided to leave her many hats and roles in February, and has been enjoying her time in-between careers. She’s in the process of editing her own series on her own YouTube channel, Peaches and Tea, and plans to begin a podcast with former WongFu co-worker, Regina Fang. Chen still remains close friends with the staff at WongFu, but felt she had begun to outgrow her shell with company earlier in the year.

“I always respected that this is your company and whatever stories you want to tell I’m here to help,” Chen said. “And the day I don’t want to do that is the day I go. I really gave them everything that I could give them, and I left building a second team so that they can continue on and get bigger and better.”

For spending half a decade with one of the most notable Asian American channels in new media, being Taiwanese American wasn’t always a factor in Chen’s identity. A Southern California native and self-described beach girl, Chen grew up in Arcadia, California the town of “middle-class, quiet, very nice community of rich people.” In the predominantly Asian town, she never thought about her friends being white or Asian as a kid, but many immigrant parents who were competitive with their children, encouraging careers in medicine or law, and pushed either the Universities of California or Ivy Leagues to compare with the other families in the neighborhood.

That atmosphere influenced her parents’ expectations who pushed Chen, as the oldest child, to do and achieve more in the usual ways: straight-A’s, first chair violin with private lessons, honors classes, and the like. Chen abided by her parents expectations for years, studying carefully to keep up with her friends and to avoid disappointing her parents and their subsequent arguments, yelling, and fights. She often would hear things like “Oh you’re not good enough. How could you be so stupid? This is common sense.” and began to feel that without reaching certain standards she was unworthy. She felt that she must have been stupid if she didn’t get into certain classes or get good grades. Math, especially, was one of those topics.

“I tried so hard, I went to so many different tutors, and to this day those are the things that just stay with us,” Chen said. “And I think it’s just one of those things that you just tell yourself you’re not good enough and it’s in your head. Suddenly your mind just accepts it as so, even if it’s not.”

Chen stayed on this path for years, earning high grades, continuing her violin lessons, and tutors. Then early in high school she started to question why she was working so hard and her parents pushed her so hard. She realized she played the violin only because her parents picked it out for her, and she wasn’t earning her high grades for herself. The angst set in her first two years of high school, and Chen said she started to skip class, hang out with seniors, and focused on being popular.

“In high school I just felt like I was done,” she said. “I was done trying to please my parents, I didn’t know what it was for. I knew it wasn’t for me, and I didn’t want to do it for them anymore. So we fought like crazy, it was horrible, horrible fighting.”

Her attitude sophomore year resulted in failing some of her classes, and as a result her parents wouldn’t renew her permit to attend high school in Arcadia, out of her hometown district. Faced with completely starting over in her final two years of high school, Chen said that was when it hit her that it was in her hands now. She studied hard again to get into the new honors classes and earned straight-A’s, but it wasn’t enough to offset the damage of her sophomore year. Of all her cousins, Chen is the only one to not attend a UC, instead opting out of UC Riverside for California State Long Beach. She was happier to choose a blank slate at Cal State, entering undeclared and graduating with a major in business, focus on marketing.

Looking back, Chen realizes as she was growing up she didn’t understand her parents were trying to provide what they thought was the best future for her in the only way they knew how. Between the culture and language barriers, she also didn’t understand at the time Chen’s mother had her own pressure to live up to.

“She was a daughter-in-law and I think that she felt very pressured to prove our family to her mother-in-law, and that was by her first child,” Chen said. “And I didn’t realize that my dad was working late hours, and he was a mailman at the time, working lots and lots of shifts just to pay for all this tutoring for me, and for private violin lessons and all that.”

Now she credits her mother for two of the biggest influences in her life: her love of film and one specific moment Chen remembers impacting her to this day. When she was in elementary school and struggling with concluding paragraphs for essays, she couldn’t figure out the best way to end her papers. Neither her teachers nor her tutors could explain how to write a conclusion, instead telling her it must have six to eight sentences and conclude the thesis of the paper.

“Then my mom just in very simple terms, and in Mandarin, said, ‘Well, what is the heart of what you’re saying?’” Chen said. “I told her recently (that) I credit her for everything that I write that has any sort of message, or how I view any type of body of work. I think that’s what I kind of brought to WongFu, and tried to pull out of everything that we make or do. That’s ultimately why I left as well.”

Chen met Philip Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu, the three original founders of WongFu Productions, when she was working for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPF) as a the special event coordinator. In 2010 and 2011 Chen planned the festival’s parties, gala, and other events using her past experience as an independent event planner. When LAAPF hosted a special WongFu Productions screening in 2011, the event was packed and Chen began talking to Wang about new media. She had heard of WongFu before through videos emailed along by friends, and through a number of events hosted by the film festival became more aware of the growing presence of Asian Americans online. Even by 2011, when YouTube was six years old, not many film festivals and other mainstream outlets were taking WongFu Productions seriously even though the channel wanted to bridge that divide between old and this new media platform. After Chen and Wang talked about this divide, WongFu’s mission, and how Asian representation needs to grow, he reached out to bring her on board on a project by project basis.

“To work with creatives like that as a producer, she started getting her producing chops and she did very well,” says Francis Cullado, a co-worker of Chen’s at LAAPF. He’s the current Executive Director of Visual Communications, the company who runs the festival. “I think part of your job as a producer is coordinating stuff, connecting the dots. That’s what she really does. That was a pretty easy transition for her and I think that’s why WongFu wanted her, she had those skills.”

While at WongFu Productions, she saw the channel reach the 1 and 2 million subscriber mark, crowd fund their independent film “Everything Before Us,” tour the film internationally, be a part of several sponsored web series, and helped create their second channel More WongFu. When she joined the channel, she learned video production in the WongFu, on the fly, improvised style, and took on many different roles to help the company go.

“As things started to progress and she started to get more involved, it was really inspiring to see her in a leadership role,” Regina Fang, Chen’s long time WongFu co-worker and podcast co-host, said. “I was kind of more the back-end of answering emails, whereas she was more proactive going out making the shoots happens. Watching her step it up and be able to kind of see everything that could potentially go wrong and have a back up plan for it. That was very, very inspiring.”

Chen always believed in their mission and the impact their stories were having, the channel’s message of encouraging Asian American representation, and telling honest stories from the community. As the channel grew into developing the on-screen personalities of the company, namely the three founders, Chen found herself in front of the camera when they were short actors. Out of her element, Chen said she started to look at how the guys were doing their on-screen personas and tried to follow their example.

“I naively just adopted that and it came out as I was dumb,” she said. “Looking back, I can see how that wasn’t really me. I was trying to imitate what I thought the guys were trying to do. I had no idea what the significance of that would mean.”

