Because when my debut novel landed on the NYT bestseller list and stuck around for two years, I also landed my first film agent. She enjoyed my book. And she told me that she could easily sell the film option. But she also told me that a film would never get made—because my main characters were…Chinese, Japanese, and black.
I’ll pause to let that sink in for a moment.
Still with me?
Okay, so was this agent racist? No, she was kind of awesome, actually. But she had the odious task of telling me, that by Hollywood standards, my baby was ugly.
I didn’t agree. So I signed with another agent. And in my search I found myself bouncing about Hollywood, spending time in very nice offices, with very nice producers, who all kept saying—and this is an exact quote:
“How do we mitigate the financial risk without a white, male lead?”
Uncomfortable? Need to pause again?
I love the famously cantankerous writer, Harlan Ellison, and envisioned him leaping across the table and punching someone in the gullet. I imagined him lighting garbage fires in elevators and burning studios to the ground, then salting the smoldering ruins. I daydreamed as I grit my teeth and kept moving.
And HOTEL was finally optioned, albeit briefly, to the founding CEO of Village Roadshow, a gentleman who was specializing in Asian markets at the time and who had helped finance Avatar and Marley & Me. I say briefly, because he passed away a year later (RIP Greg Coote).
So yes, there are opportunities in Hollywood. But they are buried in what Chris Rock so aptly described as “Sorority Racism.” And passive racism is still racism. Sins of omission, while not sins of commission, are still sins.
And to deny the racist, exclusionary, whitewashing reality of Hollywood is not just uninformed nonsense—it’s actually enabling this institutionalized behavior.
I guess what I’m saying is—if last night’s Oscars made you feel a tad uncomfortable—great! That means your empathy muscles are asking for a workout.
You can do the easy thing and shut down those feelings, deny what they’re telling you, or you can put yourself in the shoes of Hattie McDaniel who was the first black woman to win an Oscar, but had to play a maid 74 times, or in the shoes of Dean Tanaka and Chloe Wang who had to change their names to Dean Cain and Chloe Bennett to find success—entirely up to you.
I’ll pause again to let you think about it.