Kollaboration Executive Director Minji Chang chats with singer-songwriter Jae Jin who talks about his personal musical journey from Baltimore to NYC and now Atlanta. Jae shares about the personal moments that lead him to take up life as an artist and living life on his own terms.
Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: John Enriquez
Assistant Directors: Eva Hsia & Brianna Kim
Camera Operator: Derek Miranda & Jimmy Hang
Editor: Brianna Kim
We’re back with another interview from Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. For this segment we chat with documentary filmmaker Leo Chiang, who’s film Out Run is currently in the midst of it’s festival circuit run. We talk about his experience covering this unique and important story as well as his advice to young documentarians.
ABOUT THE FILM: As leader of the world’s only LGBT political party, Bemz Benedito dreams of being the first transgender woman in the Philippine Congress. But in a predominantly Catholic nation, rallying for LGBT representation in the halls of Congress is not an easy feat. Bemz and her eclectic team of queer political warriors must rethink traditional campaign strategies to amass support from unlikely places. Taking their equality campaign to small-town hair salons and regional beauty pageants, the activists mobilize working-class trans hairdressers and beauty queens to join the fight against their main political opponent, a homophobic evangelical preacher, and prove to the Filipino electorate that it’s time to take the rights of LGBT people seriously. But as outsiders trying to get inside the system, will they have to compromise their political ideals in order to win? Culminating on election day, OUT RUN provides a unique look into the challenges LGBT people face as they transition into the mainstream and fight for dignity, legitimacy, and acceptance across the globe.
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:
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 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:
A photo posted by Alexie ❥ Agdeppa Crockett (@alexieagdeppa) on
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.
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 4Music.com, 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.”
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!
Weighty topics of mass violence and bullying have unfortunately become all too prevalent in present-day American life. Office Hour, playwright Julia Cho’s latest work which premiered earlier this month at South Coast Repertory, tackles these complicated issues. The play opens with three English faculty members discussing a troubled college student named Dennis (Raymond Lee). Dennis, a sullen outcast, has alarmed the faculty with his violent and pornographic writing—and ultimately gives rise to a fear of him committing a campus shooting. One teacher named Gina (Sandra Oh), ultimately invites Dennis, to her office hours to see if she can get through to him.
Inspired by the tragic events of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the play dives into very serious issues of mental illness, racism, mass violence, and the immigrant experience, and more importantly, how these themes are deeply intertwined with the fact that both Gina and Dennis are Korean-American. This is clear from the opening scenes, where Genevieve (played by Sola Bamis) and David (Corey Brill) both suggest that Gina should be the one who approaches Dennis, not only because she is his current teacher, but also because of their shared cultural background. Dennis, who wears dark clothes, hoodies, and black, opaque sunglasses, is unmistakably an outsider—but the play eventually reveals that it’s not for the reasons you may think.
“I think part of the reason why Dennis is less apprehensive to open up to Gina is because of the shared background,” Lee said, “and I think the sheer fact that Gina mirrors Dennis’s appearance and culture is important to the play. There needs to be an affinity so people are comfortable going to a place of opening up. Especially if Dennis is a person that has been victimized by people for his appearance.”
Oh echoes these sentiments, and said “There is a deeply introspective and brutally honest look at both characters [Gina’s and Dennis’s] sense of loneliness and self-loathing that comes from a cultural place. That is definitely held by the character of Dennis, and the effect of being invisible culturally and emotionally is something that speaks to this play.”
Their shared cultural identity, which initially serves as an unspoken icebreaker, clearly develops into something more. Lee, like Dennis, has also experienced bullying because of his appearance and noted that the feelings of alienation he had “…never leave you. Those feelings of alienation, the feeling of being made fun of for having done nothing other than the way you look, the way you’re born? Those feelings never leave you. Dennis has dealt with that form of isolation his entire life and he didn’t acclimate so well, and it ends up cementing into something very ugly. and he ended up having a lot of aggression towards these people that treated him unfairly. It became a real cyclical spiral, and he spiraled down into a place where he’s borderline suicidal. Yes, we can all relate to these things. But for Dennis, I took it in a much more personal and drastic way.”
Oh, who has experience playing strong, and emotionally complex female characters (such as her decade-long stint as Cristina Yang on Greys Anatomy) also took a very personal approach to Gina. “The style of this play and the subject matter of this play is very different [from some of her other roles]. It’s about gun violence, and mental health, and all these things. But honestly, I approach each of these [roles] in a similar way with similar seriousness. I want to play a character that can speak to young women and tries not to spend all their lives thinking about boys too much. So that kind of intention is the same within the kind of intention with which I approach Gina in “Office Hour” and in her efforts to reach Dennis.”
