Tag Archives: interview

Exclusive interview: Miki Jinno (“Beerland”) infuses her Japanese roots into her unique home brews

(Miki Jinno in Beerland. Photo credit: Vice/Screencap)

As regular readers might know, I’m a resident of Birmingham, AL, so I’m quite stoked to finally feature someone from my neck of the woods who’s changing perceptions and challenging stereotypes. This time though, the playing field isn’t entertainment–it’s the world of beer.

Last month, I highlighted Viceland’s Beerland and its Alabama-centric episode featuring Birmingham home brewer Miki Jinno. Originally from Japan, Jinno’s foray into Birmingham’s home brewing scene has a charmingly Seinfeld-esque beginning–she regifted a present meant for her former father-in-law back to herself–and since then, she’s been on a journey to bring Birminghamians beer infused with a unique Japanese flair.

I interviewed Jinno mid-December after the Beerland episode to ask her more about her brewing, what inspires her, and where she sees home and craft brewing in Birmingham going in the future. As a home brewer, Jinno makes her brews for friends and family, but you can try Jinno’s beer each year at the Moss Rock Festival in Hoover, AL, about an hour’s travel outside of Birmingham.

I watched your episode of Beerland and I thought your approach to beermaking is really interesting especially since there are so many beermakers here in Birmingham; yours can stand out from the crowd.

Thank you.

What got you interested in making beer?

I gave my ex-husband’s father a beer-making kit. He’s a scientist and my background is in science, too. I thought he would like it, but he didn’t use the kit. He just left it on the shelf. I didn’t want to waste the kit, and I was also interested in making beer. I started using that kit to make beer. But of course with a beer kit, you’re not [making great beer.] So, I changed all the ingredients to fresh ingredients, researched what kind of hops to use and fresh yeast to use to make a great beer.

You said in your episode that people didn’t expect someone like you to make beer. What do you think people expect when they think of a brewer?

A beer maker is usually big, has a beer belly. Beermasters, cowboy junkies—those guys are big, and they’re usually older. We go once a year to the Emerald Coast Brewfest, and we usually stay overnight with those guys and they’re telling me, “Hey, Miki, you’re too skinny to brew beer, you need more food.” In the first couple of months or more, I couldn’t really belong to those groups even though I brew beer. First, I’m a female and I’m relatively skinny, and I’m Asian. They think “Oh, you brew beer, but you don’t really get into it.” After they got to know me for about a year, maybe less, they start recognizing how I make beer. That broke the wall of the stereotypes of how they view me…It really took a while for the craft beer people to become comfortable because I’m not that guy that they’re expecting.

I’ve read about your infusion of your Japanese culture into your beermaking? How does your background influence your beer?

As a Japanese person, I have access to lots of Japanese ingredients. Right now it’s [about] Asian fusion—Asian fusion restaurants and ramen noodle places in Birmingham are becoming [more popular]. Everybody likes green teas and being healthy. I think as a Japanese person, I can bring something very unique to the U.S…It’s a great opportunity for me to put something in the beer to introduce people to something they’re unfamiliar with, like Japanese tea or Japanese citrus, which as a different flavor from American tangerines and stuff like that. Something like Yuzukoshō, it’s something that you’ve never tasted before, but I have because I grew up with it. Those little unique, great things are things I can introduce to American people.

As someone who has never had any kind of alcohol, what would be one that would be a good starter for me?

If you like tea, you definitely need to try my green tea beer, or another one I made with kukicha, another type of tea. You don’t taste any bitterness, only tea flavor. I also drop lemon into the beer, so it’s more like refreshing tea. Also, if you like coffee, I made a porter—imagine it’s a hot summer, and you have a choice to drink iced coffee or drink beer, but you want to drink both. So I made a coffee porter.

I’ve never thought about how many types of beer there can be, but this is really interesting.

Thank you. I’m a BJCP [Beer Judge Certification Program] judge, so I actually go to judge other beer at home brew competitions. We judge homebrew competitions everywhere, but I usually judge the Birmingham Brew-Off, Peach State Brew-Off, and Boardtown Brew-Off. Sometimes a brewery will invite me to taste their beer before they make a big batch. Going through this judging program, I learn [about] a ton of new beers, so many different types, so many different ingredients, it’s really interesting. It’s not the [usually] beer you think about—there are beers that taste like wine or taste like a scotch. There are so many kinds out there.

