Eva Chen, director of Instagram’s fashion partnerships, hosted a conversation about growing anti-Asian racism with civil rights activist and Rise founder Amanda Nguyen, Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee and Birds of Prey directed by Katie Ian.
The four leaders discussed reports of increasing discrimination and violence targeting members of the Asia-Pacific community in the last year of the pandemic, which has risen sharply in recent weeks and restored national coverage of hate incidents. Each woman also shared the anti-Asian biases they have experienced in their own industries and how they use this moment to draw attention to long-standing anti-Asian racism.
Nguyen has worked in the civil rights space for most of the decade and helped draft the first-ever Bill on the Rights of Sexual Violence Survivors. Yet she says she is often the only Asian American in the room where political decisions are made, or in the halls of Congress ̵
In February, Nguyen posted a video on Instagram that went viral and called on national media to better cover the rise of anti-Asian racism and violence in the United States.
Ian discussed how only after winning critical acclaim for directing DC’s blockbuster Birds of Prey would the distributor “take a risk” and release his first feature film, Dead Pigs, a dark comedy in China. In the film industry, she said she was under pressure to create projects that would appeal to white audiences, and that Asian and Asian-American stories were often the subject of the “eternal foreigner” stereotype. Things are improving, she added, noting the reaction of the Golden Globe organizers, which they faced when they limited the American film “Minari” to the category of the best foreign language picture this year.
The discourse that followed is an encouraging sign that the public recognizes immigrant stories and underrepresented communities are part of the American experience, Ian said: “Your otherness is the thing that will continue to push forward what it means to be American in this country. “
Lee added that telling a variety of stories, including experiences of Asian descent in America, is key to combating stereotypes and incidents of racism directed at Asians.
“In the beauty industry – and in publishing in general – it is our responsibility and opportunity to tell these nuanced stories,” Lee said. “Asian nature exists in a wide range, but many times people see us through a narrow lens and it’s really dangerous.”
As editor-in-chief of Allure, Lee sees an opportunity to tell these nuanced stories and change what people find beautiful. At one point, Lee looked at Allure’s back catalog and found that in the 28 years and 320 before her term, there were only two Asian women on the cover of the magazine. Since becoming editor-in-chief in 2015, Lee has hired an all-Asian crew for a monolithic makeup photo, featured three Asian models in a 2018 hair edition, and over the years has featured eight Asian faces on the cover.
Lee added that Asia’s representation in the media and leadership is growing, but “still not enough” and stressed that any progress “does not happen by accident”. Instead, she called on people who have decision-making powers within their organizations to prioritize inclusion and opportunities for members of marginalized communities.
For her part, Chen is known for her rapid rise in the space of beauty and fashion – at the age of 33 she became one of the youngest editors to run a national American magazine when she became editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine at Conde Nast in 2013. But she noted that her desire to speak took time.
“Trust came quite late for me. Until I was 30, I didn’t feel confident that I had a convincing opinion of my own,” said Chen, now 41. She added that her 6-year-old daughter Wren had already learned what a protest was from school. “I feel that young people find their voice earlier these days and are empowered to have their opinions. It took me a long time.”
Nguyen, who is actively involved in empowering younger Americans to speak out on important civil rights issues, offers advice to younger generations of activists: “If there are structures that systematically lock up the Asia-America community in the Pacific Islands , we will turn to other platforms like social media to democratize our voices, “she said.” Now we have a choice. No one is invisible when we want to be seen. “
The discussion on Instagram Live Rooms raised more than $ 2,700 for Asian Americans who promote justice and called for ongoing work by groups such as Apex for Youth, Innocence Project, Rise, Gold House and Act to Change.
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