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November 21, 2008

Diversity: The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE)

Sucweaurt CAPE's throwing a big fundraiser on December 2, 2008, and you're invited! The soiree will be at Cafe La Boheme in West Hollywood, and we'll be honoring Tim Kring, creator of the hit tv show HEROES, and John Cho, "Harold" of the silly stoner comedies HAROLD AND KUMAR (...do silly things). We'll have the cast of HEROES in attendance and a red carpet arrival for our celeb guests and honorees. Our Lifetime Achievement Award goes to James Hong, a 50-year veteran of Hollywood. (If you're a scifi movie geek like me, you might recognize him as "Chew" from BLADE RUNNER. "Eyes, I just do eyes," he tells Rutger Hauer's character.)

So what does CAPE do? I've been a member of the Board of Directors at the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) for about five years now, so I feel pretty confident I can answer that.

We try to diversify the industry in every possible way. That means "above the line"--writer-directors, producers, cinematographers, and "below the line"--the gaffers, grips, and other crew people who are the little village that forms to make a film happen. But we also focus on professional development and networking for entertainment executives and their assistants, some of whom have been heads of production at studios like Warner Brothers, SONY/Columbia Tristar, Fox and the like. We're reaching out to video game designers, agents and representatives, animation people, casting agents--*all* the gatekeepers and the people trying to crash those gates.

One of the most important things we do is run a screenwriting contest. The CAPE New Writers Award helps identify talented feature and television writers and is a key component of changing the picture, so to speak. Not to belabor the point, but movie and tv screens have a way to go before they resemble what America really looks like in all its diversity. (Hello? Add about 50% more Asian residents, nurses, and interns to any hospital drama. That's what I saw when I delivered my baby at Cedars! Shout out to the Pinay nurses who brought me fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.)

Some of our past New Writers Award winners have gone on to have their films produced. Alice Wu made a beautiful and groundbreaking comedy romance, SAVING FACE, about a lesbian daughter who has to take in her accidentally knocked-up mom while trying to manage her own love life. It was *the* first-ever Asian Pacific American lesbian romantic comedy and was distributed through Sony Pictures Classics. Given the long lead time for a lot of projects, there are many more in the pipeline. (Disclosure, I was a NWA screenplay winner. ;) Hope my projects can be made soon!)

See, some advocacy groups feel their biggest impact is to point a finger AFTER something's been made. Bad stereotypes! Too few Asian Pacifics cast! Inaccurate/insulting portrayals of Asians!

But CAPE's commitment to diversity stems from working within the system to create more opportunities for more people as those projects are being created. We boldly believe talent comes in all colors, and that cream will rise to the top. (Just look at Ang Lee, who made SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE ICE STORM, *and* the all-Asian cast films CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and LUST, CAUTION. Yes, he's on our Board of Advisors.) We take responsibility to tell stories from within our experience, as part of the recognition that when everyone does that, the cumulative result is a truer picture of what it is to be human. For that reason, we work with allied diversity groups to ensure that we see more women (APA women!), lesbians/gays/bisexuals/transgenders (APA LGBTQs!), and others all have a chance at telling our stories. We widen the scope. 

Hollywood is a global entertainment force, as we LA Moms know. Almost everyone here is a degree or two of separation from a notable writer, director, Oscar-winning costume designer, art director, special effects person, composer or other name found on the end credit scroll. (In this movie-loving city, we actually sit through the credits because chances are we worked on or know someone who worked on a big tent-pole blockbuster or a little indie film. Right?) Or maybe being in The Biz was your past life before you became a social media maven and blogger. We know how powerful the media arts are, and can be.

So given our 17 years in existence as a diversity group, CAPE has worked within the entertainment industry to foreground Asian American life as the story (JOY LUCK CLUB, for example), or tell stories where being Asian is sometimes incidental. I mean, Masi Oka's character in HEROES isn't a kung fu master, he's just a regular dude with some unreal superpowers, right? But he's still a hero. We're part of changing the face of Hollywood to the world, and that necessarily means changing the face of America to the world. For the better, and with more accuracy.

I think we're ready for this, as a country and as a planet.

Please come and celebrate with us. There'll be a fun silent auction, a brief progam, delicious food, and a great opportunity to network, get gussied up, and have a night out on the town. I'll be there. Hope you can too. More about our event and to buy tickets online here.

Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k.

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