Where do you see Birmingham going in the next few years?

The next few years are very interesting. I think more breweries are going to pop up. It’s interesting that within five to six years, so many breweries are opened. I think it’s going to double. Probably in the rural areas, like Alabaster or other areas north and south that are not highly populated, I think they’re very interesting, too. I think there are going to be more smaller breweries opening up because people are recognizing how amazing this craft beer is.♦

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Exclusive Interview: “Charcoal” writer/director Francesca Andre talks colorism

Francesca Andre has a message for everyone with her short film, Charcoal. The main theme of her film is about colorism and its damaging effects on the black diaspora. Her two main characters go through a journey of self-acceptance and self-awareness, and that journey is something Andre hopes is replicated in her viewers.

I’ve had the chance to speak with Andre recently about her film (which you can learn more about in a previous article and the trailer below) as well as her opinions on how colorism affects us. I also asked about the Dove ad that sparked controversy, and how we can heal as a people from our societal wounds. Andre offers clear insight into her own journey towards healing and how we can continue the process of healing in our own lives. Here are highlights from that conversation.

Charcoal can be seen at the Yonkers Film Festival Nov. 3-8.

The inspiration for Charcoal:

Colorism is something that has impacted my life at a very young age. It’s very common in Haiti—it’s not white people versus black people, it’s really lighter skin versus darker skin. At a very young age, I was made aware of that. When I was probably five years old, I received a dark-skinned doll. When I took it home, people started making fun of the doll, saying the doll is ugly. My mother being brown-skinned, my grandmother being lighter-skinned, and my grandfather and my father being darker skinned men, people just made comparisons to the skintones.

Colorism and the lasting effects of racism in the black diaspora:

We’re still dealing with the consequences [of racism] as a people when it comes to economic empowerment, how we are being perceived and anything else—colorism sits right in there. It’s still affecting us, we’re still dealing with it, it’s not a thing of the past. We’re still healing from it. Those of us who are aware and are making a conscious decision to talk about it. You can’t really talk about racism or the advancement of us as a people and not talk about colorism.

Here in America, [the Dove colorism ad] was a mainstream brand that everyone can see, but you have some smaller brands, when you go to Caribbean markets that are selling [similar] products. You have women making skin-bleaching lotion and selling it to other women. I guess for some people here, it’s not as blatant as it is in other cultures—if you go to CVS, you probably won’t be able to find it, right? But it’s happening. It never went away, at least from my experience; as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve always known about these products.

Even thinking about “good” hair,the hair is not closer to our hair texture. It’s something closer to European hair texture. But when you look at our hair and the versatility of our hair, to me it’s like, really good hair! It took me a long time to reprogram myself, my thoughts, and redefine what “good” hair was for me to access [my hair] and accept it, love it, and embrace it…I don’t have any problems with it now.

Francesca Andre

On how to heal from colorism:

I do feel like we need to start having conversations, and an important part of that is the healing part of that. I think you will see that you’ll find more women going natural more than ever. Here’s what’s fascinating: how so many black women did not know their hair period because they just haven’t been dealing with their hair…they did not know how to take care of their hair; it’s been processed. When they find out what products work on our hair and what they can do to make their hair do this and that. Again, it’s knowledge and healing and more women are stepping out. It’s not a strange thing now to see a black woman with natural hair in the workplace. There was a time when this wasn’t a thing. Now, more people are going natural, embracing it and being unapologetic about it. I feel like we’re going forward. Even with skintones, too—[online campaigns and phrases like] “My melanin’s poppin’,” #BlackGirlMagic—we are healing collectively. I hope the men are using those terms as well; I hope the men are healing because they are also victims of colorism. I hope that we as a people stop the vicious cycle.

…First of all, I think [the first step to healing is] knowing what colorism is. Many people don’t even know what colorism means. It really starts the conversation. It’s hard to change beliefs, but one way we can do that as a people is to talk—ask [about it] and dialogue. Increase representation [in the media] to make women more confident in who they are and how they look. As an artist and storyteller, the way I [change] people is including it and showing it, talking about it and not pushing it away…Whenever I see a girl with natural hair, I tell them “I love your hair” or “I love your twists”; I make it my job to remind them because all the messages they are receiving are the opposite.

