Haikus On Hotties Returns for Another Year of Asian American Hotness

The year is ending.

How will you mark the future?

Why not with hot men?

It’s almost the end of 2016, which means people can finally turn the calendar and bring in a new year. And there’s no better way to start 2017 than with over a dozen handsome Asian men with poetry written on them.


After the success of the original 2016 Haikus with Hotties calendar, creator Ada Tseng decided to bring the project back for a second year. This time Tseng funded the calendar through Kickstarter to meet the costs of printing, hiring production staff, and donating proceeds to the AngryAsianMan blog.

“Last time it started as a series, it was in each issue of Audrey Magazine. So when we started calendar we already had like eight people,” Tseng said. “So this time around, we kind of started with a clean slate, so I think we really made it a priority to get a nice mix of people.”

The 2016 edition featured many actors, along with comedians, chefs, and models. 2017 features such hotties as celebrity chef Ronnie Woo, cartoonist Vishavjit Singh, body builder Kenta Seki, singer Joseph Vincent, and many more. The diversity of artists for next year’s calendar expands how people think of Asian American men and success. Except this year, Tseng wanted to include a new take on the hot guy-plus-haiku formula.

“This time around, a pharmacist friend of ours suggested that the only thing Haikus With Hotties fans might like more than a haiku exchange WITH hotties, is if the haikus were actually ON the hotties.” the Kickstarter page says. “It was an intriguing challenge — one that we weren’t initially sure we could deliver. So, we went back to our unofficial Haikus With Hotties ambassadors Yoshi and Peter Sudarso to see whether this was even possible.”

Luckily it was very possible. Tseng said on the Kickstarter page that round two would include rules for the hotties’ poetry: “This time around, they write one haiku, and the only rule is that it has to be about hotness. And we have to figure out a way to get it on them — whether it’s on clothing, their bodies or some other creative interpretation of Haikus On Hotties.” So with some help from the unofficial ambassadors, Tseng and the Sudarso brothers geared up, got some paint, and stripped down to promote the second Haikus On Hotties calendar.


One of the risks Tseng listed on the Kickstarter page was “really wanting one of the hotties to do a photo spoof of those Carl’s Jr. burger commercials (sexily eating burgers at the beach or while sitting on a luxury car) but having failed to convince any of them so far — don’t worry, we’ll handle it.” That’s where ISA TV hotties Dan Matthews and Mike Bow come in.

“Mike is doing this interview topless,” Matthews wants everyone to know first thing. “How did Mike and I get involved? I’ve actually been friends with Ada for a little while, and I knew about this project last year and I thought it was a really clever and cool community project. When I heard she was doing it again this year, I kind of jokingly said ‘Hey, it would be fun to be a part of it.’ I didn’t expect her to actually ask us to do it.”

(Tseng, also at the photoshoot, said that she suggested and asked Matthews to do it.)



Bow, YouTuber MikeBowShow and ISA TV host,  heard about the calendar from the Sudarso brothers. He thought “it must be nice to be invited to this hot Asian guy calendar” and then found out Tseng already had him in mind. Bow and Matthews posing together brings the ISA TV element to the calendar, and when Ada emailed them saying no one wanted to do the Carl’s Jr spoof concept they signed up. Both have have done photoshoots before, but none shirtless, for a calendar.

“This is literally about attractive Asian males,” Bow said. “So this is a lot hinging on it, that’s a lot of pressure. It’s not about the clothes, it’s about your body, your hotness.”

At the shoot, the haiku still needed to be written, but given Matthews is known as the rapper DANakaDAN, 5-7-5 syllables on hotness shouldn’t be too difficult. He also wanted to define Asian male hotness outside physical appearance.

“Even more though, I think one of the most important key things to take away from this is hotness in general, female or male, shouldn’t just be defined as what you look like,” Matthews said. “Being clever is hot, confidence is hot. I think people who can take off their shirts are confident in some ways, but I think there’s other ways you can be hot.”

The Kickstarter campaign lasted one month from September 8th to October 8th, and met its goal of $6,780. Over 200 people backed the calendar, including international donations from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore, and more. The campaign promised quite a few different perks for higher backers including the 2016 calendar, posters, special photos, stickers of the hotties, and shipping “a SECOND calendar to a Hollywood casting agency with a note telling them to cast these hot Asian American men in their upcoming projects.”

