Naomi Ko has just a small role in the award winning critically acclaimed film Dear White People. But in a film that moves forward the conversation about race in America, it’s a pivotal one, according to the Visibility Project.
The film from Justin Simien won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance. It features an African American student hosting a campus radio show on an Ivy League campus instructing white people on the dos and don’t of relating to blacks.
Ko plays Sungmi, a character that contradict popular stereotypes of Asian Americans.
“This girl [Sungmi], she’s great,” said Ko talking about her character. “She’s not a math or science major, she hangs out with non-Asian students, she wears a lip ring, she’s not petite—I’m not petite. She’s opinionated—people don’t think that Asian Americans are opinionated.
“People don’t think Asian Americans are capable of assembly and protesting […] that’s part of the whole model minority stereotype: Asians do really well and assimilate and become doctors and pay taxes and vote Republican. That’s not what we do.”
Ko built her acting chops at the Mixed Blood Theatre and Mu Performing Arts, both in Minnesota. She co-wrote and co-starred in two productions, Under My Skin with Mu Performing Arts and Story Spirits with the New Age Salon and Bedlam Theatre.
She has been mentored by the Council of Asian & Pacific Islanders through its affiliate the Fellowship of the Cranes.
Dear White People is her onscreen debut.
“What ‘Dear White People’ made me [realize] was not necessarily what it meant to be a woman, Korean-American, person of color. I’m already confident in that,” says Ko, “Like, figuring out what it means to be Korean or American or Korean-American? That annoys me.”
You can read about her thoughts on the two most stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans on television right now and Hollywood’s take on Asian Americans in the Visibility Project.