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

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

Five Asian/Pacific Islanders Who Have Collaborated With or Been Influenced by Prince

Doves cried (as well as music fans everywhere) when it was announced that music icon Prince suddenly passed away at age 57 on April 21st. The artist behind hits like “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette” was known and respected for transcending genres and pushing boundaries in music.

Having been in the music industry for nearly four decades, one can imagine the number of lives he has touched, as a collaborator and as an influence. This, of course, extends to the members of our API community as well, which is why I want to take this time to highlight five individuals who have either worked with or were influenced by Prince:

Judith Hill

Singer-songwriter Judith Hill is no stranger to working with music legends. Renowned artists such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Elton John were already on her resume when Prince brought her under his wing. She first came on his radar after he saw an interview of her where she said she’d like to work with him. He co-produced her debut album, Back in Time, which was released last fall. In fact, he can be heard gushing over her on the second track, “Turn Up.” Hill can also be heard on Prince’s album, Hit n Run Phase One, as a featured artist on the first track, “Million $ Show.”

Alexie Agdeppa

Alexie Agdeppa is an incredibly prolific dancer. Apart from being a former contestant for Season 7 of So You Think You Can Dance?, she has also appeared in a number of music videos for artists like Nelly Furtado, the Pussycat Dolls, and of course Prince. She appears in the music video for his song, “7,” where she is one of the little girls dancing alongside the featured dancer Mayte. Aside from working with him, Prince was also an inspiration for Agdeppa when she was growing up, as she expressed in this touching tribute to him on Instagram:

Sonny Lê

Multitudes of tributes came pouring out within days after Prince’s passing, but none is more so touching than this essay from Bay Area media consultant and college instructor Sonny Lê. A refugee from Vietnam, Lê immigrated to the United States, right when MTV was being introduced and Prince and David Bowie were on their rises to stardom. He expressed in his essay how refreshing it was to see these two defy boundaries not only as artists, but also as individuals. To Sonny, this was a refreshing sight for him to see while he was figuring out how things worked in this country and feeling comfortable with being himself.

Bruno Mars

Singer-songwriter Bruno Mars may as well be a legend in the making of contemporary times. He has a wide array of hit songs under his belt, as well as just as many influences behind his unique sound. In an early interview for, Mars named Prince as one of his musical influences, along with Elvis Presley and The Police. Just to hit that point of influence even harder, his catchy collaboration with producer Mark Ronson, “Uptown Funk,” incorporates some of that Minneapolis sound and, as Will Hermes for Rolling Stone believes, “could even teach Prince a trick or two.”

Keisha Castle-Hughes

Fresh off of being nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for her breakthrough role in Whale Rider, the then 14-year-old actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was cast to play the young protagonist for the music video for Prince’s song, “Cinnamon Girl.” In a behind-the-scenes interview, Castle-Hughes gushes over this opportunity of a lifetime… as well as having to explain to her mom how it doesn’t matter if she’s not of Prince’s generation; she’s still an adamant fan. In the music video, she portrays an Arab American girl who’s being victimized post-9/11, followed by dreaming of being a suicide bomber. Understandably, this was one of Prince’s more controversial music videos.

How has Prince influenced your life? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!


Cover Image via Fasol Prod

Pacific Islanders in Communications Celebrates 25 Years of Funding and Creating Content

It’s a year-long celebration for the Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), celebrating 25 years of supporting, developing, and advancing content for and by the Pacific Islander community. The Honolulu-based media arts non-profit organization celebrates creating TV programming, funding documentaries, and having showcases in various Asian American film festivals.

“Some of our goals are to develop the programming, enhance public recognition and appreciation for Pacific Islander history and culture,” Executive Director Leanne Ferrer explained via Skype interview.

PIC is one of five organizations that make up the National Minority Consortia; the others being the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), the Latino Public Broadcasting, the National Black Programming Consortium, and Vision Maker Media. Prior to PIC’s founding in 1991, many of its producers worked with CAAM (then called the National Asian American Telecommunications Association). The producers were encouraged to create their own organization specifically for Pacific Islander content and to get the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund them. After the producers stated their case at a meeting in Honolulu, PIC then started to become a reality.

“It’s a great story because without the help of our Asian counterpart, I don’t think the producers here would have thought about it,” said Ferrer. “So it’s really great to be a part of that tapestry that gives a voice to minorities.”

