The 4th annual Filipinos in Entertainment & Media panel happened on Thursday evening, Oct. 22, at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. Hosted by Fil-Am Creative, a non-profit dedicated to the advancement of Filipino Americans in entertainment and media; Asian Pacific Student Services; and Isang Bansa, the premier Filipino club at LMU, the event brought together ambitious students and successful Fil-Ams in the industry in a diverse panel-discussion style.
“Creating Invisibility, Establishing Individuality” is the main theme of the panels, highlighting the rise and progression of Filipino culture in the mainstream media, and to encourage better representation.
“The purpose of the event is to build awareness about the importance of creating more Filipino visibility, as well as establishing individuality as Filipino Americans apart from the broad ‘Asian Pacific American’ category in entertainment and media,” said Melissa Arce, who spearheaded the event held at LMU.
Past Fil-Am panelists in discussions held at UCLA, UC Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton included entertainment pioneers like Dante Basco, Jennifer Paz, Ernie Reyes Jr., Kat Iniba, Criss Judd, and AJ Rafael.
“Bringing this type of awareness to students, especially those interested working in this industry, it’s great to bring professionals here who are great examples and who are successful, to show [students] that it is possible,” Arce continued.
This year, panelists included L.A. radio station 102.7 KIIS FM’s Manny Streetz (“Manny on the Streetz”), TV actress and singer Ashley Argota, entertainment publicist Annalee Paulo, filmmaker Gene Cajayon, and movie casting director Billy DaMota.
The five panelists have each had years of experience in the field, opening up about their hardships and successes, sharing words of wisdom to the students and relating their Filipino American-ness to their careers.
“My parents originally pushed me to be in the medical field,” said Paulo, who is the deputy head publicist of 42West, a well-known public relations firm in both LA and New York. “The reason I was able to get a job is that I was one of the very few Asians in publicity–it put me on the right path, provided mentorships and key connections to entertainment. When there were few, I created my own opportunities.”
Gene Cajayon, director of the 2001 Fil-Am feature film “The Debut,” also shared about his initial struggles with making and funding the project, which became one of the first feature films within the Filipino-American community.
“It started as a thesis project while I was in film school here at LMU. I became serious about it; throughout my 20s, I was researching, taking Asian American studies courses, I had a political awakening,” Cajayon shared. “I am very passionate about getting movies made about people of color. Storylines that relate to culture, illuminating the experience of minorities, are the types of films that need to be made; not just mainstream white America culture, but my own community, too.”
“Even though nowadays there are more colors in film, it is still a battle for any filmmaker who wants to get more people of color on the big screen.”
“I make sure the projects that I cast reflect the reality of our world…people of color, not the stereotypical villain, sidekick, or nerd,” said film and commercial casting director Billy DaMota, who has casted and worked with Hollywood stars (like Billy Bob Thornton, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, and James Franco), and now works with Pure Flix, a faith-based production company that has produced films like the 2014 blockbuster “God’s Not Dead.”
“When you create an ethnically diverse cast, you create a market, open doors for others. People watch movies about people they can relate to,” he added. “Sadly, a lot of communities are still being ignored, so it is up to our own social awareness to make things change in Hollywood.”
Filipina actress Ashley Argota — best known for her roles in “True Jackson, VP,” Disney Channel’s “How to Build a Better Boy,” and ABC Family’s “The Fosters” — agreed, “for Asian Americans, it’s always been stereotypical roles at first. I used to only go out for Latina roles, sometimes even casted [as] Chinese. But doors are opening now, Filipinos are being recognized, and it gives me hope.”
“To quote Papa Pope from ABC’s ‘Scandal,’ ‘You have to work twice as hard to get half of what they have,” she said. “That always stuck with me.”
Radio personality, entertainer, actor and producer Manny Streetz Guevara joined the “On Air with Ryan Seacrest” morning show team in 2004, and has appeared on TV shows including Nickelodeon’s “Sam & Cat” and “iCarly,” and has worked with Randy Jackson, Raven-Symone, and “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
“There are not very many Filipinos in radio–for a while, I played the Hispanic card,” he laughed. “Ryan [Seacrest] thought I was Hispanic.”
Manny credited hard-working, creative Filipinos who are willing to be the “go-getters” and throw themselves out there.
“Work hard at your craft, surround yourself with talented people. Find a company you know you want to work for, and learn how you can get in,” he told students. “Use social media. Study everybody whom you want to work with, and then do it, even if it has to be for free. For a little bit, in order to get to where you want to go.”
“Working hard is noticeable and will be recognized. As Filipinos, we already have that mentality. Everybody in the business knows that Filipinos work hard,” he added.
Students also chimed in with their thoughts on the discussion.
“This event was informative; everyone was so well-versed and informative,” said LMU student Seanna Duong, a communication studies major, theater and animation minor, who helped organize the event.
“It was interesting to hear the realistic side of the entertainment business,” said Germaine Kempis, a health and human sciences major. “I’m realistically thinking of my career path–even though physical therapy is still an end goal for me, I’m still looking into my creative side, being a musician, especially after hearing what they said.”
Tiffany Nguyen, a business management major, shared, “I thought the event was really insightful. Although I’m not pursuing film, it’s always nice to hear about Asian-American identity and visibility and how we’re breaking out from a lot of minority roles.”
The controversy surrounding faulty casting in Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” film (2015) was also touched upon in the panel.
“When it comes to casting minorities in films, we’re always three steps forward, two steps back,” commented Cajayon. Earlier this year, white actress and megastar Emma Stone was cast as an Asian American (half Hawaiian, Chinese, and Swedish) character in “Aloha.”
“When we were talking about problems with the film ‘Aloha,’ it’s interesting how that actually brought more awareness to the issue, especially because of social media. Even though sad things like that happen in the film industry, it’s cool to know we can create a big impact,” said Emma Wong, a health and human sciences major.
“It’s beneficial for young Filipinos to know that even though there’s a struggle with getting us into media or other industries in the workforce, it’s optimism that keeps us going. Filipinos always have a support group here in the community,” said Ejay Asuncion, an accounting major and president of LMU Isang Bansa, an on-campus Filipino organization that “strives to be a home away from home for students here, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos.”
Isang Bansa will have its 25th annual Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN), celebrating Philippine culture and tradition, on April 9, 2016.
Aris Mosier, director of LMU’s Asian Pacific Student Services, which serves as an advocate for Asian and Pacific Islander students at the university, was proud to see the turnout of engaged students, who are the future of entertainment.
“It’s important for our students to recognize the real issues and see the trailblazers in our community,” he said. “It adds to our rich history and identity, as Asian Americans, for us to know that there are people who look us in this industry too.”