Lee, who is also Korean-American, said he relates to Dennis in various ways. For him, understanding Dennis’s character was a full-time job. Along with reading up on various manifestos and blogs from other proponents of mass shootings, “I had to dig into my own life and think about the times that I’ve been mistreated and bullied. As an actor, you start having to use your imagination and you have to imagine the way you’ve been treated and the way they’ve been treated. Then, you start to let that build inside of you, and you water it like a plant every day at rehearsal. You go home, and you feed it some more. Then it starts to grow, and the next thing you know it starts to have a life of its own. I kind of take it upon myself to have a responsibility to show the audience every night, as truthfully as I possibly can, what these guys were going through right before the incident. It’s a process that involves a lot of searching, and at the end of the day I have to love these guys. I have to love Dennis with every part of me to show the humanity and not just a killer.”
Oh goes on to say that “we [her and Raymond] are both Korean-American. It just is, and it’s shit you don’t have to talk about but I know that’s what ties Ray and I together on stage. And it ties Gina and Dennis together very strongly too. Gina understands Dennis because she herself is a broken person, and she understands Dennis in ways that I think Genevieve and David, who Sola and Corey play, might not.”
While the relationship between Dennis and Gina is certainly helped by their shared cultural background, Dennis and Gina’s complex feelings are part of a bigger picture within the AAPI community.
Lee discusses this more in depth. “I think in Korea, and along with a lot of Asian cultures, silence is a virtue. You don’t react, you stay patient; you kind of just take it in, and it ends up coming out in really ugly ways. Along with Dennis having his issues of being made fun of and whatnot, there is also the expectation to keep it all in. So that can really hurt a person. And that is a cultural aspect and a cultural effect.”
“The great thing about this play,” Oh says, “is that you could open up fields of the immigrant experience.” The shared bond between Gina and Ray comes from their shared, immigrant ancestry—which would still exist regardless of their particular ethnicity/race. “But in this production, Gina and Dennis (and the playwright as well) happens to be Korean-American. It has a very specific flavor that we bring to it, as actors.”
Lee reflects on one specific moment where Dennis and Gina enact an imaginary phone call. “Gina plays Dennis’s mom in a kind of roleplay. This is the scene that cracks open Dennis the most because of the way Gina talks to him—it’s like his mom. And that authenticity has to do with being Korean. There is a lot of guilt there that comes from a combination that values men to be silent in the household and also values success. I believe Julia, she’s brilliant, wrote it specifically to tell a Korean-American story. Especially…just as an Asian man, there’s all these things in the media now that de-masculinizes Asian men all the time. Look at all these dating apps. Asian men are the least desirable, and that is a direct result of media and a direct result of what’s been said to us growing up.”
“To see a young, Asian male character, who is in university, filled with rage is super important to see. Because it is a part of who we are, and a part that we need to deal with, and I think it is a part that cannot be ignored” Oh said.
Thoughtfully, Lee mentions something similar. “We may be the last generation of Korean-Americans to have this specific story. We all have stories. I think we’re an amazing group of people and it would be great to be remembered as such: as a really resilient group of people. So, I just really want to urge the storytellers to step up and do it. and make it a responsibility on your own to do it.”
Beyond the complicated issues that the play sheds light on, Oh finds Gina to be a role extremely fulfilling as an artist and an actor. “Being so present doing this play is constantly reminding me of why I do work, and why I choose to do the work that I do. You don’t always have a choice. and I’m extremely lucky that I do have a choice. I am very conscious of that. and I feel that if work is not as important as this play, and is not as great as a character a Gina, then this is the only kind of work I am interested in doing. There could be a million of those movies that have us in it or don’t have us in it [authors note: Ghost in the Shell, anyone?] and I just can’t follow that. I’m going to bust my guts out for 250 people then talk to them probably after the show, and then do that hour drive home. I mean, that’s what I do. That has more meaning to me than any of the other bullshit out there.”
“It’s such an incredible experience, they’re so smart. Everyone is so smart.” Lee said. “This is what I cherish the most. being able to do something meaningful, to continue to try to make an impact, and to have Asian voices be heard, goddamnit!”
The relationship between Gina and Dennis (and Oh and Lee) extends to the cast and playwright Julia Cho as well. Both Oh and Lee had nothing but good things to say about their “incredible” cast-members.