The funding and support from PIC has been crucial for a number of Pacific Islander content creators – including Ferrer herself, who received funding from them as a filmmaker for two short films back in the early 2000s. She later joined the organization in 2009 as the program manager, before becoming the executive director in 2014.

PIC has grown overtime, thanks in part by partnerships, screenings, and helping out partners whenever possible. They’ve grown so much that they’re now producing various series for TV.

They’re just about to start the fifth season of Pacific Heartbeat; PIC’s first national series, created by Ferrer, where various documentaries that have been made possible by the organization are screened.

“I love Pacific Heartbeat,” she said. “I’m happy I’m able to package that in one place for people just to see the breadth of Pacific Islander stories.”

PIC also produced a second series with Rock Salt Media called Family Ingredients; an eight-part series hosted by chef Ed Kenney that celebrates and explores the world of food and how it plays a role in family history. It begins airing on PBS in July, and will be the first series to screen outside the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month window.

Ferrer named two recent films PIC helped make happen that have been particularly resonating with audiences: Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s Kumu Hina and Tony Vainuku and Erik Cohn’s In Football We Trust. She believes that its responses are a succession of PIC’s goal to tell a universal story.

“When we’re funding it or when producers are making it, it’s always in the back of your mind as, ‘Is the general audience going to get it or are we just making to this small section of Hawaii? Are we going to be preaching to the choir?'” she elaborated. “That’s good storytelling when you can give it to a broad audience and get that reaction.”

In a time now where diversity is in demand for heightened quality and quantity, Ferrer believes that the Pacific Islander community should be included in the conversation more.

“I personally don’t think there’s enough [representation] and I think there could be a lot more,” she explained. “In mainstream media, it seems like we get recognized being in football and maybe with beautiful scenic shots of where we live, [but] it still can get better.”

While she acknowledges public figures like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for bringing a face to Pacific Islanders as a part of the American tapestry, she hopes to see more exposure, minus the stereotypes.

Ferrer also believes that working together with the Asian American community can help in the long run. She sees the common ground with both communities through cultural similarities and finds them to be a good mesh. However, she doesn’t want to see the two communities being lumped together into one group.

“There are a lot of organizations that serve both Asians and Pacific Islanders, but Pacific Islanders are usually underrepresented,” she stated. “It’s not to say anything bad about those organizations; it’s that you have your hands full with the Asian population.”

For PIC’s 25th anniversary, many events are planned, including the anniversary reception in September and the Hawaii Media Makers Conference in November. There have also been one-minute vignettes posted on their social media, acknowledging 25 people, films, and other organizations that have helped PIC become what it is now.

In the future, Ferrer hopes for more partnerships to form, funding to be raised, training given to Pacific Islander producers to tell the community’s stories, and for PIC to become a go-to source for Pacific Islander content.

In the mainstream media, she hopes for the Pacific Islander community to be integrated more into the American tapestry and have their contributions recognized.

“I want more Pacific Islander content creators,” she said. “I want there to be more content aggregators. I want more people interested in Pacific Islander media and what Pacific Islanders have to say and give to the world.”


For more information on PIC and what it has planned next, be sure to check out their website as well as their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Kawehi Talks Her Most Collaborative EP to Date, “Interaktiv”

Kawehi is best known for being a DIY singer-songwriter, beatboxer, and one-woman orchestra. First going viral with her cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” her YouTube channel of 9.6 million views showcases her vocal, instrumental, and looping abilities via covers of hit songs and original work. She is known for melting faces at shows all over the country, including Kollaboration SF 5 in 2014, for which she acted as a headline. She can recently be seen in the “Experience Amazing” commercial for Intel, where she’s briefly seen giving a modern take on Beethoven’s “5th Symphony.”

Within the last four years, she’s released EPs of her own music and on February 26, she dropped her seventh work, “Interaktiv.” In an interview via e-mail, Kawehi discusses the making of this new body of work and how over 900 people got involved in the creative process.

How would you describe your new EP “Interaktiv” (in terms of sound, style, subjects, tone, etc.)?

It’s a no genre EP – more like a conversation/discussion than commercialized singles. The song subjects were all decided as a collective – the 900+ people who made the project happen and myself.

