This past Wednesday, HBO hosted an inspiring event celebrating the premier of “East of Main Street: Taking the Lead”. Initially started in 2011, “East of Main Street” has been an enlightening documentary series that explores the Asian American experience. The latest installment “Taking the Lead” focuses on entertainment and explores the personal journeys of talented performers including Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim, BD Wong, Aasif Mandvi, Russell Wong, Sheetal Sheth, and Jimmy O Yang.
Thanks to the graciousness of Team Epiphany, I was able to attend. The scene itself was the like the who’s who of the Asian American entertainment/ influencer community in NYC, as I recognized like 10 people I follow on social media. Being around such an eclectic group of Asian Americans who are pursuing passions that fall outside computer engineering, law, and medicine was honestly, a breath of fresh air. I, myself, am taking a very non-traditional “Asian” route with my career in entertainment, so it was motivating to be in such good company. Guests dined on the delectable bites from hip (and Asian American owned) restaurants Baohaus, mŏkbar, Jeepney, Dosa Royale. Addition beverages were supplied by Hennessy VSOP and Heineken (you honestly can’t get any more Asian than this, as the Vietnamese population probably accounts for 75% of sales for these brands).
If you haven’t checked out of “East of Main Street: Taking the Lead”, it’s a must match. Even if you aren’t Asian American or working in entertainment, you will enjoy the doc, as it establishes a lot of strong points on societal perceptions. In a day where racial stereotypes and cultural identity are still controversial subjects, “East of Main Street” touches on experiences that might not be as publicized to the mainstream. Every one of the diverse interviewees in the doc faced career obstacles due to their Asian backgrounds. Even though they were lighthearted and comical in telling their stories, I felt frustrated for them because it’s very disappointing to be marginalized or inhibited based on factors you can’t control like race. As a minority group, Asian Americans are still relatively new to not only the entertainment scene, but also to country. Those featured in “East of Main Street” were practically the first generation to grow up in the States. It’s understandable that we have to pay our dues, but it’s a joke that we’re still sometimes portrayed more as immigrants or not so “American”. This is a hurdle Asian American actors have been trying to overcome for quite some time.
After the screening, there was a panel moderated by Miss Info with director Jonathan Yi, Aasif Mandvi, Sheetal Sheth (who’s quite stunning), and Jimmy O Yang (who’s pretty damn funny). They dove into topics including representing their cultures with integrity, the struggles of being finding work (Sheetal was told to consider changing her name in order to get a job), and familial support for their careers. They made a very good point in that entertainment isn’t a “desirable” career path to traditional Asians, and because of that, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of support. Without this crutch, it’s going to be very hard for us to rise. Fortunately, the current and next generations aren’t afraid to break the traditional molds and we’re quick to support those who are flourishing (Eddie Haung is a good example).
Check out “East of Main Street: Taking the Lead” on HBO, HBO GO, and HBO NOW all month. Shoutout HBO and Team Epiphany for allowing me to be part of the event.
(Photos c/o of UNCVR andStephen Lovekin/Getty Images)