Shipping out all the perks begins just before the holidays, the perfect time before the start of the new year. For those who missed the Kickstarter, the 2017 and 2016 Haikus With Hotties calendars are available today at HaikusWithHotties.com


Tim Atlas On his Experience on The Voice – Coffee Break w/ Minji Chang

Singer-Songwriter, and Kollab SF Alum, Tim Atlas joins Minji for this Coffee Break chat. Tim recounts moving to LA to continue his pursuit of music as well as his experiences on NBC’s The Voice as a member of both Team Gwen and Team Pharrell.

Hear more from Tim at https://www.youtube.com/user/timfergus0n

Like what you hear? subscribe to our channel for more live sessions from the Kollaboration Movement!

Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Camera Operator: Westley Kang & Andrew Kim
Editor: Aubrey Magalang


Julia Cho and Artists at Play Blows Sh*t Up on the Stage

Asian representation in media has been receiving a lot of attention over the last few years. Starting with the progress made on TV by shows such as Fresh off the Boat and Master of None opening the community’s eyes to the possibilities of genuine Asian American stories being told on screen (by Asian Americans), and contrasted by the relative lack of progress in film shown by the continued whitewashing of parts that could, and some argue should, be played by Asians. While much of the conversation has been centered on the screen, there are also a growing number of producers and actors working to bring Asian American stories and characters to the stage as well. One of these leaders is Artists at Play’s Julia Cho.

A few blocks away from the Sunset Strip, Julia sits down with us in the lobby of The Lounge Theater. Her new production The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up, a play written by Carla Ching, had just opened for previews and she was graciously spending a few moments of her precious free time to talk.

Nicknamed the “Human Swiss Army Knife” by her peers, Julia is well regarded as someone who knows how to get stuff done. An actor by trade, Julia is also a founding member of Artists at Play, a Los Angeles based theatre collective made up of Asian American creative professionals.

“Artists at Play was founded by myself, Stefanie Lau, Marie-Reine Velez, and Peter Kuo.” Julia explains, “The four of us got together really because we wanted to do a play”

That play would become the collective’s first production Ching Chong Chinaman, a play by Lauren Yee. “As you can tell by the title a very subversive comedy upending Asian American stereotypes.” She laughs, “We were all theater geeks and we got together to put on that show and then things just snowballed and we realized that we really liked working together and the group was born out of that.”


Since that first production, Artists at Play have gone on to do even more productions and expanded their programs to include a summer reading and salon.

“We’re all about promoting, highlighting Asian American voices and stories on stage, and in turn providing opportunities not only for Asian American artists,” Julia says, “but making good theater and involving a diverse group of artists to help us along the way”

Artists at Play specialize in working with contemporary plays focused on Asian American narratives.

“The fact that Asian American theater exists is because we’re not as present in mainsteam American theater, I think people who aren’t familiar with that would think, oh there’s Miss Saigon and King and I,” she explains, ”but there’s so much more to Asian American theater than that. And I think at Artists at Play, we’re all about showcasing specifically Asian American stories. In the plays that we produce there’s always a fresh unique voice [and] a contemporary perspective. Our plays are not set in Asia, and it doesn’t always have to be about immigrant issues.”

Julia gives her current production of The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up as an example. The main characters, Diana and Max, are essentially “All-American kids,” but make references in their dialogues to culturally specific touchstones like Saturday school and frugal parents. Julia explained that these references were intelligently, and intentionally, planted in the play by the playwright Carla Ching “to let people know, you could cast this with white people, but you shouldn’t, because there are these clues here to inform you of these people’s specific heritage.”

The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up is a production that Julia is particularly excited about, not only because it is this year’s main stage production for Artists at Play, but also because it is the collective’s first world premiere of a work. The pressure has definitely never been higher for them.

“Usually our productions have been published works,” Julia explains, “with Carla, because she’s so present, she’s there with us every step of the way, we want to do the piece justice and we want to do right by her, so there’s definitely added pressure, but that pressure fuels us to do the best we can.”

To Julia, the pressure is worth it. “Writers like Carla Ching are people worth knowing and sharing,” Julia explains.


The Two Kids the Blow Shit Up tells the story of Max and Diana, two people brought together because of circumstances outside of their control and who can’t help but become, and stay, a part of each other’s lives.