How Charcoal can start viewers’ journeys toward self-acceptance:

I think there’s a universal aspect to it. I hope people feel inspired and hopeful. I hope people find some sort of healing or be the beginning of that journey. We all can relate to pain, and the characters go through that, but we can see how they overcome that.♦

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Exclusive interview: Five takeaways from my conversation with Kenny Leu

Kenny Leu is an actor you’ve probably seen before in your favorite shows and films, like NCIS, The Player, and Independence Day: Resurgence. He’ll make his biggest mark yet as Sgt. Eddie Chen in the upcoming National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home, based on ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz’s book about the true story of American forces who are ambushed in Sadr City, an Iraqi neighborhood. But before that, you can get to know him better as the star and an executive producer of the new webseries, Munkey in the City, which follows a young man who is trying to find fame–and himself–in the big city.

In my hour-long conversation with Leu, I got to better understand Leu’s commitment to increasing Asian American visibility in the media, his thoughtfulness on nuanced topics such as colorism, his willingness to learn from others’ cultural and racial experiences, and what he learned on the set of The Long Road Home. Here are five takeaways from our conversation.

•On landing the part of Munkey:

“I’ve been in LA now for almost four years. Before I moved out to LA to pursue acting full time, I was pursuing acting part-time in the San Francisco Bay area. I forget how I got this audition notice,but I was told about  this project…went into audition for it, and ended up getting the part. We started to collaborate after I read the script and…it just reads as a very genuine story.

Our version of the series came out all right; there were a lot of things I felt I could have done better; I was still growing a lot as an actor and he was still growing a lot as a filmmaker. We shot our first draft of it in the San Francisco Bay before I moved down. I had already moved down to LA for a year before I saw his latest draft…By that time, I had taken really great classes, I had really learned a lot. I was like, “Michael, if I get another chance, I want to redo it.” He was like, ‘Dude, let’s do it then!’”

•On Munkey’s importance:

“One of the biggest things that drew me to this project is that I relate a lot to Munkey. He’s an aspiring writer, he moved to the city to become someone. He’s still figuring out who he is and what he wants in life. I feel that’s a very universal theme for a lot of people. What kind of struck me most about this project is that it’s a character who’s Asian American yet has these universal themes. He’s very human—he’s not perfect, he’s not a bad person, he’s just a guy who’s trying to get by. There’s a lack of stories in mainstream media where you have an Asian guy who’s just trying to live. That was the first thing that really drew me to this project; he just felt like this very real person and he just happened to be Asian American.

I relate very much personally to this to because I feel this is something very unique to Asian Americans. I feel like Asian Americans in general don’t ask ourselves what we want until later in life than most other cultures. At least, that’s me personally and a bunch of my friends who went through the school system, were very successful students, and before we woke up to what we wanted in life, we kind of already had this career going for us.

Kenny Leu as Munkey. (Screencap)

Before I was an actor I got a degree in mechanical engineering from Berkeley, and I was working…before I realized acting was something that fulfilled me more deeply than engineering will. It was a matter of taking everything that I’d had, everything I’d worked hard for—terrific salary, great job, terrific opportunities, potentially a family, your parents’ smiling faces, knowing they’ll have grandkids soon, health insurance—it’s all in my hands. I remember the moment I took all of it and threw it away. That’s something I think a lot of Asian American families, especially the ones who immigrated in the ’80s, really had to go through, that there is a choice between what everyone tells you is happiness and what you really want for yourself.

I think Munkey is reflective of that. I’d like to imagine Munkey had a career before he became a writer and that’s why he’s so lost,[thinking] ‘Am I stupid for doing this? Why do I want to become a writer? I’m not making any money from this, my roommate’s hooked on coke, I’m living such a shitty existence and some instinct tells me this is the only path forward.’”