Along with her discomfort being on camera, her role as producer wasn’t officially explained to fans, as they still wanted to keep the core WongFu team to the three founders. Considering she worked in the the days when it was still rare to see YouTube channels with its own production crew, Chen became an unexplained constant in the usually all-male videos. In turn, Chen faced the full scrutiny of WongFu’s young fanbase. Relentless comments about her appearance began showing up in videos, and Chen felt comments attacking women for their looks tears them down more because that the main currency for women in media, especially on new platforms like YouTube.

“After that, it crushed me,” Chen said. “Before those comments, I never thought I was ugly. After those comments, I thought I was the most hideous person ever. I was in my mid-twenties, and I cried. I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror and be like, ‘You’re hideous, you’re ugly.’”

The comments Chen saw affected her for many years at WongFu, changing her self-confidence and how she viewed herself. Compared to seeing comments on videos she wasn’t in talking about the content of the story, she watched multiple hate comments specifically about her receive hundreds of likes. She said she bought in to that mentality that commenters can’t all be wrong, and lost all interest in being in front of the camera.

“You see it all over the internet, and some people will say some really heinous things and it’s kind of removed from you, that’s just what happens,” Chen said. “But then when you’re on the receiving end of it… I’m actually glad it happened because I can really have empathy towards it, or else I don’t think I’d ever really fully understand it.”

Now Chen has a better understanding of how to feel about herself and hate comments, she tries to encourage the new team of employees at WongFu so they can navigate what it means to be on-screen. Checking to make sure each one is comfortable with the shoot, knowing they represent the company, not worrying about pretending to be someone they aren’t, and asking if they’re ok with being on camera. Chen joined WongFu at a different time for the company, and as the first hired producer she wants to make sure she can offer the guidance she missed.

“There have been times in the comment section people will say stuff about Jenn and I,” Ashley Matsunami, the producer trained to take over Chen’s role, said. “And Christine will chime in saying they’re more than just their looks. There’s more to them than just ‘I think they’re attractive’. They’re strong women, they have much more to offer the world than just their faces.”

Chen has always been a strong advocate for women, not an easy stance to take in the male-dominated YouTube community. When WongFu hired interns and editors, Chen was still often the only woman and she was the only one who could give voice at table reads about women representation. At first Chen wasn’t confident enough in her filmmaking opinions to share with the others, but she realized that’s often a pitfall of women in the workplace. As she began to grow close friendships with Chan and Wang, the main writers for videos, she felt encouraged to speak up in meetings about how she felt.

“It made me speak up more, it made me not accept things when before I just let it go,” Chen said. “Before it was ‘what’s wrong with me?’ but then it was like ‘hey, these are things that I don’t think I’m wrong’. You may not agree with me, but let me finish.”

There would still be times when her coworkers would cut her off or shut her down, so when new employees Matsumi and Jenn Le joined the team Chen actively worked to make sure their opinions were heard. At tables reads whenever one of the girls said something, Chen made sure to back them up and add on to their statement. Now that’s Chen left the office, Matsumi said everyone thinks more about the roles women play in their scripts, and she works to voice the concerns that she feels.

After years in the boy’s club of YouTube, Chen thought it was time to create a platform that focuses on telling women’s stories and voices, talking about daily life, struggles in the workplace, relationships, and more. She said she’s not focused on starting the channel to enter the YouTube economy, focusing on views, subscribers, and ads, and is open to seeing where the channel could go. Perhaps in a year she might not continue working in new media.

“That’s what brought me to where I am now. Just gaining the courage to move forward and not be concerned about now that I’m 32, I’m going to risk it all again,” Chen said. “Back to what my mom said for the conclusions of my essays, what is the heart to what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to say. That’s really all I want to focus on right now.”

We Own the 8th: Where Fandom Meets Community

The place for Asian American artists to meet and collaborate.

New media changed the divide between creators and fans, as the ease to create content and give it a home online started a generation of artists with the ability to connect with fans on a more accessible level. New media also opens more opportunities to give voice to communities not represented in the mainstream, seen notably in Lost Angeles, Asian American artists. In this sprawling city, creators meet to network within the community at a number of different professional organizations, but one unique place encourages Asian American artists to come together as a community.

We Own the 8th, defined as an artists collective for Asian Americans, is a small network of different creatives who meet once a month in downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 2013 by actor Dante Basco, spoken word artist Beau Sia, and musician AJ Rafael, We Own the 8th is a way for Asian Americans to come together as a gathering place for the community. Monthly meetings at The Great Company, a studio and events space in the LA arts district, can feature a panel discussion, film screenings, special guest speakers, workshops, and more. Meetings feature guests from various disciplines, and people who come vary from artists established in their careers, others just starting out in the media, or supportive friends and fans.

“A lot of people come in because their friend told them that is was an awesome thing,” Rafael said. “It used to be a thing that me, Dante, and Beau as a select few would bring in people directly. We’re not doing a lot of marketing for it, I love organic growth.”

On average, at least a few dozen people attend each month’s meeting, enjoying the Great Company’s spacious rooms. The main room usually has a cooler of sodas for people to buy and some free snacks sit out on a high bar. At 7 P.M., one of the founders will open the set of wooden double doors leading in to the main room, laid out like a casual concert at someone’s home. In front of the room stands a small stage about a foot or two off the ground, beaten up couches take up the first two rows of seats, and behind that are rows of foldable plastic chairs.

A large white projection screen stands as the backdrop to the stage for films, shorts, music videos, or other presentations and the projector sits on a stand amidst the couches. The low yellow lights, couches, and minimal stage set up give the whole room a comfortable, open mic feel to every meeting. Most meetings open with a short song from a musician known locally or opening remarks introducing the night’s featured artist before starting the official event of the night.

“The idea of owning something like the eighth of the month is that in the community at large, everybody can come up for you and you can promote for everybody,” Dante Basco said. “That could be a big leveraging point for the community, having this idea that we own a day of the month when we can put out product.”

After spending over thirty years in the industry, Basco understands the inherent racism and other barriers Asian Americans, especially Filipino Americans like himself, experience working in Hollywood. Basco spent most of his early career working in black Hollywood, and admired that community of entertainers working together to create shows, promote others works, and network. He said that after many auditions and roles that didn’t sit well with him, he began to wonder why that same system didn’t exist for Asian American actors. He started thinking how he could create that space for not only the YouTube creators in new media, but for all of pop culture. He reached out to Sia, Rafael, and the founder of the Great Company Carl Choi, and they started talking about why Asian Americans are the least represented in the media. Together they began an open forum for artists to bridge new and traditional media, with no official meeting place or name in mind. Choi had recently opened the Great Company and offered to host the first meeting, and they by chance ended up meeting on the eighth.

The first meetings were not the same format as current ones, instead more focused on group discussions than a featured project. The board would bring in a keynote speaker and sit in a circle to discuss their projects or give ideas of what We Own the 8th could be in the future. As attendees grew after about a year and a half, the format of meetings started to change into the current structure of a produced event with a sharper focus. The founders knew they wanted to incorporate the eighth of the month for its significance in Chinese culture — the pronunciation of it (bā) sounding similar to prosperity (fā) — and originally tossed around names like Eight Asians. They came up with “We Own the 8th” as a way for the community to claim the day, the one day of the month audiences could expect something to come from Asian American artists.