“We jump around time from scene to scene. So they’re start at 38 as hardened bitter adults, and then we jump to when they are nine and they first meet as children, and so on and so forth,” Julia explains, “Seeing these scenes out of order but then being able to piece things together but then picking up clues from the previous scene and applying it to the next, I think there’s something really fun about that theatrically.”

To Julia and her colleagues, bringing these stories to the stage is their way of contributing to the growing conversation of representation in entertainment by showing that Asian American characters can be real human beings, and by adding to the canon of Asian American stories and characters. “There wasn’t a play like this when I was in college doing scene study classes,” Julia recalls. It’s her hope that by ushering this work into the world “young Asian American people can choose a scene from Two Kids the Blow Shit Up to perform in class that speaks to the in a truthful way and they don’t have to go to the default white playwrights.”

Staged Theater holds a special place in Julia’s heart, and she’s passionate to bring the art form to more and more people. We asked her to make a case for theater for entertainment. “It’s a big argument, especially in LA, which is a city that is so focused on TV and film,” Julia sighs, “but when it’s done well and done right, there’s something really magical about theater.”

Julia explains that the live nature of theater is really what sets it apart from anything else. “It’s all happening in front of you and it really depends on the actors, the design elements supporting their performances, and also there is some investment on the audience members’ part, they need to be in on it with us so it’s not as removed,” she explains, “we’re all in the same room breathing the same air together and there’s a certain level of trust and commitment that needs to be in every single one of us, performers and audience alike, to make this thing happen and I don’t think there’s anything like that you can recreate on film or screen.”

In addition to their annual main stage productions, and despite being a small team with limited resources,  Artists at Play have also started to expand their footprint in the community. These programs include their “Spring Readings,” where they develop and showcase new works by Asian American writers (and which The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up was actually a part of prior to going into production), and their “Summer Salon,” where they take a well known play and cast it with veteran Asian American actors to show not only that such castings can be done, but also that these actors are perfectly capable of carrying the works. The latest salon featured John Cho in Donald Margulies’  Dining with Friends, actually pre-empting the summer’s popular hashtag movement, “we literally starred John Cho,” She laughs.

The  success of these programs invigorate Julia, and she is optimistic about the future of Asian American Theater.

“Theater is a little behind I think, there’s a lot of talk with film right now in terms of furthering more representation of Asians and Asian Americans and I’m excited to see all these conversations happening, and I think that will eventually lead to actual tangible changes [that] I’m hoping that will trickle down to theater as well,” she explains, and she’s confident that Artists at Play can play a big part of that. “Look at all these diverse stories, if there’s just one idea you have about Asian American Theater, there’s so much more than that,” she concludes, “we hope that we can provide some new perspectives.”

“The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up” is moving into its 2nd week and final week of production at the Lounge Theater in Sunset (Address: 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038), and tickets are currently available for purchase.

Learn more about Artists at Play at artistsatplayla.blogspot.com and follow Julia on twitter at @thatjuliacho.


Images and video via Artists at Play

Meet Some of the Asian/Pacific Islander Actors in the Cast of Disney’s Moana

Disney’s next animated film, Moana, is set to come out in theaters this Thanksgiving. Set thousands of years ago in Oceania, it tells the story of a young navigator and a demigod as they set sail across the ocean, in search of a fabled island. From the release of its first few trailers, anticipation is constantly growing for this beautiful looking film.

Recently, new casting announcements have been made public, and we’re excited about the sheer numbers of Asian and Pacific Islander actors in the cast (playing Pacific Islander and Pacific Islander inspired characters we might add). Here are seven of the biggest highlights from the cast of Moana:

1. Auli’i Cravalho

Auli’i Cravalho will be voicing the role of young heroine, Moana. A native of Oahu, she was the last person out of hundreds of women to audition for the role. She was originally hesitant to try out for the film, assuming that someone better was bound to be found from the numerous audition videos posted on YouTube, only to catch the attention of a casting agent, while singing at a charity competition. Moana marks Cravalho’s film debut.

2. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson will be starring alongside Cravalho as demigod and fellow navigator, Maui. Also known by his ring name “The Rock,” he first gained attention as a renowned wrestler in the WWE. While semi-retired from professional wrestling, Johnson has also made a name for himself as an actor, appearing in films such as The Mummy Returns, San Andreas, and a number of the Fast and Furious films.