“Office Hour” is playing at the South Coast Repertory until this Sunday, May 1st. Be sure to see Cho’s amazing new work, and be sure to stay for the incredible performances by the entire cast. Tickets can be bought here
Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications continues with an interview with the feature film, The Last Tour. We chat with producer/actor Franz Elizondo Schmelkes, producer/actor Diana Lee Inosanto, director/actor Ryun Yu, and actor Elizabeth Ho about independent filmmaking, using impromptu engineering to solve production problems, and how the director helped create the theater program at MIT.
ABOUT THE FILM: JUN, A BURNED-OUT GULF WAR VETERAN, is kidnapped from his L.A. neighborhood, flown to North Korea, and pressed into service for one last, secret mission: to watch over a hostage and insure that no harm comes to him while Jun’s employers extract an unspecified confession out of the prisoner. A crisis of conscience, a daring escape, and suddenly, this international prisoner drama literally shifts scenes from a North Korean gulag into… well, somewhere else?!? And what exactly WAS that “confession” that was being extracted, anyway?
Welcome to Kollaboration’s coverage of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) currently being held across Los Angeles and organized by Visual Communications. For this segment, we interview the filmmakers of Pali Road, a feature-length thriller that’s also the festival’s closing night film. We chat about the making of the film, diversity in entertainment, and their favorite foods in Hawaii. The film is set for a limited theatrical release in several major cities across the nation this week on Thursday April 28, 2016.
ABOUT THE FILM: PALI ROAD is a mysterious and thrilling journey in search for true love between two different worlds. Lily, a young doctor, wakes up from a car accident and discovers she is living a completely different life. Now married to her boyfriend’s rival, Dr. Mitch Kayne, and a mother to a 5-year- old son, she has an established life she remembers nothing about.
Everyone around her denies that her boyfriend Neil ever existed. As Lily begins to doubt her own sanity, memories of Neil resurface, causing her to encounter unexplainable incidents. While desperately searching for the truth of her past life, she questions her entire existence; but in the end, she discovers the meaning of true love.
PALI ROAD will keep you on the edge of your seat and have you constantly second-guessing what is real.
Shot in Hawaii and starring a world-renowned cast: Jackson Rathbone (TWILIGHT), Sung Kang (FAST & FURIOUS), Henry Ian Cusick (THE 100, LOST) and Chinese superstar Michelle Chen (YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE).
Game of Thrones finally returned to HBO on Sunday, and as an avid fantasy buff, I am ecstatic to see more of Season 6. As an Asian American, however, I find it a little disappointing to see so few Asian faces in the high fantasy genre. Most fantasy shows take place in a medieval setting or borrow from European lore, so it’s very rare to see an Asian knight charging into battle unless it’s a period piece set in Asia. (Let’s face it, Marco Polo is so historically inaccurate that it might as well be considered fantasy.)
Even when a character is written as Asian, Hollywood has a longstanding practice of casting white actors to portray Asian characters (Emma Stone, Aloha) or rewriting the part for racial erasure (Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow). We have yet to see if the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell is a form of yellowface or whitewashing; either way, it’s another missed opportunity to see an Asian actor in a leading role.
So, in hopes of proving to Hollywood that there are talented and bankable Asian actors who can take on epic roles, I’ve decided to recast some characters from GoT as Asians. For the purpose of this exercise, GoT cast members who are of Asian descent—Indira Varma, Jessica Henwick, and Jason Momoa—have not been included in this list. Let’s begin!
[tab title=”Daenerys”] Gemma Chan as Daenerys Targaryen
With her striking looks and commanding presence, Gemma Chan is more than capable of portraying the Mother of Dragons. Since last year, the Chinese British actress has garnered highly praises for her nuanced performance as a synth in AMC’s sci-fi drama Humans. You may also recognize Chan from her guest appearances in the hit BBC shows Doctor Who and Sherlock.
[tab title=”Cersei”] Lucy Liu as Cersei Lannister
It takes an exceptional actress to play a cruel yet vulnerable villain like Cersei Lannister, and as one of the few leading Asian American ladies in film and television, Lucy Liu has the talent to take on the challenge. The New Yorker continues to break gender and racial stereotypes with her portrayal of Joan Watson in CBS’s Elementary and has proved that she can pull off fierce villains like O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill and Ling Woo in Ally McBeal. With her experience, poise and charisma, Liu has all the makings of a mean queen.