Every EP you’ve created has always been under a specific theme. How did you come up with the theme for this one?
Themes! I know. We’ve done so many different themes – an all vocal EP, an EP made with toy instruments – I wanted to come back home with this one. I make it a point to do as much personal interacting with my fan base as possible, by answering as many e-mails/Facebook comments/wall posts/tweets as I can. I thought it’d be great to include them into the creative journey as well.
You had your Kickstarter backers heavily involved with the creative process of “Interaktiv.” Why did you decide to do that?
Everything about doing EPs through crowd funding, if you think about it, is interactive. At least I think it should be. You have fans who believe in your craft so much, they’re willing to shell out their hard earned money to make your dream a reality. While I try to make my incentives as cool as possible, I think the bottom line is that people get involved in my projects because they believe in them. That’s a huge f**king thing. So Paul (my husband) and I thought – well, if the fans are making this project happen, shouldn’t they get a say in what I create? Shouldn’t they be involved in the process? That’s how “Interaktiv” came about. It’s incredibly important to me that I stay connected to my fans/supporters. I wouldn’t be here without them.

With such big input from your fan base and backers, did you have any difficulties at all over the course of creating the EP?
It was definitely more work. While I usually write based on my own personal thoughts/rages/happiness, it was different this way. It was a consensus. We didn’t always agree on everything. I had to stay incredibly organized – going through each backer’s responses and making a list and putting things to a vote – it was daunting at times. But I learned a lot about my fan base, about myself – and I felt incredibly connected to them as a human being. That feeling of knowing you’re not alone – it’s inspiring.

In what ways did this experience help you grow as an artist?
As a rule, I always look back at each project and think – did I grow from this? And the answer is always yes. That’s what I love about being a musician – there are always places to improve, things to learn. I never look back at these experiences and think, “Yup, nailed that one. Can’t get any better than me right now!” Feel free to kick me in the tooth if I ever do. The day I look back at a project and don’t feel that growth, I’ll know it’s time to throw in the towel. I hope that never happens.

This is your seventh original release within the last four years. What are your thoughts about your journey so far, and what do you predict will happen in the future?
The journey has been incredible. Yes, there were times when I wanted to punch myself in the face – but at the end of the day, I get to do what I love – I get to make music my way and keep a roof over our heads, and pizza and wine on the table. I’m living the dream, yo.

Kawehi is currently on tour for “Interaktiv.” Be sure to check out which city she’s headed to next, as well as ticket information.


Cover image via Kawehi

Cementing and Defining Legacies at CAAMFest 2016

The 34th annual CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) was held in San Francisco and Oakland from March 10-20. Though attendees may have left with different impressions following the full program of screenings, panels, and events, I believe the common thread linking the attendees’ experiences was CAAMFest’s exploration of the power of legacy.

Tyrus kicked off the festival in a packed Castro Theater. The audience was visibly absorbed by the moving documentary about Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American artist who overcame numerous obstacles in pursuit of his passion. Despite circumstances that separated him from his mother at age 9 and the racism he endured as a Chinese American, Wong persevered for his art. Whether it be paintings for Hallmark cards, storyboarding for a feature film, or even building an elaborate kite to grace the sky, he applied his artistic vision relentlessly and it was only recently that he’s being celebrated for his lifetime of work.

The 105-year-old Wong, who was in attendance, received a standing ovation following the film’s conclusion. During the Q&A, an audience member shared that he inspired her to live to 105 – which was appropriately met with a round of applause – and that the younger generation should look to Wong for inspiration when pursuing passions in life, despite all odds.

Legacy-defining continued with a presentation made by Pixar animator/director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle on the making of the Academy Award-nominated short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team.” Together in one of the smaller theaters of the Alamo Drafthouse, we watched the seven-minute storytelling feast for the eyes come alive with well-timed comedy and beautifully animated action sequences, accompanied by a thrilling Mychael Danna-composed score.

During the Q&A after the screening, Patel and Grindle explained how the film was developed, how the story changed overtime, and how different influences were incorporated into the animation’s appearance. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, had told Patel to “just tell your story,” and the story that came to him was about what it’s like to grow up as the child of Asian immigrants, a narrative that is rarely seen in mainstream media. Even Patel’s father was touched by the film, as shown in a video recorded during a private screening at Pixar. Moved by this, an audience member requested an encore and we wound up watching “Sanjay’s Super Team” a second time around.