3. Jemaine Clement

Jemaine Clement provides the voice of the crab, Tamatoa. He is best known for being one half of the New Zealand comedy band, Flight of the Conchords, and has a history of working alongside Moana co-writer Taika Waititi, having previously worked together in comedy and theatrical productions. Clement’s previous acting credits include roles in Waititi’s Eagle vs Shark, Despicable Me, Men in Black 3, and recently in The BFG.

4. Rachel House

Rachel House will be voicing Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala. A familiar face to the big screens of New Zealand, she made her film debut as Shilo in the Sundace award-winning film, Whale Rider. Much like Clement, she has also worked with Waititi several times in the past, performing in films of his such as Eagle vs Shark, Boy, and the recent hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. House is also an acting coach, as she worked a lot with the younger actors of Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople on perfecting their performances.

5. Temuera Morrison

Temuera Morrison will be voicing Tui, Moana’s father and chief of their tribe. Another familiar face to New Zealand, he made a splash with his performance in the hit film, Once Were Warriors. On the more mainstream front, he may be best recognizable for playing Jango Fett and the clones in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. He can most recently be seen in the film, The Patriarch; an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel, Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies.

6. Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole Scherzinger will be playing the voice of Moana’s mother, Sina. In the past, she has guest appearances in TV shows such as How I Met Your Mother and My Wife and Kids. She played Maureen in RENT at the Hollywood Bowl and will soon be seen in the TV movie remake of Dirty Dancing. Scherzinger is best well known on the music front as a member of the former girl group, “The Pussycat Dolls.” She can be next seen as a returning judge on the UK’s The X Factor reality TV competition series.

7. Phillipa Soo

It is currently unknown who Phillipa Soo will be playing in Moana, but hopefully that detail will be revealed with time. She is best known for originating the role of Elizabeth Hamilton in the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton (which earned her a Tony nomination earlier this year). She will next be starring in the musical, Amélie, starting next year. While Soo’s onscreen credits remain limited, she has made appearances in the musical series, Smash.


Cover Image via Disney

Awkwafina & Mindy Kaling Join Ocean’s 8 Cast

Earlier today, Deadline confirmed that deals are close for the initial cast of their new heist movie Ocean’s 8, directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games and Free State of Jones). Big names in announcement include Oscar winners Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway as well as notable names like Helena Bonham-Carter and Rihanna. While the all-female principal cast of this traditionally male-centric franchise might have most people’s attention, we were intrigued by two familiar names in the announcement. Major roles in the film has been offered to Asian American actors Mindy Kaling and Nora Lum (aka Awkwafina).

Mindy Kaling is an actor, screenwriter, and author, who came to prominence as Kelly Kapoor in NBC’s hit show The Office where she also worked as a writer. Currently she’s one of TV’s precious few Asian American leads on her romantic comedy television series The Mindy Project.

Nora Lum, better known by her stage name Awkwafina, is a New York based rapper recently featured in the documentary Bad Rap. In addition to blowing up the stage and the internet every time she performs, she’s also been making strides as an actor, recently appearing in the film Neighbors 2.

No word yet on what roles the two will play in the ensemble cast, but chances are they will be part of the crew assembled around leads Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett to pull off some impossible caper. The only Asian member of George Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven trilogy was Chinese acrobat Qin Shaobo, who served as the crew’s slippery greaseman, who’s job was getting in and out of tight situations. While it’s unlikely that Kaling or Lum will be taking up Qin’s mantle, it’ll be interesting to see what characters they end up playing. The best part of heist films is watching each character have their moment of expertise and it’s going to be awesome to see these ladies con, sneak, hack,or even blow up their way into their objective.

We’ll be monitoring this story as it develops but please let us know in the comments what roles in the heist you think Mindy and Awkwafina might play!


Cover image via Peggy Sirota/People & Shirley Yu

Sarah Kuhn has a Heroine Complex – Coffee Break with Minji Chang

Writer Sarah Kuhn joins us on Coffee Break to talk about her newly released novel Heroine Complexthe first book in a new superhero saga starring Asian American female protagonists! Sarah shares about her inspiration for the story, the process of publishing her first novel, and how she became, and sustains as, a professional creative.

Learn more about Sarah and her new novel at www.heroinecomplex.com

Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Camera Operator: Westley Kang, Andrew Kim, & Trent Nakamura
Editor: Westley Kang


Artist Kamea Hadar Celebrates Identity and President Obama with His New Mural “Hapa”

Earlier this summer, Honolulu became a little bit more presidential when a new mural of President Barack Obama came into existence. Found on a street corner in the city the 44th President of the United States was born and raised, the piece of art is the latest handiwork of local artist, Kamea Hadar.

