I've recently begun taking acting classes again to remember what it feels like being coached on fundamentals, from Meisner to Stanivslosky. In college, Meisner's words were tattooed into my brain and served as the guiding mantra to much of my twenties: "Live Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances." However, as much as I loved acting and being on stage, I never imagined myself ever "breaking through" the entertainment industry as a flat chested dark skinned Asian American woman; there was too much competition, other girls were "prettier", and the only role I ever came close to getting was as a human trafficking victim in Thailand (which I auditioned for out of a classroom at UCLA for a student film). So I never actively pursued it, choosing to focus more on arts organizing and activism as my media. It's why I fell in love with spoken word and poetry, and why the majority of my twenties were spent empowering other people to not wait for Hollywood to cast us by writing our own truths and performing it on makeshift stages from coffee shops to street corners. But just recently, it was announced that Kellie Marie Tran, a Vietnamese American actress, will be playing one of the lead roles as a breakthrough artist in the new Star Wars movie. She is close to me in age, and defies the stereotype of a timid and sexualized Asian woman created for a white male's gaze with yellow fever. My heart felt so much joy for the ways Hollywood is becoming more inclusive of Asian American representation beyond East Asian narratives, but also a hint of jealousy and regret: "Why didn't I just stick with acting all these years and not let my training go to waste? What if that was me instead of her? WHY was it her instead of someone else, ahem mE?" Jealousy often points us in the direction of our heart's desire, but if not acted upon can fester and turn into bitterness. And when those stings hit, it can feel like a punch in the gut or a rude awakening. We have been conditioned to compete for accolades and recognition, from the day we are graded on our first spelling test to our adult years striving for employee of the month. How many of us suffer for such recognition, while others see it as a byproduct of living in alignment with ones' purpose? Whether it shows up on television or within classrooms, everyday we are performing and living out our truths under imaginary circumstances for an audience - even when we assume nobody is watching. When we're having a shitty day and would rather be allergic to people, our body closes itself off to human interaction as text messages or phone calls are avoided while the world eagerly awaits our return to stage (because yes, each of us has a role to play!). If we don't like the roles that have been given to us we can absolutely create new ones, or wait for one to be assigned to us; most people settle for the latter. Some of us become really good at faking joy in these roles that don't fit our bodies until the volcano of pain erupts from our solar plexus and we can't take living in a lie anymore. Everything is made up of energy and vibrations; either we can learn to surf those sound waves or allow ourselves to drown in the noise. Some choose to succumb to the reality that is fed to us, while others understand the power of thoughts, intentions, and action to shift into the reality we want to live in. Instead of waiting for Hollywood to invite me over for a bowl of pho pulled off of Bon Appetit, I decided to cook my own food that tasted like home and share that gift with others as a ripple effect. Simultaneously, there are those who keep showing up at the table until a seat is pulled up for them (with plans to reclaim the whole damn kitchen one day). We're both kicking ass in life while comparison can easily get in the way. Btw, pho and ramen are not the same thing. And Thai food is not from Taiwan. Life isn't about faking it until you make it, but believing in your vision so strongly until you see it for yourself. And when jealousy hits, it's become my sign to bless the abundance that another is receiving and celebrate this win as if it is my own. Because it is. Dear Kelly Marie Tran, daughter of Vietnamese refugees who did not take the route of nurse, accountant, engineer, lawyer, or doctor.... f*ck yea sister for manifesting this into life for us to witness on the big screen! What's additionally badass is that you're playing a blue collar worker turned Jedi who doesn't have to fake an accent (yay!) and you get to lead an uprising. (British people playing American characters don't count, btw). Our ripples are turning into hurricanes, and Hollywood can easily turn our people against each other because they don't cast enough of us into movies in the first place.
So when my acting teacher, Charles Tentindo of My Acting Studio, posed the question, "Would you rather live an Oscar-Winning Life or win an Oscar-Winning Performance?" The first thought that came to my mind was, "Why would I even want an Oscar when #OscarsSoWhite anyway?" (runs to the open mic stage to pour my heart out)... And the second was that I've lived a pretty damn good life that I think would make a good movie thus far, directed by ME, and this is just the beginning of my screenplay. (Perhaps it will be titled, "The Not So Model Minority" or a book titled, "Different ways to respond to 'What are you really, though?'".) Let's hope that by the end of my (s)hero's journey, Oscars will have caught up to Asian Americans being worthy of their accolades - but until then, we're already winning.
If you could give your life a current movie title, what would it be? And how do you hope to write the ending? I would love to hear your story. <3