Muslim Youth Voices, an organization dedicated to celebrating and telling stories from the Muslim community, hosted a screening of student productions made by Muslim kids from Philadelphia and Minneapolis. Under the guidance of filmmaker Musa Syeed, the young filmmakers dug into the depths of their developing creative sides and brought forth a wide array of short films. From mind control brownies controlling a high school girl, to a short documentary on a spoken word poet, these kids embraced their Muslim identities and were empowered to tell their own unique stories rather than resign to the negative stereotyping of mainstream media.

If I wasn’t convinced before of the theme of legacy at the festival, the screenings I saw on the last day at the New People Cinema certainly did the job. I saw two documentaries, a short and a feature, which were part of the Pacific Showcase from the Pacific Islanders in Communications. John Antonelli’s Roots of ‘Ulu talks about how the ‘ulu (breadfruit) is being revived as a significant food in the Hawaiian culture, while Matt Yamashita’s Sons of Halawa follows the last native Hawaiian of Halawa as he searches for a successor to carry on the teachings of his ancestors. Both were about upholding legacies in people’s consciousness to keep them from disappearing altogether, informed especially from a culture that has withstood colonialism in its past.

Finally, to round out the theme of legacy found in CAAMFest’s programming, I also saw the theme realized in the people who make the festival possible. As an intern for CAAM, I helped with checking in and out volunteers and got to witness everyone who generously gave their time to volunteer. As hard-working as the staff is, this festival wouldn’t succeed without the enthusiasm and desire from these members of the community, some of whom have volunteered for decades. While each volunteer is given a voucher ticket at the end of each shift, there were several who will let it be known that perks are not why they keep returning each year. Rather, it’s the love they have for the festival that drives them to get involved. The volunteers are ultimately extensions of the festival’s constantly growing legacy.

Whether found in a thought-provoking documentary or in the smiling face of a long-time volunteer, CAAMFest was all about solidifying legacies for the younger and future generations to look to for inspiration and drive.


Cover photo via CAAM/Austin Blackwell

Director Andrew Ahn on the Making of Sundance Hit, “Spa Night”

Director Andrew Ahn’s debut feature-length film, “Spa Night,” goes head first into exploring identity issues, family commitments and personal desires. The Koreatown-centered drama follows an immigrant family who, after being forced to shut down their restaurant, must find other ways of bringing in money.

“David, the son of the family, takes a job at a local Korean spa to help pay the bills, and when he’s at the spa, he discovers this world of underground gay hookups that scares and excites him,” Ahn explained in a phone interview.

This is his second project that has a focus on what it means to be a gay Korean American; his first one being his 2012 short film, “Dol.” Narratives about gay Asian Americans are rarely seen in mainstream media, and Ahn thinks it’s due to the limited number of Asian American filmmakers and hesitation to touch on the subject matter. That’s why he hopes that there can eventually be more filmmakers bold enough to tackle it.

“Homosexuality is a topic a lot of Asian American cultures, especially first and second generation[s], don’t want to deal with it. Whether if it’s because of religion or tradition, it’s hard to talk about,” he contemplated. “There’s a value to learning about people who might have a slightly different experience from you.”


Ahn originally conceived the idea for the film when a friend told him of a hot hookup he had one time at a Korean spa. His first impression of hearing about this experience: disgust.

“It sounded wrong to me because for so much of my life, Korean spas have been a cultural space,” he said. “It’s like a very Korean space. I went as a kid with my family, like with my dad, we would scrub ourselves and it was super tied into my sense of Korean-ness and then also family.”

At the same time, his friend’s story intrigued him. He found the idea of two identities – gay and Korean American – strongly co-existing in the same space fascinating enough for him to visualize it as a feature film almost immediately.

In the early stages of the film’s development, Ahn found support via the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Labs he participated in. Looking back on the early enthusiasm for it, he believes that despite it being a unique story and in a setting that’s rarely ever seen on screen, there are universal themes that people can connect to; such as the powerful of family, a sense of responsibility to parents, and trying to live an authentic life.