•On Asian representation in Hollywood:

“I think things are definitely changing. Me being a part of the industry down here, I know for a fact that executives are trying. I think their efforts are still pretty clumsy and they’re still just holding onto some old beliefs that just aren’t true anymore. For instance, they still don’t believe an Asian American man can be the lead of a movie. …It’s very discouraging to see that that’s still a belief, because it’s still very much reflected in how people see each other here, I believe. My take on it is that I’m very optimistic, but cautiously [so]. I think there could still be more changes.

I think this is the first time ever where Asian American voices are united and persistent on something…It’s very hard to unify our voices because we come from such different backgrounds. But this is the first time I feel like we’ve worked in unison on something, and it’s made an impact, especially on Twitter, #OscarsSoWhite, [etc]. I’m very excited this is happening.

My hope is that we get an Asian American movie star whose name transcends his ethnicity. I feel like if you’re African American, you’ve got Denzel Washington and Will Smith, who I believe are such stars that their ethnicities aren’t as important as their names. I feel like we as Asian Americans don’t have that. That’s the crux of how I feel like a lot of Asian Americans get treated out here. It’s very easy to feel like you’re invisible, to feel like you don’t matter. Personally, I’ve received this a lot—a person treats me based on my race rather than on who I am. We’re fighting for the constant visibility that I think is specific, but not unique to, growing up Asian American in the United States. It’s not the overt hostility that African Americans face; it’s the complete opposite. It’s complete apathy.”

•On colorism in Hollywood, as seen in Crazy Rich Asians

“On the one hand, I think this Crazy Rich Asians is terrific. I hope this is going to be our generation’s Joy Luck Club and people will see that it’s interesting to watch Asian Americans on the big screen…and people will become more confident in investing in films like that in the future. Me personally, I  tried reading the book, and I read a lot, but for some reason I just couldn’t finish this one. There was nothing interesting about it to me; a lot of it was just talking about clothes and a culture I couldn’t relate to at all. Maybe I was expecting it to be more of an Asian-American story…it’s not; it’s very specifically Asian, and it’s also very specifically the ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-rich Asian. That’s very hard to relate to. I think going back to the crux of what Asian-Americans need to tackle in order to become accepted in the mainstream is this idea that we’re human too and we deal with universal issues like what Munkey’s going through and not like kung fu movies and math problems.

On top of that, something that bummed me out was when they cast Henry Golding in the lead. The reason why is because…something that I’ve noticed a lot is that our faces are kind of getting erased. Almost all of the parts go to Eurasian people. It sucks because we’re being horribly misrepresented, like our features aren’t good enough to be on the big screen. ‘He looks too Asian to ever be all right. It’s just a very Eurocentric way of looking at what beauty means and what it means to be handsome and that kind of stuff…I’m very cautious of our faces getting erased for an ideal that I believe is not true.

I know that this is something that has stemmed back [with black America] for hundreds of years; I’m reading a Malcolm X book, his autobiography, and he talks about that even back in the 1930s. Being lighter-skinned was a thing that made you more accepted by white society. It’s very analogous to what all the other minorities will be going through [in Hollywood]; the whiter you look, the more accepted you are, but only on screen. It’s such a nuanced, yet perverse thing to have happen to us, which subconsciously tells all of us that if you’re ethnic, you’re less than, you’re beautiful, and you don’t deserve [someone relating to you].”

• On playing Lt. Eddie Chen in The Long Road Home

“Our whole platoon is incredibly diverse, reflective of true life. It’s just something you would never see Hollywood casting if it wasn’t based on a true story. Our lieutenant commander is Hispanic, and we’ve brought in a whole number of ethnicities. I’m the only Asian man in it, but you’ve never seen that in a military show. All kinds of people are being represented in this platoon[.]

The vets all came out to give us their blessing. This is the first week that I showed up, and the vets were already there, saying, “Thank you for telling our story, thank you for not making us heroes.” [The miniseries] is about these really awful, difficult decisions they had to make in order to live. It was such an incredible experience on that level.