Every We Own the 8th meeting shows how close the artists and the audience feel, not only in proximity but also in how the ways new media broke down the barriers between fans and celebrity. Especially with YouTube creators like bloggers, musicians, comedians, and short filmmakers, the idea of “they’re just like us” gives creates an atmosphere of approachability that We Own the 8th makes the most of every month. Meetings, no matter who the featured guest may be, focus on the craft instead of the fandom. Rafael says the largest crowd he’s seen at The 8th was for Randall Park, Louis Huang on ABC’s “Fresh Off Boat,” and even then the panel focused more on the importance of representation in the media instead of a fan meet-and-greet. Both Basco and Rafael have their own fan followings as well, Rafael with 638 thousand YouTube subscribers on his channel and Basco has 61 thousand subscribers. However they don’t try to actively promote We Own the 8th to those fans and instead focus on finding artists to create projects and build the community.

“It’s a big potluck with a purpose,” Minji Chang, a member of the We Own the 8th Directors Board and the Executive Director of Asian American non-profit organization Kollaboration, said. “They developed a core group that really works hard, I’m not even talking about the board, I’m talking about people within the collective who keep the fire alive, keep project going. This is very LA industry-focused, a place for people to learn, a place where they can develop a sense of identity, and find others who feel and think the same way.”

The founders appreciate the close-knit membership We Own the 8th has right now, and its reputation as a hidden gem. They can already see how meetings impact people who come often in the friends they make and in conversations about future projects together. The meeting for December featured a screening of the web series “Pretty Dudes” by YouTube channel CSRC, and the complete cast and crew are people who met at We Own the 8th.

“When I bring my personal friends over, they feel inclined to take some sort of action, whether big or small,” Rafael said. “People I tell to come because I know they’re either looking for a space, a space to meet people, or just want to be around more people of different talents, they end up meeting other creators and working together. I love seeing that happen.”

We Own the 8th is only three years old, so both Rafael and Basco say it’s still figuring itself out. The original goal of having a community that releases different projects once a month — owning the eighth — has yet to be realized as the LA community continues to grow. The founders feel that in the next few years, art and Asian American representation will start to impact more audiences outside the community, and We Own the 8th will be ready when it does.

Los Angeles optimistic for 2024 Olympics

Looking out at the modest Dedeaux Field on the University of Southern California, it doesn’t appear any more or less remarkable than most other college baseball fields. Much smaller than a full-fledged stadium, but surely large enough for college games. Taking in the bench seats, green field, and classic baseball diamond, it’s hard to imagine the whole thing underwater. However, should the International Olympic Committee chose Los Angeles to host the summer 2024 games, that’s exactly how Dedeaux Field will end up.

The plans by USC and the LA 2024 planning committee show that the aquatics center would host the diving, swimming, and synchronized swimming events, and then return to a baseball field once the Olympics ended. Turning USC’s baseball field into a swimming complex represents a number of greater concerns the city must consider as it continues to pursue the bid. Facing rising homelessness rates, cost of living pushing low-income communities out of the city, traffic concerns, and the drought, the city of Los Angeles has much to consider should it want to three-peat host the Olympic games.

The official bid to the International Olympic Committee is run by the LA 2024 Bid Committee is lead by its Chairman Casey Wasserman, owner and CEO of Wasserman Media Group that represents top athletes and grandson of one of the most powerful media CEO in LA, Lew Wasserman. The Bid Committee’s CEO Gene Sykes is a partner at Golman Sachs, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also works on the Committee. On September 29, the committee received $250 million in state financial support from Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., showing the games general support from power players all over southern California.

Currently, LA is one of three cities vying for hosting responsibilities along with Paris and Budapest. After other major cities like Boston and Rome bowed out of the race, it looks increasingly possible that Los Angeles ends up the final choice for the summer games. Along with the weather, location, and size of Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti and 25 other delegates from the Committee travelled to Rio De Janeiro to meet with the IOC and touted the ways the Olympics will urge Los Angeles to build up projects with the added motivation of the thirty-third Olympiad. On its website, LA24.org, the board laid out its plans for the 2024 games including maps to the venues, the concept of creting the most environmentally sustainable games in history, and answering general questions about what it means for Los Angeles to puruse and host the games.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is you shouldn’t ever do things just for a two-and-a-half-week event… We’re not connecting rail to LAX … because we might win the Olympics,” Garcetti said to Southern California Radio in August. “We’re doing it because the city needs it. We’re not building $30 billion worth of transportation … because we might need it for those two and a half weeks — we’re doing it because the people of L.A. need it.”

Los Angeles already hosted the games twice, in 1932 and 1984, one of the strong arguments the Bid Committee stresses. The 1985 games went down in history as one of the more successful Olympics games. After a string of historically unsuccessful games (Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Montreal 1976, and Moscow 1980), Los Angeles was able to rebuild the reputation of the Olympics relying heavily on television broadcasts. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, LA 84 was also one of the first heavily commercialized Olympic games, when brands first started to put the Olympic logo on products creating the “official” brands of the games. Revenue from broadcasts, tickets, merchandise, and other created a $225 million profit for Los Angeles.

“The Olympics turned a profit ($225 million) for the first time since 1932. Despite concerns about growing corporate involvement and the reduced competition caused by the communist boycott, the financial success and high worldwide television ratings raised optimism about the Olympic movement for the first time in a generation,” Encyclopedia Britannica

The Bid Committee hopes to capitalize on that optimism of the 1984 games, including the broadcast rights, merchandise, tourism, controlled traffic, and global interest in the Olympics. The Committee’s plans rely heavily on using pre-existing venues to cut back on construction costs, however most of the venues they plan on using — the LA Football Club Stadium on top of the old Sports Arena, USC’s Dedeaux Field aquatics center, the UCLA-based Olympic Village — are under current construction or don’t exist yet. Even one of the most famous venues, the LA Memorial Coliseum on the USC campus, must undergo heavy renovations to host the track and field events of the summer games. The colosseum is already slated for renovations from the school, and winning the bid would add and extra temporary track layered on top of the field for the Olympics. Ambitious projects that won’t be finished for another two to four years add to the worry that Los Angeles is already going overboard in its planning and budget. Los Angeles City Controller, Ron Galperin, wrote a letter addressing his worries about how the expenses of hosting would affect LA.

“Our City has been emerging form more difficult economic times. Hosting the Games is a major undertaking, and it would be imprudent to ask City taxpayers to assume financial risks associated there within.” Galperin wrote in an official letter to the Olympics Committee in August. “Thus, among other things, it is vital to properly and sufficiently safeguard Angelenos and our City government from possible losses — and to avoid placing our City in a position wherein we might have to indemnify the U.S. Olympics Committee or an other entity from losses they might incur.”