Filming for “Spa Night” took 17 days, with a day and a half for pickup shoots. Ahn said the shoot went very smoothly, especially since he was surrounded by cast and crew members who both understood and cared deeply for the story. He also liked that the producers were able to help him keep on top of his game, especially when faced with emotionally-driven scenes that were inspired by moments from his life.

On the other hand, making the transition from making short films to making a feature-length film was a huge learning experience for him.


“With a short film, you can hold the entire story in your head and know exactly what happens before and after, really quickly and really confidently,” he explained. “With a feature, you’re doing scenes out of order, you have 100+ scenes in the film, and so what you end up having to do is really prepare. Like you really have to know when you get on set: What are the scenes that I am shooting? What are the scenes that come before and after this? What’s the state of the character emotionally?”

That along with pre-production, post-production, and launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the film was also exhausting work.

But on the evening of its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, all the blood, sweat, and tears wound up being completely worth it. It has drawn in a lot of praise and lead actor, Joe Seo, even won the U.S. Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance.

“I had so many people come up to me after the screening and told me how much they related to some aspect of the film, whether it was being Korean, or being gay, or being the son or daughter of immigrants,” he described. “It was really great for me to get that kind of response because it’s such a personal story in so many ways. I’m always afraid that people won’t be able to connect to it. But the experience was really wonderful, to be at Sundance and to screen in competition. It’s very validating that what we did has worth and that an organization like Sundance wants to give this film that kind of platform is amazing.”

“Spa Night” has since gained Strand Releasing as its North American distributor. There are plans for a theatrical distribution sometime this fall, but it’ll still be making its way around the film festival circuit before then. Upcoming details for “Spa Night” can be found on its official Facebook page.


Photos courtesy of Andrew Ahn and “Spa Night

Positivity Through Podcasting: Jenna Ushkowitz Sheds a New Light on “Infinite Positivities”

Actor Jenna Ushkowitz may be best known for her role as Tina Cohen-Chang on the TV show, Glee. However, as of January, she has ventured out into the world of internet audio with her self-help podcast, “Infinite Positivities.”

Distributed via podcast network @Will Radio, “Infinite Positivities” is an extension of Ushkowitz’s 2013 book, Choosing Glee, a self-help book for teens on how to cope with life’s stresses and anxieties and the principles to live as a happier, more positive person. Episodes are divided into chapters, and each one falls under a theme covered in her book. She speaks with authors, experts, actors and others who she believes live life with a positive outlook.

“My perspective on positivity is that it’s a choice and I don’t know if everybody looks at it that way,” she explained in a phone interview. “The goal is to have people think differently than [how they did when they started listening].”

This is a new venture for Ushkowitz; one that she’s been wanting to act on for quite some time.

“I like to dabble in lots and lots of things,” she said. “I was thinking about [doing] a podcast for a while now.”

After appearing as a guest on Aisha Tyler’s “Girl on Guy” podcast, Ushkowitz developed an interest for the medium, especially with the opportunity to interact with people on what they have to say, as well as their stories and perspectives. With the help of business partner, @Will Radio CEO Will Malnati, “Infinite Positivities” became a reality.

Asked if she had any difficulties transitioning to a medium where it was voice-only after years of performing on both stage and screen, she didn’t find it to be that big of a stretch at all.

“I kind of love it because I can wear whatever I want,” she joked.

Really, the only difficulty she had was going from being an interviewee to being an interviewer. To arrange a conversation and bring out the best in each of her guests was a challenge she earnestly tackled.

“I want everybody to see what I see in the guest and why I brought them on my podcast,” she explained. “So it’s an interesting strategy to change it up and have to lead a conversation.”

Nina Dobrev & Jenna Ushkowitz

So far, the guests she’s invited onto her podcast include professional skydiving instructor Eddie Carroll, author Mike Robbins, actor Matthew Morrison, actor Nina Dobrev, and more. When it comes to choosing the guests, Ushkowitz emphasizes quality over quantity, as she aims to find and reach out to people who will shine and who truly live life with a positive outlook.

Within the past year, there have been more podcasts emerging with Asian Americans as the hosts. When the subject was brought up to Ushkowitz, she finds the emerging diversity in the podcast world to be amazing.

“I think it’s wonderful that through the entertainment industry and through podcasts that there has just been so much more additions to it and I think it’s great,” she commented. “I love the fact that we can represent and that we can be like pioneers almost.”