Kenny Leu as Sgt. Eddie Chen in “The Long Road Home.” (National Geographic)

On my first day of shooting, I was really nervous because we were shooting this big scene, and there were 400 extras in the scene. We’re all soldiers saying goodbye to their families; obviously, it’s very emotional. I’m walking through my scene with the director, making sure I’m hitting all my marks and that I know where the cameras are. In the middle of all of that, there are all of these extras that come up to me. Imagine the most Texan guys you could think of—they had the long mustaches with sunglasses and the big boots and big belt buckles and big bellies—they surrounded me and came up to me, and I was wearing my uniform at the time and they were reading my [character’s] name and my insignia. There was like a moment of silence. I was like, “Oh f***, what’s going on?” They were like, “You’re Sgt. Chen…we served with Eddie 13 years ago.” He was like a big brother to them and he was the guy everyone looked up to. He was the most honest, genuine person they’d ever known. I’m standing there on this field suddenly realizing how meaningful this story is to all these people. I was like, “Oh my God.” …That was something that rattled me to my core. You realize how important it is to tell stories like this, where people are represented properly. It makes you realize what a responsibility storytelling is.”♦

Watch Munkey in the City on its website , Vimeo page and YouTube page, and follow the series on FacebookTwitter,and Instagram. The Long Road Home premieres on National Geographic November 7 at 9/8c. 

This article has been edited and condensed.

#RepresentYourStory: Chance Calloway, “Pretty Dudes” creator

Chance Calloway Twitter

#RepresentYourStory is back! Our latest entry into the #RepresentYourStory series is Chance Calloway, the creator the web series Pretty Dudes. In case this is your first foray into the world of Pretty Dudes, here’s the jist. Four good-looking, yet shallow guys (Xavier Avila, Tae Song, Kyle Rezzarday, Yoshi Sudarso) try to help their other good-looking friend (Bryan Michael Nuñez) find a lifelong partner and hopefully break their “pretty boy curse”—being extremely handsome and attractive, but unlucky in love. The web series, which you can watch here, is funny and charming, and I’m happy to have Calloway provide us with some of his own experiences and how he overcame them. Hopefully, what he’s learned throughout his life when it comes to overcoming differences can help you in yours.

You can find Calloway on Twitter. Pretty Dudes releases a new episode each Tuesday, and you can also keep up with Pretty Dudes on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook. You can also support Pretty Dudes through a donation via PayPal.

If you want to participate in #RepresentYourStory and read past entries, click here to read more about the project and where to provide your answers!

Where does your story begin? What first caused you think you were different?

Watching The Cosby Show in a room full of cousins when I was six/seven, and the reaction I got when I said one of the guest actors, a male, was “cute.” My mom pulled me outside to tell me why I couldn’t say he was cute. He remained cute to me.

What external and/or internal factors reinforced your idea that you were different?

Being a gay man who the other Black boys at school called the f-word, and being a Black man who the other gay boys at school said they just weren’t into.

How did you internalize your supposed difference? Did you accept it or struggle?

Struggled for a long time. Suicidal and depressed for the majority of my life.

Have you come to terms with your supposed difference? If so, how did you come to self-acceptance? If not, what issues do you still find yourself wrestling with?

I have. I had friends who accepted me before I did. And that made it okay for me to be who I am.

What would you say to someone else struggling with the same or similar difference you have?

You are not malformed. You are not a mistake. You are a piece of work, soon to be a masterpiece.

What would you tell your former self? What insights have you gained now that you wished someone had told you back then?

We make too big of a deal about our differences. Life would be so boring if we were the same. Differences create a kaleidoscope of beauty. Embrace that.♦

Exclusive Interview: #StarringJohnCho creator William Yu

Could John Cho have swept Emilia Clarke off her feet in Me Before You? Or could have been everyone’s favorite astronaut in The Martian? Or could he have been Captain America in The Avengers? These possibilities and more are imagined with the hashtag #StarringJohnCho.

#StarringJohnCho, which also has a site and Twitter page by the same name, explores the roles John Cho (and by extension, other actors and actresses of Asian descent) could have played, and played well, but were denied solely because of race. The site and Twitter page, both of which contain photoshopped posters featuring Cho in the films’ leading roles, has gotten tons of press, and rightly so; the movement’s mission is to make people think critically about who gets cast in roles, why they get cast, and who gets left with the riff raff. Even better: #StarringJohnCho also has the support of Cho himself.