Proposed City Budgets of Host Cities

Galperin’s mistrust doesn’t go unfounded. A look back at the summer games starting from Sydney in 2000 shows every budget exceeding expectations by several million. Beijing 2008 stands apart as one of the most extraordinary and expensive games in Olympic history, final estimates guessing the two-week event costing the host country nearly $40 billion. London and Rio kept their spending no where near China’s, however both cities nearly doubled their initial budgets by the end. Athens, in the grips of its economic woes still, places much of the blame for its current situation on the ’04 games. In building the city’s hosting stadiums, including the costly Olympic Village, “There was no proper planning,” Kostas Bakouris, the managing director of the Organizing Committee for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games from 1998 to 2000 told U.S. News. “We did not invest in temporary facilities.”

Part of the financial strain placed on host cities is incorporated into the bidding process by the IOC. By encouraging cities to promise big stadiums, ceremonies, state of the art facilities, top security measures, and host the hundreds of athletes, bigger schemes usually have a higher chance of getting chosen. After Beijing the IOC has looked for more financially stable or renewable bids, however the costs always go over budget. The lack of accountability in the process, by both the IOC and the city Bid Committee, adds to the difficulties of keeping Olympic spending reasonable. The pressure to deliver creates a lax view on spending and that’s what often results in the vast spending.

“The economic impacts (of hosting) are typically negative, so obviously the issue is you’re in a time-box,” Robert Livingstone, owner of Olympic news website GamesBids.com, said. “There’s huge development projects which typically don’t belong in a time-box, so when you’re trying to deliver, costs always go up. There’s usually three things in any project that you can’t control: time, cost, and quality. If you take one of those away, then the other two can go out of control.”

Livingstone studied economics and began writing about the Toronto bid in 1996, since then he’s followed the Olympic bidding process and spoke briefly about the effects of the Olympics on cities. He says the original benefits of “trickle down economics” for the games — tourism, reusable venues, travel within the country — are difficult to measure as a direct result of the Olympic games. James McBride, a senior economics writer for the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a report about the ins and out costs of hosting the games. He wrote that the difference in spending versus what the cities makes back are hardly matched:

“Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics generated $3.6 billion in revenue, compared with over $40 billion in costs. Vancouver’s Winter Games in 2010 generated $2.8 billion compared with $7.6 billion in costs, and London’s Summer Games in 2012 generated $5.2 billion compared with $18 billion in costs. What’s more, much of the revenue doesn’t go to the host — the IOC keeps more than half of all television revenue, which represents the single largest chunk of money generated by the games.”
Proposed budget by 2024 host cities

Considering the barriers to hosting, the LA 2024 Bid Committee suggests people turn to the official website for information and read how the committee plans to address different concerns. Most of the wording and deeper outlines surround the plans and venues of the games are vague, starting with the promise that LA 2024 will be solar powered and more details will come in 2017. The website doesn’t offer too much of a window into the bidding process, instead placating worries and laying out the grand dream of LA 2024.

“All of the competition venues in our plan are either already built, planned regardless of the Games, or will be temporary,” Luca Servodio, a representative from the Bid Committee said in an emailed statement. “And our Olympic and Paralympic Village at UCLA is also already built and operational, reducing the burden on our city and making fiscal responsibility and sustainability hallmarks of a Games in Los Angeles.”

The International Olympic Committee won’t make the final decision host city decision until Until September 2017. Until then, Los Angeles continues its bid for the Olympic games, though the Committee should consider better defining its plans for the games, how it will affect the host city and its communities, or at least thinking about the bid with cautious optimism.

Not This Bitch’s President

Well America, we done fucked up.

I talk a lot about the importance of representation. Strong women, Asian American, LGBTQ, POC communities in general. Those are what I want to see, because it means so damn much to look at the media, your government, your neighborhood and feel like you belong. Your existence is valid and your voice will be heard. Last night, we saw the flip side of that.

For the next four years, any dumbass bully will look up to the highest office in the land and see themselves reflected back. Trump’s entire campaign told that idiot shit head you went to high school with that he won’t see consequences for his racist, sexist, homophobic actions. No, even better, he can become President of the United States of America. If little girls in America were going to look up at Hillary Clinton and say, That could be me some day, then so too will any little white rich boy who refuses to grow up and take responsibility.

I convinced myself at one point last night that when I woke up it was all going to be a dream. That this didn’t just happen. But it did. That man, Donald Trump, a man with no political experience or knowledge is slated to become our next President. After four years with the first black president in America, the jilted, racist, middle America felt threatened enough (by a woman leader) to vote in droves for that.

Of course they don’t really know what feeling threatened is like. I do. I am scared of the next four years. I don’t feel safe when I think of the next four years. I fear for myself, as a Chinese American, feminist, journalist. But more importantly I fear for my black, LGBTQ, Latinx, Muslim, and POC friends.

After a year and a half of being encouraged to beat, harass, and attack minorities — and many did — that atmosphere of Us vs. Them (i.e.: White vs. Other) will only heighten in the next four years. His message of hate, misogyny, fear, racism actually resonated with a 84 percent of America. With an approving president looking on from the White House, what’s stopping them?

When I went on Instagram today, I already saw the immediate hate mongering that will be our future. These are only 3 Asian Americans, targeted because they were outspoken about the real issues America faces today: immigration, Islamophobia and hate crimes, LGBTQ rights, reporting the truth in the media. I can’t imagine what the black, Islamic, and LGBTQ leaders are facing right now.

Last night and this morning, I curled up in despair. I didn’t want to see more confirmation that this was our new reality. I wanted to hide under my covers and ask Why? How? What? again and again until it made sense. I wanted to reach out to my POC, LGBTQ friends and loved ones who felt the same fear, sickness, and sadness and just hold each other. I wanted some one to blame, I wanted a recount of the votes, I wanted for this all to go away. But it won’t. So that means I have only one option:

Work. Write. I have the voice, means, and privilege to hold this motherfucker accountable at every turn and I will. I love what I do, and I’m pretty damn good at it too. This Bitch will not let him bully me, a journalist, feminist, and Asian American into silence.

To take advice from a piece by the Poynter Institute:

  • Tell stories. Maybe we were telling the wrong stories to the wrong people. But we know that stories help people understand each other. So we have to keep looking for stories to tell.
  • Hold the powerful accountable. This will be easier with a president than with a candidate. An actual president causes real consequences, starting with the economy today, and extending to our justice system, education system, our social welfare system and the security of our nation.
  • Explain more things. This may be the one area where journalists universally fell short. While there was some great explanatory work over the past 18 months, it paled in comparison to the horse race banter.
  • Help identify the pathway forward. Give your audience a way to be heard, a way to listen to each other and concrete actions they can take.
  • Finally, model compassion and civil discourse. We need that now more than ever.