Since its debut, “Infinite Positivities” has been doing really well, with a five-star rating on iTunes. Ushkowitz was able to intrigue interest for her new endeavor via social media, and she now has a really steady listenership as a result.

In the long run, she hopes to keep learning and providing new perspectives via the podcast. As long as she’s doing that, then she feels she’s doing her job. She also hopes that her podcast can provide insight on how celebrities are not all glitz and glam, and that they are humans with problems of their own to face. Social media can only reveal so much on one’s personal life, but Ushkowitz aims to show the intimacy of one’s life, as best exposed through a one-on-one conversation.

“When do people really listen to podcasts? It’s usually when they’re by themselves, with headphones on, on a plane or a train or at the gym or whatever,” she elaborated. “[Listening to a podcast] is a very intimate experience, I think; maybe even more than social media.”

“Infinite Positivites” can be found on iTunes and


Cover images via Jenna Ushkowitz

Five Things You Should Know About Tyrus Wong

CAAMFest 2016 is coming up in San Francisco and Oakland, and the film that will have the honor of being this year’s first screening is “Tyrus,” a feature-length documentary that explores the long, fascinating life of Chinese American artist, Tyrus Wong. The documentary dwells into a number of events and experiences that he went through in his life, both good and bad. Without giving too much away, here are just five interesting points that will be covered in “Tyrus” to whet your appetite:

  1. Tyrus was held on Angel Island upon arrival from China.

Born in Guangdong, China, at the age of nine, Tyrus and his father immigrated to the United States. However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act still being upheld at the time, the two had to go through the immigration station on Angel Island in San Francisco. Tyrus was separated from his father upon arrival and stayed on the island for about a month. Upon his release, they relocated to Sacramento before settling in Los Angeles.

  1. Tyrus began his journey as an artist in junior high.

Despite never being big on school, it was through one of his junior high school teachers who recognized Tyrus’s talent for art. Upon his teacher’s encouragement, Tyrus went out for and received a summer scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. He found the education there benefiting for him as his artistic abilities matured; which is why, with the assistance of his father, he left his junior high and became a full-time student there.

Tyrus Wong, Bambi (visual development), 1942; watercolor on paper; 10 x 11.5 in. Courtesy of Tyrus Wong Family. ©Disney
  1. Tyrus was the lead artist on “Bambi.”

Out of all his works that he has done over the decades, the one that Tyrus is best well known for is his work on the 1942 Disney animated film, “Bambi.” His lush illustrations of evergreen forest sequences and whimsy, dreamlike drawings of animal inhabitants intrigued Walt Disney; enough to where Tyrus went from cleaning up other animators’ works to being the lead artist on the film. It was also his only stint with Disney, as Tyrus was fired following the outcome of the 1941 Disney animators’ strike.

  1. Tyrus served as a storyboard artist for many live-action films.

Despite no longer working in the House of Mouse, Tyrus’s career in the film industry only grew from there. He went on to work with a lot with live-actions films, creating eloquently drawn storyboards that almost always translate precisely to how it appears in the final product. Films he served as a storyboard artist for include “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Wild Bunch,” Wake of The Red Witch,” “The Helen Morgan Story,” and “Ice Palace.”

An exhibit on Tyrus Wong and his art at the WaltDisney Family Muesum – via
  1. Tyrus also went on to becoming skilled at making kites.

Despite his skill for illustration, Tyrus expanded his artistic scope later in life when he started making these beautiful, elaborate kites. Originally initiated by his wife who told him to “go fly a kite” (because he was getting on her nerve one day), Tyrus borrowed books on Chinese kite building from his local library and ultimately taught himself how to do it. From soaring butterflies to goldfish out of water, he always goes to the beach close to where he lives at least once a month and flies them.

Did we mention that he’s 105 years old and still kicking butt?

“Tyrus” will be kicking off CAAMFest on Thursday March 10th at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Director Pamela Tom, Tyrus himself, his family and other members of the film’s crew will be in attendance. Tickets are on sale now.


Cover image via Disney

15 Years of Anger: Phil Yu Discusses the Origins and Impact of Angry Asian Man

This past Sunday marked 15 years since the establishment of the blog, Angry Asian Man. From calling out acts of racism to promoting Kickstarter campaigns by up-and-coming creators, in the words of founder Phil Yu, “Angry Asian Man is a website covering news, current events, politics, pop culture, and other subjects from Asian America.”