“So the mural is a portrait of President Barack Obama,” Hadar explained via phone interview. “In the background is [an excerpt from] a speech he made in 2008 in Philadelphia.”

To Hadar, the mural is more than just a way to honor our current president as he reaches the end of his second term.

“It has to do with racial equality and that’s what the piece is about. The piece is called ‘Hapa,’ which comes from the Hawaiian word for ‘part’ or ‘partial,’ and basically it is used to refer to people of mixed race,” Hadar said. “President Obama is Hapa, I’m Hapa, a lot of people are, and it’s very much representative of the melting pot of race and culture in Hawaii and also the rest of the world.

“So anyone is part anything, not all, is referred to as Hapa. But it’s mainly like a symbol. The meaning of it is more about mixed race and not the literal translation of the word.”

Artist Kamea Hadar

Hadar, who also serves as co-director of arts network POW! WOW!, was originally approached to do the mural by the building owner, who was already a fan of his work. He wanted him to paint a mural on the side of the building, with the subject having to reflect off of the theme of being Hapa.

“So when he approached me, he said, ‘What would be a good subject?’ President Obama came up in the conversation and it kind of came together naturally,” he recalled. “It’s like a perfect fit. The building owner wanted to do a portrait that had to do with being Hapa, but he’s also a big supporter of President Obama. President Obama is an inspiration.”

The process of putting together what the overall mural would look like was a quick process for Hadar as the imagery came to him more naturally than usual.

“Usually there’s a lot of back and forth between myself and the building owner, what they wanted and what they were happy with. It was amazing,” he explained. “The mock-up of the piece and the sketch for the piece came out really, really easily and naturally, and when I showed it to the building owner, he had no comments. He was just like, ‘I love it! Let’s do it!'”

The process of getting “Hapa” painted onto the building wall came with its challenges; many of which were weather and time-related. For instance, how quickly the paint dried depended on the time of day Hadar was out painting and how high the sun was. The wind however, was the greatest nuisance, though it also helped the mural along.

“The wind was a big factor. It was a really windy area,” Hadar recalled. “So when I was trying to spray some of the background, I wanted the perfect gradient, but the wind kept catching the paint and swirling it around. And actually, it ended up adding to the piece, because when you look in the background, it has kind of this smoky, wispy feel to it and because it was so windy every day I was working, it would just spray the paint on. So it actually wounded up working to my advantage.”

Artist Kamea Hadar and his mural, “Hapa.” Photo by Andrew Tran/Instagram

Since its completion, “Hapa” has garnered a positive reception from the public, which was a relief for Hadar, as he was worried about a possible political backlash.

“Honestly, even people who aren’t supporters of Obama, they were telling me, ‘I’m not a big fan of some of his policies but I still love the mural because I think it’s a beautiful piece of art,'” said Hadar. “So it’s surprisingly positive. You know, there’s obviously going to be some criticism. In art, it’s always good to have some reaction versus none, whether good or bad.”

While he hasn’t heard anything from President Obama himself about the mural yet, he hopes that maybe one day when in town, he’ll have the chance to see it. Otherwise, Hadar is happy with the response and inspiration his mural is bringing to others.

“The point of the piece is just to inspire other people and hopefully I’ve already done that,” he stated. “I’m just happy to spread aloha is all.”

To learn more about Hadar and his other works, be sure to check out his official website and keep up to date on his latest endeavors on Facebook, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @kameahadar.


Photo Credits Jonas Maon & Andrew Tran, and via kameahadar.com

Kollab ATL Chats With Julee Cerda About Smart People, “Twokens,” and Acting

Kollaboration Atlanta’s Qui Ho interviews actress Julree Cerda about her upcoming role in the play “Smart People,” premiering in Atlanta on July 12 at the True Colors Theatre Company

The quest for love, achievement and identity is universal, but what role does race play in the story of our lives? On the eve of Obama’s first election, four Harvard intellectuals find themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics. A whirlwind of crackling dialogue and tricky questions are thrown at us by the fearless and funny Lydia Diamond (Stick Fly) in this provocative and funny play
The quest for love, achievement and identity is universal, but what role does race play in the
story of our lives? On the eve of Obama’s first election, four Harvard intellectuals find
themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics. A whirlwind of
crackling dialogue and tricky questions are thrown at us by the fearless and funny Lydia
Diamond (Stick Fly) in this provocative and funny play