I was excited to speak to the man behind the movement, William Yu. In an email interview, Yu discussed the origins of #StarringJohnCho, Hollywood’s annoying casting practices, and what film role he would have liked to see Cho crush.

How did you come up with #StarringJohnCho?

As a Korean-American who has a passion for television and film, I’ve always had the lack of representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood in my mind. With the rise of television shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None that bring nuance to the portrayal of Asian-Americans, I wondered why the current state of racial diversity in Hollywood remained largely unchanged. When I read that films with more diverse casts result in higher box office numbers and higher returns on investments for film companies, I couldn’t understand why Hollywood wouldn’t cast lead actors to reflect this fact. I’m tired of hearing from people that they can’t “see” an Asian-American actor playing the romantic lead or the hero, so I created #StarringJohnCho to literally show you.

Are you surprised by the immediate success of the hashtag/Twitter movement?

This was a relevant topic that was important to me, so I always hoped that it would take off. But I am definitely blown away by the support that has come since I first launched a week ago. I’m very grateful that the majority of the reactions to the movement have been positive! I’m really appreciative of the followers who have gone the extra mile and created their own movie posters, it’s been amazing to see people really make it their own. While there have been a few opposing individuals along the way, I think their reactions prove that this conversation is a necessary one.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Why do you think there was such a groundswell of support?

I think a number of factors came into play at the right time. John Cho has always been a cult figure for Asian-Americans and those that have followed his work, but there has never been a rallying cry to bring these people together. With #OscarsSoWhite and #whitewashedOUT trending, the conversation of diversity in Hollywood has never been more relevant and top of mind. When I’ve had conversations with others about how Asian-Americans are represented in media, many times it comes down to being able to envision or imagine how an Asian-American would be a part of a film or TV show. Having a tangible, in your face solution, is something that I think people didn’t even realize that they needed to drive the message home.

John Cho has always been very vocal about AAPI visibility in Hollywood, so it must be great to have him like the hashtag/Twitter page. How does it feel to have Cho’s support?

It’s wonderful knowing that he acknowledges and understands the message of what we’re trying to get across. Choosing Cho as the focal point of the movement was a conscious decision, but there was definitely some risk in using his face, especially if the tag started to take off. It’s been great having other Asian-American thought leaders like Margaret Cho, Constance Wu, Ellen Oh, and Phil Yu also support the movement! Because as much as #StarringJohnCho is centered around him, there is a greater conversation about how Asian-Americans are perceived in our society to be had.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Cho’s most recent TV endeavor, Selfie, made waves for actually casting an Asian-American in the leading male role, but the show eventually went off the air. It was probably thought that another Asian American man wouldn’t be cast as in a leading male role, but now we have Daniel Wu on Into the Badlands and Aziz Ansari in Master of None. Albeit that’s only three roles in the tons of roles awarded to non-Asian men in Hollywood, but with that said, do you think the tide has shifted (if at all) for Asian actors on TV since Cho’s romantic comedic turn in Selfie? And why do you think there’s been no movement in film?

While I love seeing Wu and Ansari on screen, as well as Randall Park and Ki Hong Lee making waves, I don’t think we’re at the point to say the tide has shifted. I’m hopeful that these shows and actors are setting the right precedents for demonstrating that there is a desire and appetite for story-telling that integrates Asian actors. It represents possibility and opportunity. The staying power will be proven in the frequency and reception of future programs.

As for film, I believe that there is an issue in that Asian-Americans are not seen as individuals who can carry a major film. As the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA’s Bunche Centers shows, films with more diverse casts perform better at the box office and have higher returns on investment than those that are less diverse. I don’t understand why Hollywood doesn’t cast leads to reflect this fact, as the risk seems worthwhile. I think Alan Yang said it best in The Hollywood Reporter‘s article when he said, “[Hollywood] cast Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. He wasn’t a movie star until they put him in those movies. For people who are making decisions, you have to take that risk.”

Hollywood seems to adhere to a set of stereotypes when it comes to uplifting or degrading men that are or aren’t their idea of a “viable leading man.” Why do you think Hollywood still lives by these stereotypes, particularly the stereotypes affecting Asian actors?