These next four years are going to be awful, and we’re not going to get through it alone. And we don’t have to. Reach out to each other, support each other, and stay strong. And start digging because there’s not a whole lot of light at the end of this tunnel.


If you’re like me, you also just really need this right now:

The Simplicity of “Heroine Complex”

Truly diverse characters, leading female protagonists, and a fun ride — it’s not complicated.

“Diverse” has become such a buzz word recently that it’s pretty much lost its meaning. Diversity went from a desire to see more representation in media to a chore or a check box. As more TV shows and movies desperately try to jump on board the diversity train, books are really the best place to look for representation in media. My personal suggestion? Sarah Kuhn’s new urban fantasy novel Heroine Complex.

Being a superheroine is hard.
Working for one is even harder.

When a mysterious demon portal opened up in San Fransisco and granted a select few miniscule super powers, the portal also created San Fransisco’s favorite super heroine: Aveda Jupiter. Better known as Annie Chang to her long-suffering best friend and personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. Evie and Aveda are both very good in their respective roles, which is exactly how Evie prefers her life. Managing her diva of a best friend, blending into the background, and keeping her own super fire powers a secret. Then everything changed when the fire attacked. No really. After Aveda has a minor accident, Evie has to take her place and learns what it means to be a modern super heroine — the fans, the social media, and the threat of demon attacks.

Heroine Complex doesn’t get much more complex than that. Her world building is pretty solid, the story moves along nicely, it’s a fun read with realistic, fully formed characters. Well, the female ones at least, the men are a little 2D but I’m not complaining. The deeper reasons I love Heroine Complex lie in the simple details about identity and relationships that hardly get any mention.

“There was something deeply ironic about the fact that so many of the ‘exotic’ food items that had gotten us teased and bullied by our white classmates were now fetishized by white hipsters.”

Kuhn didn’t set out to create some great big commentary on society or human nature. She wrote a book about something she loves — super heroes, independent women, urban fantasy — and along the way included reflections of everday life. Evie is half-Japanese, Aveda is Chinese with immigrant parents who don’t approve of her profession, the team bodyguard Lucy is lesbian. No fanfare about each of these descriptions, it comes up once or in context clues. Their identities are important to them as characters, but doesn’t dictate the plot.

The “diversity” in Heroine Complex is so simple and natural to the flow of the book it hardly needs addressing. But of course it was a conscious decision on Kuhn, also half-Japanese, who has talked a few times about how more Asian American representation matters to her. Kuhn points out some double standards of being a POC, but each is more of a zing than a preach. Of course two leading Asian American females are one of the main reasons why I had to read her book, but I ended up loving her book for one specific reason: Kuhn’s validation of girls’ anger.

If you can’t tell, I run on outrage. All-caps Twitter or Facebook rants give me life. This blog is founded in part on my constant wealth of rage as a motivation to write. My friends decided that my little Inside Out emotion that runs my brain is Anger. I am an angry Asian. And so is Heroine Complex’s Evie Tanaka. Her frustrations and reaction to them are completely believable, because that’s how most people would reasonably react to diva bosses or attacking demon statues. To say a minor spoiler, the crux of the final battle relies on Evie getting angry, to which she says “Yeah. I don’t think getting mad’s going to be a problem.” In the real world when women are told to be happy, smile, and calm down all the damn time, reading a situation when getting pissed off and blowing shit up to save the city sounds like a dream.

Thanks for the autograph, Sarah Kuhn!

Heroine Complex is the first book in a trilogy, not sure yet when the second one is due, so it’s not too late to catch up. Like any superhero movie, it’s a light, easy book that doesn’t ask too many questions. You can take a deep look at the world with Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Madeline Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, or settle in with The Avengers and Heroine Complex.

I ain’t afraid of no bad reviews

The backlash against the new Ghostbusters showed the double standards for female comedies.

I loved the new Ghostbusters, and when it came out on DVD recently I had to watch it again. And yep, still a good movie. So the hate and backlash it received — before it even came out — was completely unwarranted, creating an unfair expectation for what should have been an average screwball comedy.

I get this reboot had a lot to live up to, and wasn’t as iconic or hilarious as people were expecting. It’s not The Big Lebowski or Bridesmaids, and it never had to be. It didn’t even have to be the original Ghostbusters because obviously that task would be impossible. Regardless most people believed in this Ghostbusters to buck all the nay sayers given the super talented cast, director, and modern premise. But like in any movie, when someone asks “How can this go wrong?” something very bad is hiding just around the corner.

In Ghostbuster’s case, the terrifying monster was misogyny. Anti fans tried to claim that their anger was at the reboot of a sacred franchise, however as the Atlantic points out, this is the only female-lead reboot in the long series of the current remake trend. No matter how the “critics,” mostly comment sections, YouTube videos, and Twitter trolls, tried to insist otherwise, their vitriol was based in unfounded sexism. The official trailer became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube, over 1 million at the time of this writing.

Looking back now it’s admittedly not a great trailer, but at the time it originaly came out the dislikes were an organized protest. “The thumbs down votes aren’t organic, they’re part of a coordinated attack on the film by people who are opposed to its very existence.” Screen Crush reported. The website broke down the ratio compared to other disliked trailers, like Captain America: Civil War (5,237 likes to 1 dislike) and noted most of the videos on the YouTube most disliked list featured women from pop stars like Taylor Swift to “Let It Go” from Frozen.

“Here are just some of the major franchises Hollywood has rebooted in the last decade: Batman. Superman. Spider-Man. James Bond. Star Wars. Planet of the Apes. Halloween. Friday the 13th. The Evil Dead. The Thing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Robocop. Every Disney animated classic, starting with Cinderella and continuing with The Jungle Book this year. The list could go on endlessly, even without counting TV spinoffs.” from the Atlantic.

Now Ghostbusters faced two challenges upon its release: it had to make a lot of money to prove female-lead movies were financially viable, and it had to be really funny. Anything less proved critics right: women weren’t marketable or funny. It immediatley set up the movie for disappointment because suddenly it went from a remake of a goofy comedy to the next iconic comedy of the 21st century. Ghostbusters can’t have greatness like that thrust upon it, no matter how many SNL cameos you throw at it, not when certain audiences were never going to give it a chance to begin with. The 2016 Ghostbusters was only meant to be a fun comedy retelling an old favorite with a new, all-female cast. But of course when you announce an all-female anything, there’s no way in hell that it can avoid becoming a political lightning rod.

Ghostbuster’s very existence meant discussions, think pieces, panels, and round tables debating its merit and role as commentary. How is it a a feminist piece? To many, it was not all that it could have been. The Washington Post’s columnist Alyssa Rosenburg lamented how this screwball comedy became a new feminist icon saying, “But they’ve succeeded in creating an environment in which this anodyne bit of corporate recycling gets positioned as daring, and where its box-office success or disappointment may have meaningful implications for other, more truly innovative, more explicitly feminist and certainly more funny movie projects.”