[tab title=”Jaime”] Daniel Wu as Jaime Lannister
Into the Badlands hero Wu is no novice when it comes to wielding a sword. The California native rose to stardom as an action star in Hong Kong under the mentorship of Jackie Chan. Over the course of his sixty-plus films career, Wu has been featured in martial arts films, romantic comedies, thrillers and art-house films. His wide acting range would be a perfect asset in portraying the morally ambiguous (and handsome) Jaime Lannister.
Justin Chon as Joffrey Baratheon
King Joffrey is a cruel, sociopathic and spoiled brat that everyone loves to hate, and Chon knows how to play a petulant man-child, thanks to his experience on comedies like Man Up, 21 & Over and the Ktown Cowboys web series. The Twilight star has also branched out to more dramatic roles, including Andy Lau’s gangster flick Revenge of the Green Dragons and the upcoming action-thriller Like Lambs.
Naveen Andrews as Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger)
Andrews, a British-born actor of Indian descent, first rose to fame in Hollywood after starring as Sayid in the hit 2004 series Lost. Although Andrew’s tenure in ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was cut short, his performance as Jafar confirms that he has the charm (and posh accent) to play a suave but ruthless manipulator like Littlefinger.
[tab title=”Varys”] C.S. Lee as Varys
Yes, Lee is bald, but it’s his solid foundation in theatre and lengthy experience as a television actor that makes him a good match for Varys, the royal spymaster. Lee is best known for his portrayal of the forensics analyst Vince Masuka in DEXTER and has been featured in several high-profile shows, including Chuck, True Detective and Fresh Off the Boat.
Krista Marie Yu as Arya Stark
Yu currently stars as Ken Jeong’s rebellious and quick-witted daughter, Molly, in ABC’s Dr. Ken—a role that could serve as groundwork to play the snarky and independent Arya Stark.
Dante Basco as Sandor Clegane (The Hound)
The Filipino American is already famous for voicing Zuko, a brooding Fire prince with a facial burn scar, so it’s not much of a stretch for him to play The Hound. Basco has also dabbled in sword-fighting thanks to his breakout role as Rufio, the cocky alpha-male leader of the Lost Boys, in Spielberg’s Hook. With his killer scowl, Basco could easily channel The Hound’s cynicism and aggressive warrior spirit.
Arden Cho as Sansa Stark
The Teen Wolf star certainly has the beauty to play Sansa Stark with her doe eyes and sweet smile. More importantly, Cho has the ability to project Sansa’s vulnerability, resilience and quiet tenacity since the actress herself was once a target of bullying in her adolescence.
[tab title=”Ramsay”] Randall Park as Ramsay Bolton
At first glance, the Fresh Off the Boat star may seem too goofy to play the sadistic bastard (sorry, former bastard). However, Park has already played a real-life villain as Kim Jong-un in Seth Rogen’s satirical comedy The Interview. Ramsay Bolton might be the most despicable villain in GoT, but he is playful enough to crack jokes and quips at the people he’s torturing. Park’s broad smile would work as a great facade to Ramsay’s psychopathic ways.
Teo Yoo as Theon Greyjoy
Having been classically trained at New York and London, the dashing German-born Korean actor has the craft to transform himself from the narcissistic, philandering Theon to the traumatized and deformed Reek. Yoo’s most recent screen credits include Equals, Bitcoins Heist and the Sundance coming-of-age film Seoul Searching.
Frankie Adams as Brienne of Tarth
An amateur boxer standing at six feet tall, Frankie Adams not only has the physical stature to play Brienne but also the acting chops. The Samoan Kiwi made her acting debut at age sixteen in New Zealand’s top medical series Shortland Street and recently landed the series regular role of Bobbie Draper, a tough Martian solider, in SyFy’s space opera The Expanse.
John Cho as Jon Snow
Sure, the Korean American may not be the right age to play Jon Snow, but you have to admit, “You know nothing, John Cho” has a nice ring to it. Cho, who exudes confidence and leading man quality, would be a great fit as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, especially since he’s already played a capable commander in the Star Trek films.
Jessika Van as Margaery Tyrell
Gorgeous with a mischievous smile and sultry lilt in her voice, Van would make a lovely Margery Tyrell—a young queen whose beauty is only rivaled by her shrewdness. The Taiwanese American actress first broke into Hollywood as Becca, the sly ringleader of an Asian clique, in MTV’s teen comedy Awkward, and later starred as the sensual Grace Park in Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching.