I think it dates back to the time when movie audiences would typically go see movies because of the actor who was in it, not because of the story that was being told. Thinking of Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, these stars draw audiences before a trailer gets released. As such, I’m sure executives want to continue to greenlight movies that feature these few individuals or find those that closely resemble them. But with franchises like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games, and many Marvel films, we’re seeing a greater focus on the stories that these films are telling. There’s an opportunity for diverse casting because the films make the stars, not the other way around. #StarringJohnCho demonstrates that these stories still work with Asian-America lead, so why not take the chance?

John Cho in ‘Selfie’. ABC.

How do you think #StarringJohnCho ties into other AAPI/POC-visibility movements like #whitewashedOUT, #OscarsSoWhite, etc.?

The goal of #StarringJohnCho was always to ignite a conversation and build upon the amazing discussions currently being had around race. I think that the movement adds another facet to the discussion by questioning why Asians can’t play leads that aren’t race specific. It’s not just about jobs and Hollywood dollars, but asks how we perceive people of color in our society.

How do you hope #StarringJohnCho affects Hollywood? Also, what message do you want viewers of the hashtag to come away with?

I hope that #StarringJohnCho will not only show fellow Asian-Americans that they can be anything they want to be, but also show those with less active imaginations that the opposition to an Asian-American playing the lead of a major motion picture is an unfounded and antiquated notion. It’s been great seeing those in the film industry support the movement, and I do hope that those in the decision making positions are taking note. #StarringJohnCho demonstrates the desire for an Asian-American lead, now Hollywood execs just have to see it.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

The film adaptation of Crazy, Rich Asians is coming. Do you think the film could open the door to more Hollywood films starring all-Asian or mostly-Asian casts?

I love that a movie like Crazy, Rich Asians is getting made. With films that feature an all-Asian or mostly-Asian cast, I think what’s great is that they are amazing opportunities to show the world the complexities and nuances of Asian-American culture that are not typically brought to life onscreen. I am hopeful that these stories will resonate with audiences both Asian and non-Asian. And with its success, films like these will absolutely make the thought of creating similar movies will be far less daunting for Hollywood.

What would be your dream film or TV show starring John Cho?

My favorite movie last year was Ex Machina. Would love to see John Cho tearing up the dance floor as Oscar Isaac’s Nathan Bateman.♦

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Other articles to check out:

THR Dream Casts the ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ Movie|The Hollywood Reporter (written back in 2015!)

Working in Hollywood When You’re Not White|The Hollywood Reporter

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Exclusive Interview: Chantel Riley (“Race”)

Race, the biopic of Jesse Owens and his historic Olympic Games showing in 1936 Berlin, will soon be in theaters to trill and inspire audiences. The film, starring Stephan James as Owens, focuses on perseverance and success amid what would appear to be insurmountable struggle. Owens’ driven quality have inspired Chantel Riley, who plays Quincella Nickerson in the film.

JUST ADD COLOR was excited to have this exclusive interview with Riley, who talked about her stage life prior to film, how Race could be a contender for the 2017 Oscars, and her feelings about #OscarsSoWhite. To learn more about Race click here to see film stills and clips. Race comes to theaters Friday, Feb. 19.

Tell me about Quincella, your character. 

Quincella Nickerson is real, so she was actually around. She met Jesse in California. He had a track meet there and she’s always been into sports. From the research I read of her online–there’s not much–said that she was Jesse’s number one fan. Quincella Nickerson was always around when he was around. She was at all of his track meets and even at special events with celebrities and politicians, she would be around and he would invite her to the parties.

She was well known herself; she was a socialite. Her father was a businessman, very affluent in that time, especially in the 1930s; being a wealthy African-American man in the 1930s wasn’t very known in that time. So, a lot of people knew who her father was and who she was. I think she loved going out and being around people.

This is your first movie role. How is it to cut your film teeth on a project like this?

I was very shocked when I booked this role, and now I’m really excited. For it to be a movie like this is a big deal for me. I haven’t been in the industry that long, compared to most people, and to have your first film be something like this, and that this story is so powerful and for it to be about someone like Jesse, is such an honor for me. I’m so glad I can call this my first film project.

You come from the stage, having played Nala in The Lion King. First, how cool is it to have played a role like that, and second, what were some of the differences between stage and film acting that you had to get used to?

