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The Man Behind #StarringJohnCho

#StarringJohnChoBy Zara Zhi

William Yu, the man behind the ingenuous #StarringJohnCho campaign, was kind enough to grant AsAmNews an interview. The digital strategist from Massachusetts used his marketing skills to rally many in the API community and bring awareness to the lack of leading roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Yu eloquently answered questions about how the campaign came to fruition and how it should progress in the future.

*First off, where did you learn your Photoshop skills?*

Photoshop and design are things I’ve always just done for fun or on the side. I first learned the basics of it in 8th grade from a digital photography class I took. Over time, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and asked friends who were designers –picking their brains and getting insight. It kind of just grew on me from there. It wasn’t something I had taken specific classes or training for.

*What was the moment that inspired you to create the campaign?*

There were a number of different factors that led up to the idea and then officially launching it [#StarringJohnCho]. It’s such a relevant topic right now, especially with #OscarsSoWhite and all the roles that had been whitewashed recently, that I felt now was a good time to try and help further that discussion.

One of the big moments was when I read the 2016 Hollywood diversity report out of UCLA’s Bunche Center saying that films with more diverse casts actually do financially better than films with less diverse casts. If this is true, why aren’t we seeing the lead roles reflected in this manner? If a lot of the bankable possibilities are with diversity, why aren’t we seeing that represented in the lead roles of these films?

*Have people been mostly supportive of the campaign? *

I think what’s been really surprising and/or encouraging is that a lot of the responses have been quite positive from both Asians and non-Asians alike. I think what’s so great about this movement was that it not only gave people the ability to voice how much they love John Cho, but it triggered a bigger discussion about how Asian Americans are
perceived both in Hollywood and in our society.

So I think it’s been really good to see that people are willing to have this discussion or to question it among people who might be less imaginative.

*What is your ultimate goal with the campaign?*

William Yu
William Yu

From the get go #StarringJohnCho was really all about starting and igniting a conversation and discussion. That’s why we launched on Twitter as a platform that could really reach a lot of people. To try and generate a discussion and get some thoughts from everyone – no matter who you are –about what and where Asian Americans stand in terms of how we perceive them.

I think that’s always been a big part of it and one thing it’s [#StarringJohnCho] accomplished is generating and inciting that discussion. I really think there are many opportunities to further the discussion whether it’s talking about Asian American women or other under-represented groups. Trying to think of other innovative ways to talk about Asian Americans in media and our daily lives.

*I read somewhere that someone started #StarringCosntanceWu?*

Yeah, I saw a #StarringConstanceWu and #StarringMindyKaling — it’s kind of taken a life of its own. It’s pretty great to see people rallying around this type of symbolism.

*Do you plan on continuing and evolving the campaign or are you done?*

I definitely want it to evolve.  I think what was so great about #StarringJohnCho was that it gave people something they didn’t know they needed — which is that visual representation of what an Asian American in a lead role looks like. For me, it’s great to see all these types of parallel accounts popping up. A personal goal of mine is to see what
opportunities haven’t been realized yet so that we can push on and get people to see Asian Americans in a whole different way.

*Have you gotten any responses from API’s in Hollywood or anyone in that industry?*

There’s definitely been a good amount of support from people in the industry. From early on Margaret Cho and Ellen Oh retweeted us. People who are part of the #WhiteWashedOut movement have supported #StarringJohnCho. Constance Wu, Ki Hong Lee from the Maze Runner and Kimmy Schmidt, have all tweeted.

I think it’s really great the see reactions from people who aren’t just your “Average Joe”, but those in the media voicing their support. Of course there’s John [Cho] himself who tweeted a heart emoji which was a great acknowledgement of what we’re doing and that he’s supportive of the message. It could have gone another way and so I’m happy that it’s gotten the support that it has.

*What have been your personal experiences with racism?*

For me, my dealing with racism is quite similar to how many other Asian Americans have faced it. From blatant racial slurs or generalizations and stereotypes, to dealing with various tropes of being projected as a model minority, is something that I’ve encountered and will probably continue to encounter for the rest of my life.

*What can we do as API’s to help with the campaign or get the message out?*

What I love about #StarringJohnCho is seeing people make it their own and putting his face on other movie posters. That’s definitely something that I didn’t anticipate. I would like to see a wider range of posters with John’s face on it. It’s not necessarily about having Photoshop skills or being a pro about it. Anyone with half a decent computer can slap something like this together. I would definitely encourage more people to make their own posters and share them with others.

You don’t even have to tag the account, just keep creating. What I think is so great is that this is an opportunity to get imaginative with the possibilities that someone like John Cho could fill in terms of a lead role. Although I think it’s great for a movement like this to engage within the community, for this to really take hold or change stereotypes, it needs to happen outside the API community as well.

In order for us to continue this type of movement, I’d encourage those who are writing or directing to really build and create those stories about Asian Americans. Without the material for Asian Americans to act in, people might not be considered. I think it absolutely helps for people who are coming up with those characters to pursue that and realize those dreams of roles getting filled by other Asian Americans.


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