Julee Cerda is an American actress born in Seoul, South Korea. She was raised in New York but spent part of her childhood in her father’s home country, the Dominican Republic. Julee comes to Atlanta from New York City playing Ginny Yang, a well­ respected tenured Harvard Psychology professor, in Smart People. Her most recent theater credits include: The Bloodline of Shadrick Grace (FringeNYC) and Mad Dog Blues (Michael Chekhov Theater Company). On screen, Julee has recently appeared in House of Cards, Orange Is the NewBlack, and will be seen in Morten Tyldum’s upcoming film, Passengers.

Qui: How did the role in “Smart People” come about?

Julee: My agent asked me if I wanted to put myself on tape for the role of Ginny and having known the play and the role, I agreed to. I didn’t think anything would come of it and even went on a lengthy vacation to visit my husband’s family in England. That’s of course when I get a call saying the director wanted to meet so we ended up arranging a call over Skype.

Qui: Do you feel you face challenges in the industry due to race?

Julee: All the time. Roles for Asian Americans are few and far between and when a script calls for one, it usually requires you to play a stereotype. And while roles for Latinos are more available, I usually don’t get called in for those parts because I don’t “look” Latina enough. It’s a frustrating predicament to be in…especially if you’re an actress of mixed race. But I’m grateful playwrights like Lydia R. Diamond has created a role like Ginny who, like me, defines herself as a “twoken…proudly representing not one, but two under represented­populations”.

Qui: What’s your definition of “smart”?

Julee: Aware, insightful, thought­through. Although thanks to my husband, I’ve now adopted the British meaning which is neat and stylish as in “that outfit looks smart.”

Qui: What would you picture yourself doing if you weren’t acting?

Julee: I’d like to think I’d be doing is something creative like screenwriting or playwriting or filmmaking. But if it weren’t arts­related, I’ve always had this fantasy of being a carpenter and building houses. I don’t know why. I just like the idea of creating things by hand.

Qui: In a previous interview, you stated “Don’t let fear rule you. Dare to try. Dare to fail.” I believe in being confident leads to success. How would you suggest one getting over the fear of failure?

Julee: Take an improv class. It’s scary as hell but incredibly exhilarating! And it’s refreshing to know your peers are in the same sinking boat as you are.

Qui: The Shakespeare Tavern is a gem here in Atlanta. Any spots you’re looking forward to visiting during your Atlanta residency?

Julee: I’m actually just looking forward to getting to know the neighborhoods of Atlanta a bit more. I hear East Atlanta, Little 5 Points, Virginia Highlands, Poncey­Highlands, Edgewood are all worth checking out. And I’m also really looking forward to trying out some delicious southern comfort food so suggestions welcome!

Qui: Who is someone in your life who can always make you laugh?

Julee: My 18 month ­old daughter, Emmett. She’s full of surprises and always up to something cheeky. For instance, she’ll come over to me to give me a hug and I’ll think “aw, how sweet!” and then I’ll suddenly realize my iPhone is missing from my pocket and she’s running away giggling.

Qui: I am a huge fan of House of Cards having grown up in D.C. area. What’s it like on set of House of Cards?

Julee: Amazing! The cast and crew are one of the nicest, most relaxed, and warmest people I’ve ever met on set which is funny because it’s such a stiff and chilling show.

Qui: Your go­to place for Korean cuisine & Dominican Republic cuisine in New York?

Julee: Definitely Flushing, Queens for some authentic Korean dining and Washington Heights for Dominican food. You have to go where the people are.

Qui: One sentence. What do you hope to be able to say 5 years from now?

Julee: “Siri, do my hair and makeup.”


Cover image via juleecerda.com

We Call Her Yolanda: A Story of Recovery

When Typhoon Haiyan, otherwise known as Typhoon Yolanda, hit the Philippines in 2013, the media was quick to deem the Philippine population as “resilient,” applauding the ability of the Filipino people to persevere in the face of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

But shortly after the Typhoon settled, stories of the storm slowly disappeared from major media outlets; it seemed that the Typhoon had subsided into just another Southeast Asian storm. The Philippines, however, continued to face the havoc wreaked by Yolanda. The storm was indeed massive, and the disaster in its trail was seemingly irreconcilable. Yet the media failed to answer the question: What does recovery look like?

Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban
Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban

Anthony Bari, Jr., the director of We Call Her Yolanda, states that the documentary aims to answer just this. “The whole project is about recovery.” Bari clarifies, “This isn’t something [where] you can do a quick tuck and roll, and you’re back to living… It’s about growth.”

Of course, chronicling growth is a task that takes long-term commitment—and one that many, albeit with good intentions, fail to make. In contrast, the We Call Her Yolanda team has been back to Tacloban a total of four times and over these trips, the team became close to the people featured in the documentary—a family expecting a child, a fisherman, and several others. Anthony and his team were assisted by Alex Trinidad, a Filipino-American U.S. army veteran based in Manilla, whom Bari and Trinidad met during a relief operation in November 2013 where Trinidad helped guide and interpret for volunteers. 

Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.
Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.

Logistically speaking, setting up the interviews was difficult. Many of the people in the film had no cell phones, and so meeting up operated on “an honor system,” Bari calls it. “It was like, ‘Okay, meet me by this tent or tree at about 3 o’clock your time.’”

And earning the trust of these individuals was also no easy feat. “Foreigners come in and they take some pictures and leave. We’re trying to do the exact opposite,” Bari says. “We’re trying to be part of it. We’re not trying to take what we got and run away.” In the beginning, “A camera was not even an option. It’s the worst thing, if you ask me, if you just go and shove a camera in someone’s face who’s been through a lot of stuff and lost members of their family, their household, their livelihood, their everything.”

Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.
Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.

It is this commitment to interpersonal relationships that We Call Her Yolanda is founded on, a commitment that births an ingenuity from the subjects of the documentary. The film, Bari clarifies, is meant to serve not as a filtered nor nitpicked narrative, but instead, as a platform for these individuals’ stories, and aims to keep the integrity of these stories intact. “A lot of people think that it’s a normal, everyday thing—they never realize how big [the Typhoon was] because they’re watching it from their living room or on Facebook. It’s very disconnected the way you find out about these disasters.”

With this in mind, Bari states that the perspective is “not from the foreigner, but from the person on the ground.” The name of the film is derived from this notion as well. Bari points out that media outlets, specifically in the United States, call the storm “Typhoon Haiyan.” But in the Philippines, survivors call it “Yolanda.”

To this day—nearly three years after the Typhoon and miles away from Tacloban—Bari and the rest of the We Call Her Yolanda are still in close contact with the families and individuals they met in the Philippines.  When asked what comes after the film, Bari expresses that he wants to return back to Tacloban. He speaks of the fisherman who was interviewed for the film. “He needs a deep sea fishing boat,” Bari remembers. “If enough people pay attention to this project, we can go back there and actually buy the boat with him.”

Jaffery the fisherman and Anthony Bari, Jr., shooting on the sea.

Learn more about the film at http://www.wecallheryolanda.com/


Images and video courtesy of We Call Her Yolanda

Naomi Ko talks Screenwriting, Taking on Hollywood Racism, and Writing Terrible Fan Fiction

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Stationed on opposite ends of the continental USA, my interview with Naomi Ko starts off with a weird game of video tag before the dawning realization that my sunny afternoon is an ungodly hour in her California morning.

After finally connecting, she says “Sorry for the mess. It’s been a long week.”

Known for her role in Dear White People, among other things, Naomi is a headstrong, ambitious woman with experience as a writer, actor, and director. She takes advantage of the millennial “we can have it all” mentality and seems intent on doing just that.

But it isn’t easy. “I am kind of untraditional when it comes to being an Asian American woman.  I am aggressive, I swear a lot…I don’t really give a f*** anymore.”

To Ko, being an Asian American in the industry has come with its fair share of challenges. “Accessibility is one of the biggest hardships that I’ve encountered as an Asian American. I have definitely encountered issues about being Asian American but also about being a woman, especially when it came to pitching and talking to Hollywood studios and networks and producers and executives who have certain expectations of what they feel I should be and what my work should represent.” She quickly points out the time when she pitched a violent historical drama and how surprised people were that an AAPI woman wanted to tell such a violent story. “One person even said, ‘Wow, this is really violent,’ and I said, ‘Well, haven’t you seen Game of Thrones? That’s really violent.’ But I guess if three white, British dudes want to do it that’s cool.”