Ryan Potter as Tommen Baratheon
As a former Nickelodeon star and the voice of Hiro Hamada in Disney’s Big Hero 6, Potter carries a friendly and good-natured demeanor—a vital trait in channeling Tommen Baratheon, the kind-hearted but easily manipulated boy-king of Westeros.
Daniel Dae Kim as Jorah Mormont
DDK has a knack for playing noble but flawed characters, including Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost and Chin Ho Kelly in Hawaii Five-0, and is well suited for Jorah Mormont, an exiled knight obsessively loyal to a queen he betrayed. There’s no doubt the Korean American would bring gravitas to the role with his intelligence and eloquence. Just imagine DDK’s bass voice saying “Khaleesi.”
Manish Dayal as Daario Naharis
As Daenerys’ roguish protector and lover, Dayal would make audiences swoon with his smoldering brown eyes and easy-going smile. The handsome Indian American actor starred opposite Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey and is best known in television for his recurring role as Raj Kher in CW’s 90210.
Maggie Q as Melisandre (Red Priestess)
(Photo: Nikita poster)
Maggie Q has a reputation for playing sexy, lethal characters with enigmatic pasts. The Nikita starlet has a her natural grace and intensity to deliver a terrifying performance as Melisandre, the Red Priestess.
Daniel Henney as Oberyn Martell
Handsome, athletic, charismatic, and with a great sense of humor to boot—Henney would make one hell of an Oberyn. The Korean American model-turned-actor has a large international following, much like the fan-favorite Dorne prince. After crossing over to Hollywood with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Big Hero 6, Henney is currently a series regular on CBS’ Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Dinklage was George R.R. Martin and the GoT showrunners’ first and only choice for the role of Tyrion, and rightfully. I can’t think of any actor who could equal Dinklage’s performance as the brilliant, sharp-tongued Lannister dwarf. With that said, I think we’re allowed at least one white actor on this list—you know, for the sake of diversity.
Reera Yoo is a former editor of KoreAm Journal and current contributor to Kollaboration.org (where she was also a past editor). She is a Ravenclaw, writer, filmmaker and K-pop enthusiast. Follow her on twitter @reeraboo
Making waves on Broadway after its July 2015 debut, the American musical Hamilton broke expectations for the old school musical. The story of Alexander Hamilton, “the ten dollar founding father,“ is told through hip-hop inspired sounds and a ground breakingly diverse cast filled with people of color. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book, said that Hamilton is a story of America’s past, told by America now.
The popular musicalrecently made even more news after their 2016 Grammy performance, live from the Richard Rogers Theater in New York City. One of two musicals to perform at the music award show, the POC cast, energy, and talent of the opening song “Alexander Hamilton” grabbed America’s attention. Once again making headlines for its originality, the Hamilton performance and cast stood out that night, including the leading lady Philippa Soo.
Hamilton is Philippa Soo’s Broadway debut as Alexander’s wife Eliza. Soo, a Juliard alum, spoke to the Hollywood Reporter last November with fellow actress Lea Salonga about being Asian American on Broadway. Soo said that her father, a son of Chinese immigrants, and her mother were very supportive of her pursuing a career in musical theater.
“So I’m half-Chinese and half white, and it wasn’t until being part of this show — even though I’ve been in other mixed race casts — that I have been considered an actor of color,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “Also, it hasn’t been until now that I received this beautiful letter from this young woman who thanked me for representing Chinese-American people in the theater. That’s never happened to me before! But it’s beautiful because I feel like as amazing as it is to acknowledge, it’s also amazing on the other side that people don’t even think twice about it [in Hamilton].”
Given the importance of Eliza’s character, the New Yorker wrote in an article featuring the women of the story, “And, by implicitly equating Eliza’s acts of narration with (Miranda’s) own, he’s acknowledging the women who built the country alongside the men. You’re left wondering whether the Hamilton of the title isn’t just Alexander, but Eliza, too.”
I haven’t seen Hamilton live— because getting a ticket now is impossible— but after listening to the soundtrack repeatedly, and while I love them all, here are my top five moments in the musical when Soo stole the show and made Hamilton about Eliza.
(Warning, this next section will contain spoilers, but then again, it’s also American history)
5) That Would Be Enough
Nearly a solo for Eliza, begging Alexander to stay home from the war to be with her and their unborn son, this number tells the story of the young Hamiltons’ marriage. They love each other so much, however Eliza wishes Alexander wasn’t so obsessed with his legacy. Soo’s voice, solid and pure, is beautiful throughout “That Would Be Enough” and successfully kept Alexander home from the war— for a little while.
