Actresses Gemma Chan and Olivia Munn were honored at a gala to support underserved immigrant and Asian youth.
Both Chan and Munn were given Inspiration Awards at the Apex for Youth Gala on Wednesday. At the event, the two spoke about their connection to their Asian identities and the importance of representation in media.
“Identity is a complex thing. For me, it’s compound,” Chan told HuffPost. “I feel English, British, European, Chinese, Asian. You can embrace all sides of it.”
The “Crazy Rich Asians” actress has been in the acting game for about a decade but gained international attention after the now-iconic movie’s release. Chan, who has a law degree from Oxford, said that the idea of becoming an actress didn’t immediately occur to her because of an absence of Asian representation in Western media.
“I’ve always been proud of my heritage ... but when you haven’t had that representation, that visibility, things just feel off-limits,” she said. “For example, I didn’t think a career in the arts was viable for me because I never saw anyone who looked like me.”
But Chan says that, with the growing chorus of Asian voices and culturally powerful movies like “Crazy Rich Asians,” the range of possibilities seems wider ― even just among acting roles.
“When I’ve been on jobs when I’ve been not just the only Asian, but the only person of color on set, there is that added pressure that you’re the sole representative of your race,” Chan explained. “Productions like ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ where you have a whole cast of Asians from all over the world, gives you that freedom to just play your character, explore that, and not worry about the burden of being the sole representative.”
Munn, who’s been outspoken about representation as well as issues of sexual assault and misconduct in the entertainment industry, told HuffPost that her mother, who’s Chinese Vietnamese, fled Vietnam for the U.S. following the Vietnam War. She explained that much of her strength in speaking out came from her upbringing.
“My mom always taught me that I mattered. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, I mattered. I’ve always had this strength because of my mother,” Munn said. “But this is something that all Asians do have ― we have a very strong sense of self and that’s not something anyone else can take away.”
Munn told HuffPost that she’s “never been silent with what happened to me.” She said that, particularly given the added challenges that women of color face, it was crucial to speak up.
“When the Time’s Up [campaign against Hollywood sexism] first started, before it was public, I was invited into the group and there was a group of us minorities who were raising the issue of harassment and misconduct and assault that happens predominantly to minorities ― even more than just women in general,” Munn said. “It’s something that we’ve had to put up with for so long, and it’s the collective unconscious that our pains and our suffering is worth less for some reason.”
She added that “it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world sees. As long as we keep speaking up and hopefully they’ll listen.”
“There are people that care and will stand beside you if you speak out, and it’s really important to do that because how will the world know you’re worth it if you don’t?”