Ke Huy Quan at the TIME100 Impact Awards on September 17, 2023 in Singapore.
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“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me — this is the American dream.”
Those were the words that Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan uttered during his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in March. He left his audience teary-eyed.
That night did not just change Quan’s life. It also ignited a debate about the importance of Asian representation in Hollywood.
Quan won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” making him only the second actor of Asian descent to win in this category.
At the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore last week, the 52-year-old actor highlighted that Asians have a “huge influence on how Hollywood stories are being told.”
“The reason why things have changed in the last 10 to 15 years is because of the huge Chinese market that opened up,” he said, explaining that Hollywood executives began producing films around Asian characters to better “tap into that market.”
“Whether an Asian actor plays a hero, or centers around an Asian family … When you go out and support these movies, it sends a clear message to Hollywood that [the audience] want more of this.”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” won seven Oscars at the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California.
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“Everything Everywhere All at Once” dominated the Oscars this year, clinching seven awards including best picture, best actress, best director, best editing, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best original screenplay.
Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian to win the best actress award.
Quan did not shy away from speaking about the ongoing Hollywood strikes.
Since May, Hollywood writers have been on the picket lines protesting for better wages, benefits and stronger job security. Subsequently, Hollywood actors began protesting for the same reasons in July.
The shortage of labor in Hollywood has bulldozed the entertainment industry as production for films, television shows and talk shows halted or were forced to wrap up early.
The battle pits the two unions — the Writers Guild of America and the actors guild, SAG-AFTRA — against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a trade group that bargains for major studios and streaming services.
“We wouldn’t strike unless our existence depended on it,” said Quan. “We’re not asking for much, we’re just asking for a fair deal.”
The Writers Guild of America and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are set to meet for a new round of contract talks this week in the four-months long writers strike.
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Speaking to the audience at Milken, Quan said he “knows what everybody’s going throug.”
He shared about how he lost his health insurance during the pandemic and the challenges he faced when he did not have regular work.
“When I had to fill out an application and they asked [for my] profession, I always wondered what to put down because I would work a week and then be unemployed for a year, work a month and be unemployed for two years.”
“There are hundreds of people working together, and a lot of times, the crew gets paid very little money,” Quan said. “They’re only there because they believe in the sweat and they want to come together and tell that one single story.”
While there’s no end in sight for the strikes, there’s a glimmer of hope as the Writers Guild of America is expected to resume talks with Hollywood studios on Wednesday.