By Selena Razo
Little did actor Will Choi know that his response to a Hollywood controversy would catapult his career
In April 2016 it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing an Asian character in Ghost in the Shell and he felt the same way that a lot of us did.
“What the hell is happening?” Choi said.
This whitewash casting choice and his love for improv inspired Choi to produce a show titled Scarlett Johansson Presents AAPI Heritage Month.
The ironic nature of the title garnered the show a lot of attention and publicity that eventually led to a series of shows starting with the words “Scarlett Johansson presents…”. Choi and those he collaborated with for the shows even had to put a disclaimer stating that Scarlett Johansson would not actually be present.
Choi recalled that moment while speaking recently at the University of California, Riverside as part of the university’s Asian Pacific Student Programs’ celebration of API Month.
The UC Riverside alum stated that for him, it was interesting to see Asian Americans in a space that is mainly dominated by straight White males.
The success of Scarlett Johansson Presents eventually inspired Choi and his friends to launch his improv comedy show Asian AF that is currently held in both Los Angeles as well as New York.
Asian AF, shown at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles, has been sold out every month since November 2016.
Guest stars in Asian AF have included celebrities such as Jameela Jamil, Randall Park, Kelly Marie Tran, Manny Jacinto, and Margaret Cho.
Before graduating from UCR in 2009, Choi struggled with what he would study in college. Eventually, he declared and graduated with a degree in Psychology.
After he graduated he felt “truly lost” and eventually ended up supporting his dad’s business.
Growing up, Choi never felt he could be an actor since it “was not what [he] saw” on television or in films while he was growing up.
Choi refers to the day he saw Walking Dead actor Steven Yeun’s improv show in Los Angeles as the day that “changed his life.”
Choi soon took an interest in acting and enrolled in multiple improv classes, but it wasn’t easy.
In 2012 Choi was about to open the door to his first improv class but stopped himself before he could open the door.
He discussed the nerves and the thoughts he had before opening the door to enter the class.
“I could turn around and then just walk away” Choi said.
He eventually convinced himself to enter the class in order to “see what is the next step.”
Realizing that many of his classmates felt the same way he did, Choi became relaxed and was even encouraged to continue attending his improv classes.
Fans of the popular hit show 13 Reasons Why may remember an Instagram post that Michele Selene Ang posted that consisted of her wearing a shirt saying “Scarlett & Emma & Tilda & Matt.” What some of these may not know is that Will Choi is actually responsible for the creation of that shirt.
The design of the shirt is a direct reference to actors that have been cast as whitewashed characters that were meant to be played by Asian or Asian American actors.
Initially, Choi made only 50 of the shirts for his show Asian AF. Ang eventually heard about the design of the shirt and asked Choi if he could ship it to her.
Ang made that famous post months after he shipped the shirt to her, which made the shirts growing popularity even more shocking.
“All I did was put four names on a shirt,” Choi said.
Choi attributes the shirt’s popularity to the fact that it resonated with a popular community.
Looking to the future, Choi uses that moment he had before entering his first improv class to drive him forward.
Choi told those in attendance at the event that he could have easily turned around that day and not known everything that has happened in his life since then. He also discussed how people will do what they are made to and that it just comes down to “how early [they] say yes to it.”
He encourages those unsure of what they want to pursue to “just be open” to change and possibilities.
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