Indeed, in the western film industry, Asian Americans are underrepresented on and off the camera. Actors that do make it in a feature film or major TV production tend to be stuck playing the model minority. “I think for actors, when you go into auditions and they ask you to do an accent—that’s a more aggressive form of racism. But when you’re in a room meeting with different studio execs and producers, you’ve already proved yourself in the sense that ‘Okay, my writing is good enough to get me through this door.’ Then, there is how are they going to nitpick, and how are they going to say no to you, and how is that influenced by what they perceive of you?” She continues, barely stopping to take a breath. “But then also, that’s the most ideal situation. So, how do you even get your script through the f***ing door?”

Dear White People (Roadside Attractions )

For Ko, untraditional is both the problem and the solution. “I think those are the hardships for AAPI just generally in terms of how Asian Americans are dealt with in society, and how that really reflects in Hollywood. There is such a passive-ness when it comes to how people treat us and what people expect of us.”

I ask her to elaborate. She recounts her childhood in a primarily white suburb of Minnesota, promptly adding, “Minnesotans are kings and queens of passive aggressiveness.” She chuckles at her jab before saying, “I feel like I understand a little bit of these hardships when you come to Hollywood because I have over twenty years of experience dealing with white people who constantly underestimate me.”

She then recalls her early performing days. “I was a big performer throughout middle school and high school, and I never got parts. And for a while, I thought it was because I was not talented but then I realized—I’m pretty good at what I do.”

Pretty good is an understatement, if you ask me.

She continues. “I was really sick of having no control over the casting process… once you can specify what your characters are and what their experiences are, there’s a lot more power in that.”  I ask how she got herself into writing. “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I wrote terrible fan fiction.” She laughs. “You know? I was one of those.”

Despite her growing success, she is still painfully aware of her social background and responsibilities, and uses this to shape the stories she wants to tell. “In most of my scripts, I have a strong Asian American woman and I’m not gonna change that. Not anymore.”  Hollywood, Ko says, which has been long criticized for perpetuating a white-male dominated entertainment industry, “does a great job at keeping us invisible, and silencing us in that way of artistic expression.  Because they realize that a lot of power comes through that. And if you can just settle with doing our colonoscopies, then maybe you don’t want to be visible, and maybe you don’t need to be expressive.” She laughs darkly.  I laugh as well, thinking about all the colonoscopies my pre-med friends will soon perform routinely.

Another problem she has, is the lack of diversity in AAPI roles. “The problem,” according to Ko, is “representation.” Not only a tendency for Asians to get cast in “model minority” characters, but also the demand for those characters within the AAPI Community. “I think also there’s a standard in what Asian Americans want and what they want to see. And I think they didn’t want to see this curly haired, potty mouthed girl swearing all the time.” By writing the stories, Ko finds that Asian Americans can contribute to the increasing diversity in mainstream media, but also notes that there is a “lack of diversity in Asian American voices because “you know how it is in theatre its very dominated by Asian American men.”

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But for her, that’s not good enough. “It’s just funny that you can have Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson who really just don’t give a f*** anymore and then you’re getting resistance from everyone about having Asian American women do really raunchy things.”

Naomi’s issues with representation, however, extend far beyond the AAPI community.  Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics are included too, and not just within the entertainment industry. Ko’s work and the stories she chooses to produce, stem from both a strong sense of social justice and a deep-seeded desire to tell the stories she knows best. “I feel like I really have something strong to say and, if anything, that’s it.”

I ask about her future. “One of my future goals is to start working on projects with other people of color who are representatives of their communities and to start talking about interesting stories that connect us—connect us in different relationships.” She reveals one such story, prefacing with, “I don’t think I can write this, since I’m not an LA native, but someone really should [make] a really complex, in-depth, complicated, messy, heart-breaking story about the LA riots and what happened with a shop owner, and her ties with the black community.” She paused. “I don’t know, I just want to write and see very good stories. And I think diversity has to do with that.”

Will this be the next Hollywood blockbuster? Maybe in the near future. “I think different stories produce better content,” She says, “and that’s what I want to do.”

Naomi is currently working on a series of projects, including one that “I really want to f***ing talk about, but can’t.”  But for now, you can join her fan club by following her on twitter (https://twitter.com/konaomie), checking out her IMBD page (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6264075/), or her personal website (http://www.konaomi.com/)


Images via www.konaomi.com