The movie also faced difficulites from viewers who felt that Leslie Jones role as Patty Tolan, the only non-scientist on the team, continued stereotypes against black women and perpetuated white feminism. It’s a fair argument because as Janessa E. Robinson pointed out in the Guardian, “This limits her character to an academically aloof, street savvy black woman who is apparently only allowed in the crew (and in the film) because of her familiarity with New York City.” Jones responded to these concerns on Twitter (which would become its own battleground later) and said she was happy with her role.

In an environment like this, Ghostbusters hardly stood a chance. From the moment it was announced, this movie had to be too many things in 105 minutes. With all the conversations about this movie, and it did start very important ones, I feel like people stopped watching it. The original Ghostbusters is remembered for being a ridiculous romp through New York City, and in that regard 2016’s Ghostbusters delivered. You can be disappointed in the movie for what it lacks as a symbol of feminism, POC character development, or reboot of a sacred franchise. Or you can sit down with some great salty parabolas and watch a damn movie.


Unrelated, here’s a great behind the scenes video with the cast:

Pride and Prejudice: I don’t want to share my princess

As Disney and Sony begin the casting process for their live-action “Mulan,” I worry that 1) She’ll be white or 2) She won’t be Chinese.

Today Disney announced the release date for its live-action Mulan, based loosely off the classic Chinese ballad and the truly classic 1998 animated movie. They announced the movie’s development late 2015, and immediately faced heavy expectations to cast the lead roles as Asian Americans — because of course the heroine of China should be Asian. But I also contend that Mulan should be Chinese.

There was so much anticipation that Disney (and now Sony’s own live-action take on Mulan) would whitewash this cast that a petition went around the internet, and gained over 90 thousand signatures. Natalie Molnar, who started the petition, wrote that “The character, story and fans deserve the best retelling of the story Disney can produce and although the film was only announced 30 March [2015] this disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can’t get a chance to take root in Mulan as well.”

After the mess that was Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange, the whole cast of The Last Airbender, and most recently Matt Damon in next year’s The Great Wall, the Asian American community isn’t taking any chances with Mulan’s casting. There have already been a number of dream cast lists circling around the internet for the perfect Mulan and now it’s only a waiting game to see what Disney and Sony do next.

In that waiting, three big names have already come up as the fan-favorites for Mulan: Constance Wu, Arden Cho, and Jamie Chung. All wonderful actresses whom I love, but none really stand out to me as my ideal Mulan. Constance Wu doesn’t strike me as the fierce warrior the same way Ming-Na Wen, the original voice actress in 1998, does. To me, Constance Wu is fierce in a different, less physical ass-kicking way (but if she does get the part I’m 110% on board). I know Jamie Chung already played Mulan on TV, but for this live-action, return-to-the-big-screen Mulan, it’s different. Because yeah, Arden Cho and Jamie Chung are totally fierce warrior types, but I don’t picture them as Mulan for one obvious (and biased) reason — they’re Korean American.

From left to right: Constance Wu, Arden Cho, and Jamie Chung.

Is it prejudiced to say that I, as a Chinese American (adoptee), don’t want a Disney-fied Chinese heroine portrayed by an amazing Korean American woman? I think it’s a bit petty and unfair. It’s just when I heard that Arden Cho was being heavily suggested for the part, I cringed. Any other role in the movie could be cast with amazing Asian Americans, but not Mulan. Which doesn’t make any sense because any other time I don’t have a problem with Asian Americans playing other Asian roles. Like Randall Park as Louis Huang — he’s doing a great job and he approached the role with respect.

“After we did the pilot, and the show got picked up … I started wondering about my place in the show. Should I be playing this father, especially as a Korean-American actor?” He told NPR in 2015. After a phone call with the real Eddie Huang who assured him was a fine Louis, Park decided to stay in the show. “As long as I come at this with respect and work as hard as I can to make sure this character is as real as I can, then it would be fine.”

And I know Arden Cho, Jamie Chung, and any other actress Chinese or not, would approach the role of Mulan with the same respect. Not only because it’s a great leading role, but also because it’s a role that means so much to the Asian American community. Every little kid in America since ’98 has grown up knowing the words to “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” I was born three years before Disney’s Mulan came out, so I’ve only ever known a world with the most kick-ass Disney heroine. When my fifteen year-old cousin, also adopted from China, told me she had never seen Mulan, you can bet we sat down right then and there for movie night. It’s a rite of passage.

But it’s not only momentous for Chinese Americans. One of my Korean American friends told me about how her babysitter took her to see it in theaters, and my friend got really excited. She kept talking about what it was like to see someone on screen who looked like her. That’s the same story I’ve heard from many of my Asian American friends, because no matter who you are as a little kid, good representation in the media matters. Mulan is a great heroine, her story is awesome, the songs are even better, and who doesn’t love Mushu? Mulan is one of Disney’s best classic animated films and for Asian American kids it also matters when a Chinese heroine is all you’re going to get.

Think of it like the rule of “there can only be one” from Masters of None. Disney has been trying to check diversity off its princess list (some sooner than others) and since we, the Asians, have Mulan that means we don’t need a Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, Burmese, Malay, Thai… another Asian princess. This November there’s the first Pacific Islander heroine, Moana, and most people (some within our own community, tbh) probably don’t even realize that Pacific Islander is the PI when we say AAPI. We had to wait nearly 18 years for another AAPI heroine, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for a more diverse Asian princess representation.

Now I have no idea how Disney or Sony is planning on going about their Mulan. NBC Asian America reported that Disney at least is “global casting search for a Chinese actress,” so I don’t know if that means they plan on going Memoirs of a Geisha-style or they’ll just end up casting Fan Bingbing. I’m of course rooting for a Chinese American actress because I think if it’s Disney’s version, the “American” is an important factor in the story. Regardless, I realize that if they cast Mulan as a non-Chinese woman, it’s not the end of days. I can be an adult 20 year old woman and share my Disney princess. Mulan is one of my favorite characters, so I’ll love whoever they cast as long as she’s written well and the movie does fans — and the story — justice.

And she’s Asian. Actually, forget everything I just wrote. Just please make sure she’s at least Asian.

Hillary Clinton does not have to be “nice”

At the tail end of the presidential debate, Trump felt attacked by Clinton’s campaign ads and told her “it’s not nice and I don’t deserve that.”

The first 2016 presidential debate on Monday was Lesson 101 in hate-watching our current political situation. Enough has been said on who won (Clinton), the high and low points, and where Lester Holt disappeared to, but I’m focusing on one overlooked comment in particular.

Near the end of the 90 minute debate Lester Holt asked Trump, “Earlier this month you said that she doesn’t have ‘a presidential look.’ She’s standing here, right now. What did you mean by that?” Trump followed by denying that he ever said that (he did) and tried to insist he meant her “stamina.” Focusing on Clinton’s stamina and her inability to negotiate with foreign powers, all Trump really did was stumble around trying to deny his sexism.