4) Stay Alive (Reprise)
I can’t listen to this short number without crying. The Hamiltons hold their dying son after he participates in a duel. Not on good terms, Alexander and Eliza are distraught and emotional, which adds and edge to this tense and depressing reprise. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Ramos (Philip Hamilton), and Soo sing this heartbreaking song together as listeners, I assume, sit quietly and cry to themselves. (Or is that just me?)
Eliza’s first solo in Act I is an upbeat song about when she first sets eyes on Alexander Hamilton. Cute and bouncy, the “how the Hamiltons met” story is the perfect song to sing at the top of your lungs in the shower (or is that just me again). But more importantly, “Helpless” Soo shows off her full, highly impressive, singing ability. Arranged like a pop song, “Helpless” could easily be dismissed as fluff when compared to the heavier styles elsewhere in Act I, but Soo’s range and training as singer make it just as important.
Poor Eliza, but also— wow Philippa Soo. For context, Alexander Hamilton was involved in America’s first public political sex affair after he admitted to cheating on his wife (damn!) in the now infamous Reynolds Pamphlet (damn!). “Burn” is Eliza’s reaction, a sad ballad full of emotion that listeners can hear and see. As she sets Alexander’s letters on fire, Soo again shows off her full range and skills in this beautiful song, a heartbreaking ode to his poor wife.
1) Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
In Hamilton’s final song, major characters of Act II come out and speak about Hamilton’s legacy in establishing America’s financial system and bringing the new country out of debt. A majority of the song however goes to Eliza who “put’s [herself] back in the narrative,” in another great solo. She tells what she’s done in her life after the loss of her son and husband, collecting Alexander’s writing and making sure his legacy lives on. As the final performer of Hamilton, Soo practically steals the show.
Eliza Hamilton was by no means just a side character in the life of Alexander Hamilton, and Philippa Soo does an amazing job portraying that love, fear, betrayal, and forgiveness in her Broadway debut. Hamilton is a groundbreaking music for this generation and I highly suggest everyone gives it a listen.
Bonus duet: Take A Break
A bit of happiness for the Hamilton’s, “Take a Break” shows the young family at home on their son’s birthday. This song tells how focused he is to his career and legacy during the turmoil in Alexander’s political life, and that Eliza won’t have it. I love Eliza scolding Alexander for working through dinner, but then Soo goes on to sing a beautiful duet with Renée Elise Goldsberry that completely steals the song.
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.”
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.”
It goes without saying that the 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was the most political yet. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy gave this year’s host Chris Rock plenty of opportunity to highlight the need to diversify the film industry by offering more opportunities for Black actors and actresses. Other industry honorees were also able to use the program as a platform to speak on their own agenda – Leonardo DiCaprio on climate change, Lady Gaga on sexual assault and even director Alejandro González Iñárritu gets in on the race issue with some poignant commentary. With the highly political atmosphere of this awards season and the idea of DIVERSITY being shoved in our faces for the entire show, I find it incredible that Chris Rock and guest Sacha Baron Cohen still manage to squeeze in their racist jokes about Asians.
Around halfway through the ceremony, Rock introduces three Asian children wearing suits and ties as the accountants from PriceWaterhouseCooper who are in charge of counting the votes. Without a beat, we all know he is making fun of Asians for being math geeks and playing on the harmful model minority myth. He also makes jokes about child labor, telling people that are offended to tweet about it with phones made by the same kids.
Sacha Baron Cohen also bashes the Asian community while presenting a Best Film nominee. Alongside Olivia Wilde (who was shaking with laughter the whole time, btw), Cohen in character as Ali G from his latest film made a joke about yellow people with small penises. “Minions!” he yells at a laughing audience, who all know he is making fun of Asian people and are laughing anyways.
Tell me which is worse: that Chris Rock planned on exploiting children in the joke without their parents knowing or that Cohen’s unplanned, unapproved remarks were so well-received. Either situation seems to speak volumes about how unseriously the Academy and its members regard diversity issues.
With all this conversation happening, the issue is far from being put to rest. Rock may have handled some diversity issues with some good comedy, but let’s be clear: It’s not okay to talk about how Wanda Sykes is always typecast as the “Black Friend” and then to turn around and typecast Asian children in a joke about accounting and child labor or to be okay with equating Asians with Minions. Don’t be a hypocrite.