Asian Creatives’ Different Treatment Due to Race, Lack of Mentorship Creates Career Roadblocks, Industry Study Finds

Many respondents said they had to navigate being both “too Asian” and “not Asian enough” in the workplace

Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng (Getty Images)

A lack of industry connections and mentorship are the biggest roadblocks for Asian creatives seeking to enter the entertainment industry. And after they’re established, cultural differences — perceived or real — can limit their advancement. Those are the findings of a joint study by CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and TAAF (The Asian American Foundation) released Wednesday.

For the study, titled “Red Light, Green Light: Overcoming Roadblocks to Asian American Creative Executive Success in the Entertainment Industry,” 86 AAPI-identifying industry creatives across entry-, mid- and senior-level roles were surveyed.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed — 92% of entry-level respondents, 90% of mid-level respondents and 80% of senior-level respondents — said having no connections was a barrier to entering the industry. A lack of mentorship was also another barrier to entry.

Even after landing roles in the creative field, many respondents said they experienced different treatment on a day-to-day basis due to their cultural background or race that increased as they advanced in their careers.

Of those surveyed, 54% of entry level professionals said they experienced different treatment due to being AAPI, while 71% of those in senior, executive and c-suite ranks agreed, most likely because there were even fewer AAPIs at that level.

Respondents said they often had to navigate being “too Asian” and “not Asian enough.” They recounted how they were expected to know how to speak an Asian language or be familiar with Asian talent/culture merely because they were AAPI.

Asian American women faced even more roadblocks, with several female respondents citing sexism and misogyny that manifested in receiving lower pay than their counterparts, being undermined/underestimated in meetings or on productions and passed over for advancement.

These roadblocks resulted in fewer AAPIs entering, advancing, and/or staying in the industry, which has a direct effect on AAPI stories being made and told on the screen.

“We have a of talent in front of and behind the camera, but without people who have the power to make these decisions — to greenlight a series or movie, or to option or develop material — we won’t see ourselves on screen, or be able to ensure that our portrayals are balance or authentic” said Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng (seen above) at a presentation of the survey Tuesday night.

To help combat these roadblocks and aid industry professionals, TAAF also launched Lights, Camera, AANHPI!, a creative development directory as a centralized resource that supports and advances AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaii, Pacific Islander) careers and creative work in  entertainment.

CAPE is the premier non-profit organization creating opportunities and driving change for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) success in Hollywood. CAPE advances representation for APIs in Hollywood through three main verticals: (1) nurturing and engaging creative talent and executive leadership; (2) providing cultural script consulting and talent referrals through the CAPE Database; and (3) championing projects for critical box office and streaming success. Follow @capeusa on Instagram and X or visit their website at capeusa.org.

TAAF serves the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in their pursuit of belonging and prosperity that is free from discrimination, slander, and violence. Founded in 2021 in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and to address the long standing underinvestment in AAPI communities, TAAF funds
best in class organizations working to mobilize against hate and violence, educate communities, and reclaim our narratives through our core pillars of Anti-Hate, Education, Narrative Change, and Resources & Representation. For additional information about TAAF, please visit www.taaf.org.

Read the CAPE/TAAF survey here.

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