New Report Looks at AA+PI Executives in Creative Industries

TAAF and CAPE urge the importance of including Asian American execs at every major studio and streaming platform

CAPE x TAAF at Culture Change Salon

Andrew Ge

A new groundbreaking report from The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) is shedding light on the challenges faced by AANHPI executives in the creative industry.

Titled, “Red Light, Green Light: Overcoming Roadblocks to Asian American Creative Executive Success in the Entertainment Industry,” it is a first-of-its-kind analysis on hurdles for advancement and empowerment for the AANHPI C-suite level and up-and-coming young professionals. To conduct their findings, over 345 people working in entertainment and creative arts were surveyed, interviewed and put into focus groups by TAAF and CAPE.  

With the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike surpassing 100 days now, it feels difficult to be pro-exec anything, but let's not conflate all of them and treat them like a monolith either. Executives are often paramount in moving the needle of representation behind the camera. For instance, TAAF and CAPE defined the responsibilities of executives to be “finding and acquiring intellectual property and other source material, hiring talent including writers and directors, casting, and ultimately wielding the power to greenlight projects and shepherd them to screen.” 

Executives and mid-level players are also often in charge of making key decisions on a studios’ relationship with the media, and thus impacting which reporters can even be in the room to report on projects or have coveted interviews with talent. 

And while their titles wield power, executives aren’t immune to feeling othered in the workplace. The report found that 68 percent of respondents who were senior level professionals, and half of respondents who were entry level, experienced differential treatment because of their looks and or racial/ethnic background. 

The issue becomes even more layered with the intersection of sex and gender. Some female respondents noted they sometimes felt they had to be aggressive or show “masculine” traits. Others pointed to an unforeseen consequence of having a female mentor. One entry-level female executive shared, “Older female mentors tend to be more cutthroat with their female assistants. I’ve gone through the same thing, forcing you to be tougher, or maybe it’s an inherent lack of boundaries of women to women forcing you to be tougher.” 

“The focus groups revealed a pattern: AANHPI women experienced numerous layers of discrimination, which they attributed to an inseparable mix of race, gender, and perceived youth or lack of experience,” says TAAF CEO Norman Chen. “Although this is not surprising, it reiterates that AANHPI women and nonbinary respondents experience negative stereotypes attributable to both race and gender, and that this intersection must be further explored.” 

To even find a mentor in the first place was listed as a significant obstacle. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said lack of mentorship was a big barrier to entry and advancement. Eighty-eight percent of them added their desire to have mentors from their racial/ethnic background.

Having a dependable mentor may also ease the burden of stressing issues. Many respondents said low pay and part-time positions forced them to find multiple jobs or work overtime. Mid-level professionals also reported unsustainable pay. One in five surveyed said they were aiming to pivot to a different job in the industry. 

What can be done? 

The report has a few recommendations on actions to take. Mid- and senior-level executives are urged to actively recruit and support individuals from diverse backgrounds and offer paid internships and/or full-time roles. Training programs covering email etiquette, soft skills, and project pitching are recommended for entry-level employees, while senior-level staff should receive anti-racism training and address issues of intersectionality and racism.

In line with CAPE’s mission to advance Asian American and Pacific Islander creators in the entertainment industry, they announced their 2023 cohort of the CAPE New Writers Fellowship, which trains emerging script writers for success in Hollywood.

Additionally, TAAF has introduced Lights, Camera, AANHPI! A Creative Development Directory. This directory serves as a centralized hub, offering over 200 opportunities for talent development tailored to individuals of AANHPI heritage within the film and entertainment industry. It aims to provide increased access to training and mentorship, ultimately facilitating career advancement and fostering creative growth for these individuals.

“It’s imperative to have AANHPI creative executives with greenlight authority represented across all major studios and streamers,” Chen says. “They’re the ones who ultimately understand, champion, and shepherd AANHPI stories to the screen and ensure that inclusive storytelling becomes not just a hope, but a reality.” 

Published on October 23, 2023

Words by Daniel Anderson

Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.