The blog originally started back in 2001, as a way for Yu, then a recent graduate from Northwestern University, to vent and jot down his thoughts about anything that caught his attention in the Asian American community, whether good or bad. It was very self-serving, especially because at the time he didn’t think anyone else would read it.

“In 2001, if something like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr existed, that’s probably where I would have directed those energies,” he speculates. “At least those first couple years, the way I was writing and sharing, I mean… That’s pretty much what you do on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook now. If social media had existed in those days, there might not be an Angry Asian Man, or not as we know it.”

It’s because there was no social media then that Yu was drawn to other content creators at the time, who created on their own terms. He found this creative freedom really inspiring; something that today may be taken for granted.

Abercrombie & Fitch's ill conceived T-Shirts from 2002 - photo via
Abercrombie & Fitch’s ill conceived T-Shirts from 2002 – photo via

Though Angry Asian Man was steadily building a following, it wasn’t until a year after Yu started the blog that he realized it was becoming something bigger than he had expected. In 2002, Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire when they released a number of T-shirts with racist depictions of Asian caricatures printed on them. Yu and a network of other online writers covered it, and their links were shared prolifically, garnering the attention of the mainstream media outlets in a just a week’s time. There was enough of an uproar to discontinue the T-shirts altogether.

In the years since, Angry Asian Man has become a popular site for all the latest in Asian America; and with all the traffic pouring on a daily basis, it’s even garnered attention from mainstream media outlets as well. Not only has it become a beacon for the latest news, but readers also have reverence for Yu, for having no filter in expressing exactly how he feels on each subject he addresses.

When asked about his thoughts on all the attention, he said he still finds it weird to this day. As much as he is proud of the work he’s done to get the blog to where it is now, he feels that there should be more voices out there.

“I should not be the first and/or only person people think of when it comes to Asian American news or reporting and have a voice,” he said.

Phil Yu at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival – photo by Steven Lam

Angry Asian Man has gotten such a vast readership, that Yu has even started expanding the content within the last several years.

Angry Reader of the Week is a weekly feature that highlights people who Yu has met over the years from connecting with his readers. For him, it’s a way of shedding light on the unique individuals in the community and, as a result, has made it a more inclusive experience for his audience. The one rule he has for it: You cannot ask to be Angry Reader of the Week.

Beyond the blog, Yu has extended out to the podcast world with Sound and Fury: The Angry Asian Podcast. His interview-style episodes allow for him to have conversations with people he’s met over the years. The podcast project is ultimately a labor of love that Yu tends to, despite the demand of the blog.

“It’s a project of wanting to say what I want to say,” he commented. “This is on my time, this is creating something extra, and it’s very much dictated by what I want to do, under this Angry Asian Man banner.”

Two years ago, Yu extended the Angry Asian Man brand to YouTube when he collaborated with the staff of ISAtv to create the web series, “Angry Asian America.” With his co-host comedian Jenny Yang, and two featured guests, they would create a conversation about current events and pop culture in Asian America.

In regards to the 15th anniversary of Angry Asian Man, Yu is wowed by it, sometimes thinking he’s done the math wrong. He’s impressed that the readership has been around for as long as it has and happy to be around for so many people’s Asian American journeys.

“It’s crazy!” he said. “[Time] has gone by so fast! 15 is a staggering number to do any one thing for that long, especially running a website.”

As Yu looks to the future, he plans to keep doing what he’s been doing by connecting with interesting people, creating engaging content, and keeping the podcast and web series going strong.

Asked what he thinks the state of Angry Asian Man will be in another 15 years, he predicts it will be at a time when we’ve already celebrated the first Asian American actors and actresses to have been nominated and win Academy Awards and that the #1 hit TV show is an Asian American sitcom.

“Hopefully people will be plugging into [Angry Asian Man] from their brain computers and holograph projections and things like that,” he joked. “Hopefully there will be [fewer] things to be angry about in terms of racism and inequality in this country.”

But even Yu knows that there will always be some things worth getting angry over, and that we can all keep counting on him to call it out, for as his motto goes, “Stay angry.”


Cover Image via Angry Asian Man