Sick burn on Clinton’s part in response:

“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee he can talk to me about stamina.”

I want to focus on one of Trump’s pitiful temper tantrums in the last few minutes of the AP video, which starts at the 1:50 mark. He complains about Clinton’s campaign ads for their negativity (view them all here), goes on a strange side track about Rosie O-Donnel, praises himself for not insulting the Clinton family, then circles back to the ads. He says they’re too expensive, untrue, and (my favorite) “not nice.” He goes on insisting he doesn’t deserve that and the ads aren’t working anyways.


Not nice.
One of two candidates running to be the next President of the United States is complaining about the other not being nice. Campaign ads are as old as campaigns, and none were ever “nice.” The original founding fathers tore each other a part in the press, in speeches, and more recently in the greatest musical of this decade. The US presidential campaigns have never been perfect, and with half of our options this year being an outright bigoted, racist, mysoginist, I don’t know anyone who could expect the election of 2016 to even be civil.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, for all her faults (there are many) and fuck ups, is running for president and now is not the time to be nice. Nominees can be civil, respectful, mature adults to each other. They can run attack ads and tweet awful things. (Maybe lay off the pandering, HRC.) But there is no obligation to be “nice.” Especially when you, the opponent one elcetion day away from the White House, have run on a platform calling her crooked and calling to “lock her up.” You don’t get to call out your competitor for being mean just because she’s better than you.

Childish and cowardice aside, my real issue with Clinton not being “nice” enough for Trump is his underlying meaning: She’s not backing down. She’s not doing as I say when I tell her to go back into her place. Berating Clinton for not being nice is continuing the subversive sexism in our culture like street harassment, sexual harassment, slut shaming, and the insistence that women smile.

Last week, the New York Times ran an op-ed “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Angry’ Face” detailing the results of a study that looked at the ways people perceive men and women’s facial expressions. The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, found that people were more likely to assume a woman’s expression resulted from her emotions while a man’s resulted from the situation. “Or as we summarized our discovery: “She’s a bitch, but he’s just having a bad day.” These presumptions carry over daily to women everywhere, another reason why beig told to look happy or smile is a sublte form of sexism. The Guardian ran a column by Jessica Valenti detailing the subversive meaning behind being told to smile.

“Of all the things women hear from men — whether street harassers or pundits — there is special disdain for “smile” because of its particular condescension, and the tired trope that women should be forever chipper even as they’re walking down the street or, you know, running for president of the United States.” Jessica Valenti

Smiling, looking happy, being nice — it all tells women the same message that we should be well-behaved and do as told. Consciously or subconcisouly, overt or covert, that is what women are told everyday. We’re not allowed to be angry (espcially women of color). We’re not allowed to be mean (unless it’s catty, then that’s hot). And we’re certainly not allowed to run for the President of the United States — well, at least until now.

Anna May Wong’s life and legacy

As a film crew sets up shop in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, a little girl watches with rapt attention. Pestering the crew with questions about the movies and hoping to end up in one, she earned herself the nickname C.C.C., Curious Chinese Child. Years later, her loitering around would pay off when a casting agent in need of Chinese extras put her on screen and launched the career of one of the most successful silent actresses and one of the first Chinese American actresses in Hollywood: Anna May Wong.

Anna May Wong’s parents owned a laundromat in the original Los Angeles Chinatown established in 1880 when it barely had a population of 10,000 people. Wong Sam Sing, Anna May’s father, was a second generation Chinese American who grew up during the tail end of the Civil War, and after his mother’s death, moved back to southern China for several years. On returning to California as a young man, Wong Sam Sing married a Chinese American woman, Lee Gon Toy. Their first daughter, Lew Ying came in 1902, and three years later they gave birth to Liu Tsong, later known as Anna May Wong. With a son and another daughter following, the Wong’s ended up moving out of Chinatown to Figueroa Street, a middle class neighborhood a few blocks from Chinatown. As the only Asian American family in a neighborhood with Mexicans, Slavs, and Germans, the children faced intense bullying at their public school. Anna May and her sister transferred to a Presbyterian Chinese school, and the family continued their laundry business.

Born in Los Angeles as a third-generation Chinese American, school was not Anna May Wong’s top priority. She loved the “flickers” that played in Nickelodeons, and whatever spare change she earned would go straight to movie tickets. On more than once occasion she skipped school to go see the movies. After watching the movies and observing the film crews in her neighborhood, Wong said that as a child she would practice all the lines she’d heard to herself in the mirror for hours. By the time she was 11 years-old, Liu Tsong created her stage name Anna May and set out to become an actress.

“We were always thrilled when a motion picture company came down into Chinatown to film scenes for a picture,” she said in a 1926 interview. “I would worm my way through the crowd and get as close to the cameras as I dared.”

In the silent film era LA’s Chinatown would suffice as China because of the Chinatwon Central Plaza opened in 1938 and was “designed by Hollywood set designers, and even possessed a film prop donated by legendary director Cecil B. Demille to give the mall a more “exotic” atmosphere.” After hanging around sets, Wong finally caught the eye of the casting director in need of extras and he put Wong on screen for as an uncredited lantern carrier in The Red Lantern. She was elated at her first movie role, being one of three prominently featured Chinese girls in the scene. However later when she went with some friends to see the movie, she found out she was cast alongsid 600 other girls, chosen randomly for her on screen part, and the quality was so poor she couldn’t tell which girl was her. But Anna May Wong wasn’t discouraged, and from there she eventually started getting small extra roles on set leading her to drop out of Los Angeles High School to focus on acting full-time.

When she was 17 years-old, Wong got her big break as the lead in The Toll of the Sea, the second movie to ever be shot in Technicolor. Based loosely on the opera Madame Butterly, Wong played the lead Lotus Flower, the forgotten wife of a handsome Englishman who in the end of the film leaves their son to him and throws herself off a cliff. Her appearance in The Toll of the Sea stood out immediately to critics for both her performance and appearance. The Technicolor showed off the bright costumes and scenery of “China” and her subtle facial expressions and physicality set her apart for an actress so young. The New York Times said, “Completely unconscious of the camera, with a fine sense of proportion and remarkable pantomimic accuracy… She should be seen again and often on the screen.”

Unfortunately, when she was seen again on screen, she often had to work through sub-par acting roles. Because of anti-miscegenation laws banning interracial couples, Wong could never kiss her on-screen lovers, and as a result her character usually died. This helpless “lotus girl” who never gets the handsome white hero, began for her in The Toll of the Sea when her character she sends her son away to live with his white father and commits suicide. On the other hand, she was also chosen to be the villain as the conniving “dragon lady” keeping the two white leads apart with her sexuality, drugs, or murderous plans for the woman as in The Thief of Baghdad, Forty Winks, and Old San Fransisco. Wong’s movie credits in the early part of her career played off this pattern for years, and eventually she left for Europe at two different times in her career.