I’ve been in the [Nala] role for four years now, going on five, and it was the only thing I’ve done. It was very challenging to me at first to be on set. You have to be aware of your surroundings; you have to be aware of camera angles and…to make sure [the cameraman] can see your face. A lot of that I had to get used to. But on the stage, you just have to make sure your back’s never to the audience. When you’re on set…you’ve got to make sure you’re well aware of your surroundings and of every angle; they’ll shoot a scene from one area and they’ll shoot the exact same scene and you have to do it the exact same way from across the room. That was a little bit challenging.

Also, too, [The Lion King] was a live performance every night, so I think I pressured myself a lot to get every take perfect the first time because you’re so used to doing that onstage. You get one chance on stage in front of the audience; it’s not like you do a scene and then you’re like, “OK, guys, let me take that from the top and try this again.” You go all out. That’s definitely another major different from stage and set.


Race is a film that’s hoping to inspire audiences, much like 42. How did the film and its story inspire you?

Just knowing what Jesse had to go through during that time, I can’t even imagine what it’s like. I mean, it’s not too far off from what’s going on now, but just getting adversity just from the color of his skin and people looking down on him because of the color of his skin. It really taught me to push through no matter what and to not let anybody’s idea of you stop you from becoming the star you want to become or the person you really want to see yourself to be and God sees you to be also.

I just admire his courage to go through what he did, especially in a time during the Hitler regime and going to the Olympic Games…[Owens] had to make that decision [to go to the Games or stay]. He made that decision to go, and thank God he did, because he killed it, obviously, and won four gold medals. [He] proved not only to Hitler, but to the world, how amazingly talented he is and how you can be if you just put your mind to it and push. What he did for people of color was just incredible and proved to the world that we are more than what [they] think we are. It really inspired me to push.

Even in the film industry right now, #OscarsSoWhite has been going around and I don’t want to use [Hollywood’s discrimination] as an excuse to say they won’t hire me because I’m black. I want to be able to use that as a challenge and flip that around for the better for myself and say I can overcome that challenge, the same way Jesse did. I’m not going to use it as an excuse to say I’m never going to make it. No–I’m going to break that barrier and show [Hollywood] that I can make it!

#OscarsSoWhite has been a big topic. Race could be one of the films that breaks the Academy’s color barrier come nomination time in 2017. What do you think of the importance of a film like Race for our culture, especially in light of the Academy debacle?

It’s such a relief to see people that look like myself on film, and to see that people are excited about it. What it’s doing now is that it’s inspiring other filmmakers and directors and casting directors to now say, “Let’s try to make a difference here, let’s change it up and give people of color a chance.” There’s no doubt that we aren’t just as talented, just as smart, just as creative as they are. And goes for black, Hispanic, Native, Asian–we can do just as much as they can, it’s just a matter of giving us the chance to do so. That’s why I’m so excited for Race, and for the Nat Turner film that just came out at Sundance [The Birth of a Nation]. It [shows] what we are capable of doing and…[gives] us that chance to tell a story. Whether it’s a historic figure or non-historic figure, just give us the chance to tell that story.

It’s kind of bittersweet what’s going on, because it’ has to be talked about. I’m glad that it’s now being talked about and people are now making changes to make that happen. Because I believe that you have to start from the internal. Look at the makeup of the Academy. It’s like 95 percent men and 90 percent white or some kind of crazy, ridiculous number like that? It just starts form the internal source and make a change that way. And it’s not just a race difference, but age difference matters too. A guy that’s 80 years old isn’t going to understand or relate to films like Straight Outta Compton, you know what I’m saying? They definitely need to change it up and I’m glad that they are finally making that decision to do so.

What do you hope people learn from Race?

What I really hope people learn from this film is perseverance and believing in yourself to know you can make a difference. Jesse worked hard his whole life and pushed himself to limits only a few of us could ever imagine, but you see the benefits of doing so, of pushing and not letting trials and tribulations cut your dream off. We all go through it–we all have a dream and we all struggle, but you can’t let the struggle completely cut off the goal. We get to the point where we’re so close, and I just want everyone to persevere and push through because there is light at the end of the tunnel.