“They were all so wonderful to me,” Wong said of her time in Europe. “You are admired abroad for your accomplishments and loved for yourself. That made me an individual, instead of a symbol of my race.”

In Europe, Anna May Wong lived in Berlin and found more opportunity in Europe than she ever did in America. Her career abroad flourished like many other American expats of color due to Europe’s more welcoming attitude for American artists. They would invite these “exotic” performers and celebrities to their parties so they could make themselves feel good for being so open minded. Under this subversive patronization Wong’s European career produced some of her most notable films, and she expanded her career by branching out to star in plays, German operas, and toured for a short time as a part of a vaudeville show.

On being told her American accent grated European audiences, she spent months in England taking voice lessons and perfected her posh alto-toned accent just in time for “talkies” to hit the scene. She met and worked with many of the best talent, including Leni Riefenstahl, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Eichberg, and had an alleged affair with Eric Maschwitz.Her most famous European work, Piccadilly was a British production directed by German Ewald Andre Dupont and takes place in a London nightclub where Anna May Wong’s Shosho works as a dishwasher. When the nightclub owner walks in on her dancing in the kitchen, she’s eventually hired as the club’s main performer and thus creates a performance that Variety said, “outshines the star” actress Gilda Gray.

After this last silent film in Europe, Anna May Wong eventually decided to give America another chance when Paramount offered her a contract in Hollywood.The initial role of Wong’s comeback was the standard Oriental dragon lady, but Wong was in it for the real prize: Shanghai Express. One of her first “talkie” movies, Shanghai Express garnered critical acclaim and won Oscars for Best Directing and Best Picture. Starring next to her friend Marlene Dietrich as the sidekick of color, Wong really stole the show. Wong, a prostitute and standard sidekick of color, holds her own against the allure of Dietrich with her own grace and power. The movie did not, however, fully launch Wong’s career out stereotypes and whitewashing, and she was once again passed over for a Chinese role. MGM told Wong she was “too Chinese” for other roles, and frustrated by the same Hollywood, Wong left for Europe a second time.

Rumors in 1935 that MGM was adapting Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth into a film and looking for actresses ende dup bringing Anna May Wong back to Hollywood. It was a book Wong liked, and the lead role of a Chinese woman with a backstory and character development would have been perfect for her. Jennifer Warner’s book “The Tool of the Sea” say that “in 1935 she tested several times for the producers of The Good Earth but was never seriously considered for the role.” The lead actor for the movie had already been cast as the white Paul Muni, so naturally the romantic lead could not be an Asian American woman. Instead MGM went with Luise Rainer — who won the Oscar for her portrayal of O-Lan. The studio did offer Wong part in the movie asLotus, a teahouse dancer who seduces the main character. In a meeting with MGM head Irving Thalberg, Wong famously declined:

“You’re asking me — with Chinese blood — to do the only unsympathetic role in a picture featuring an all-American cast portraying Chinese characters.”

Wong decided to leave America again, but this time, she would embrace being “too Chinese” and spent a year touring China. By the time she returned to Hollywood, Wong’s career started to fade like most other silent film stars. She made early appearances on television, and during World War II she worked as an activist for Chinese support with the United China Relief Fund, and toured with the USO.

“I had to go into retirement for the sake of my soul. I suddenly found no more pleasure in acting. My screen work became a weary and meaningless chore — and Hollywood life a bore!”

Finally in 1942 she retired from acting at age 42, with more than 60 film credits to her name. Back home in Los Angeles, Anna May Wong was able to throw herself into a more domestic life. Her entire career has been infamously mysterious about her love life, no alleged relationships ever confirmed. She’d said of her co-worker and childhood friend Philip Ahn whom tabloids tried to tie together, “It would be like marrying my brother.” In 1939 she bouth an apartment complex in Palisades and developed Moongate Apartments with her younger brother Richard. She decorated the landscaing to resemble the Taishan villages of her heritage, including small ponds and village exclusive plants. She hosted her world traveling friends, and worked in the LA Chinese community as a special guest to draw atendees. Then on a bright June 25, 1938, Anna May Wong was the first shovel in the grounds of Los Angeles Chinatwon’s Central Plaza, planting a ceremonial willow tree.

 

 

 

 

Fifty years after her death, Anna May Wong’s story lives on through number of biographers have told her life story, film festivals bring back retouched movies for audiences, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame. At the modest Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, one of her dresses stands as the only artifact of her mark on Hollywood. Though she was never the blockbuster star that most remember of the silent era, Anna May Wong is remembered for her legacy as one of the first Chinese Americans in film, and one of the most outspoken voices for representation and better roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood.

Anna May Wong’s hardships with the media sounds commonplace — and partially expected — for the 1930s, it’s not unheard of in 2016. Wong’s legacy for Asian Americans in Hollywood goes unknown mostly because the same barriers are still in place: stereotyped roles and whitewashed casting. For every Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None that show positive portrayals of Asian American families, there’s Matt Damon in the Great Wall and Scarlet Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi placed in Asian roles unnecessarily.“One of the aspects of Anna Mae Wong’s legacy in Hollywood is her perseverance and her ability to transcend the stereotypical roles that she was sometimes cast in,” Jacqueline Lyanga, the director of the American Film Institute said. “I think that this continues to be inspiring for actresses working today who face their own struggles in Hollywood.”

Anna May Wong’s story might have faded, but for she paved the way for upcoming Asian actresses in Hollywood. Because of her representation in the early 1930s, it was more believable for audiences to see this was a possibility for other Asian Americans. Lyanga said that this year’s AFI film festival wanted to feature Wong’s famed “Piccadilly” as a part of Cinema’s Legacy to honor her as a trailblazer in American film. She said that Anna May Wong deserves greater acknowledgment for her contributions that have inspired generations of filmmakers and actors of color.As young actresses begin their careers today in the same climate as Wong’s in the 30s, believing in better media representation gets more difficult. In the age of new media, with the YouTube, Vimeo, crowdsourcing, and easy access to cameras it’s much easier for Asian Americans to get into movies. Different means doesn’t make the same stereotypes and whitewashing disappear, but now actors can hold the media more accountable.

In 2016, the route to film works differently than the path Wong took, but it’s still representation that matters. The Hollywood of 2016 still has much to learn, as it did in 1930, but Anna May Wong’s work won’t stay in the silent film era. Current trailblazers like Constance Wu, Randall Park, Steven Yeun, Ming Na Wen, Alan Yang, and others are changing the face of media, and organizations like CAPE, CAAM, work to promote better Asian representation on screen. Ninety years after Anna May Wong began in Hollywood, perhaps now Hollywood will begin to change.

“I think that the challenge for everyone in Hollywood is to commit to presenting characters and stories that transcend Asian American stereotypes,” Lyanga said. “This starts with the scripts, the casting and the financing of productions. Hollywood can and should be just as diverse as the world in which we live.”