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Photo Courtesy of Robyn Von Swank, featuring SuChin Pak and Kulap Vilaysack

Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment in Partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation, featuring Kulap Vilaysack and SuChin Pak

Casting Networks

Welcome back to our interview series, ‘Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment’ in partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation. We are featuring and celebrating women who are striving to make a difference in the entertainment industry. For our second installment, we spoke to comedian-writer-director Kulap Vilaysack and veteran journalist SuChin Pak. Vilaysack and Pak co-host the podcast “Add to Cart,” a subversive take on consumerism. From beauty products and health trends, to celebrities and philosophies they’re passionate about, our hosts dig into anything we buy into and what it says about who we are.

 

KULAP VILAYSACK:

What first drew you to becoming a producer and writer, and how was the climate for women when you first started?

Get ready for an unsurprising statement coming in 3…2…1… I loved being an actor when I was working and less so when I wasn’t. I wanted to do more and having come up through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater LA, there were many models of multi-hyphenate career paths. At some point, I started noticing that when I watched a TV show or a film that I loved, I no longer wished that I was the actor who spoke the lines, but instead the writer who wrote them. The climate for women was as it is now — incrementally better than before, but nowhere near parity — especially for women of color. 

 

As a woman, what is the biggest hurdle you have faced in becoming successful in your industry, and/or what are some of the key issues that women face in your profession?

Being Lao American, I want to tell my versions of the American story and I grow weary of waiting for the gatekeepers to get with it. We need more representation across the board: those with the power to green light, executives, agents, managers, critics, and all positions above and below the line. 

 

As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?

Yes. While there are exceptions, I find women strike a better balance at being results-oriented and minding the well-being of those involved. 

 

Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?

Yes, I am grateful to belong to various communities of fierce, uplifting and collaborative women. We share resources, listen, give guidance, mourn losses, and celebrate our individual and collective wins. 

 

What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry level role in your industry?

Having a support system is necessary. Find your tribe of like-minded people that you can create and cry with. 

 

Earlier this year, TIME’S UP released a Guide to Working in Entertainment with practical ways entertainment professionals can advocate for themselves and their safety. How would you advise someone who is struggling to report harassment or discrimination?

Take notes and do not suffer alone. Refer to the Time’s Up Guide, especially The Incident Report Template and talk/strategize with those whom you trust. 

 

What are some positive changes you’ve seen take place, since the #MeToo movement gained traction and TIME’S UP was launched to combat workplace sexual misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry?

Hands down the organizing and support spaces that were forged. My friend, producer extraordinaire Naomi Scott was encouraged to start a TIME’S UP AAPI affinity group and she reached out. Anybody who knows her knows you gladly pick up a call from Naomi and say yes. She and I hosted the first meeting of the group at The Jane Club that would later be named “A+” in the summer of 2018. Since then A+ has expanded and held various events for our members: panels, mixers, a storytelling show, A Conversation with Chanel Miller and weekly activism zooms in the lead-up to the election. 

 

What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety and accountability?

In line with the #TIMESUPGlobes protest campaign over the lack of diversity in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I want to see more than “cosmetic fixes” aka the barest minimum to avoid bad PR. I want these pledges of change to become actual change. 

 

SUCHIN PAK

What first drew you to becoming a journalist, producer and writer, and how was the climate for women when you first started?

I was the only woman in the MTV Newsroom at the time. I imagine that in some ways, working at a place like MTV where our bread and butter was music and pop culture that it was a better working environment overall for women and I think that it was to some degree.  Most of the staff there had been working there since their first internships, so there was a real sense of youth culture everywhere.  But a culture is there because it’s the temperature of the water that everyone is used to, not necessarily created by innovation or imagination.  So, there were very few women at the very top of the food chain and there certainly wasn’t room for another female in the newsroom.  What I wore, how I styled my hair and what assignments I was given was looked at differently than my male newscasters.  But you know what…I didn’t even see anything wrong with that at the time.  I didn’t even have the language for understanding how the environment around me chipped away at my self worth as a woman, a woman of color and a journalist.

 

As a woman, what is the biggest hurdle you have faced in becoming successful in your industry, and/or what are some of the key issues that women face in your profession?

For me, being a woman goes hand in hand with being a woman of color.  It’s hard to draw the line between the two and separate these identities for me, especially when I speak of challenges in the workplace.  The biggest hurdle is and always will be more women in positions of power making decisions.  As a broadcaster or a host, it’s generally an incoming call business… a lot of the work I get is because someone thinks of me or wants to have a female voice in the mix. AND I would say 99% of the jobs I’ve ever got was because I had worked with someone on the staff on a previous project and they recommended me. All of this to say that my career lives and dies by producers and creators that make decisions about talent. More women, more people that understand that a diverse face or voice can bring more depth and a unique POV, the more women and women of color will continue to pop up on our screens.  

 

What is the best piece of advice a female peer or superior gave you, specifically relating to being a female in your profession?

Working in news, there is a history and mythology that you as a journalist are an objective observer.  Your opinion, your background, your story should have nothing to do with what you’re reporting on. I really believed in this old-school way of interviewing and reporting the news. But the truth is, that’s impossible. I found for me, being a journalist and being truthful about what I was seeing could only come within the context of sharing who I was, what my background is, what my biases could be,  so that as a viewer, you could understand the entire story.  It’s uncomfortable for me, it’s scary to be this personal with strangers, but I’m learning from my co-host, Kulap Vilaysack, on this new podcast we’re doing (ADD TO CART) that there is strength in vulnerability, that there is real honesty in connection. These are things that I’m still learning about as a storyteller.

 

As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?

I think generally yes, but it also depends. I’ve had some of the most difficult times with women supervisors who may not themselves have had good experiences in the workplace, so they take what they’ve learned wherever they go. However, most of my experiences working with women are supportive, easier and on the whole more fulfilling.  In fact, I try to exclusively work with women when I can. BUT, upholding the status quo, the patriarchy, is ingrained in us and we have to opt in to wanting something different.  I think it doesn’t matter what gender you’ve chosen, what race you identify with, what affinity group speaks to you, we are all part of the same conditioning. So if we don’t consciously, intentionally, deliberately opt-out, it doesn’t matter who your supervisor is, it will eventually lead to the same challenges.

 

Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?

I grew up working in front of the camera as a journalist in a time where social media did not exist. I worked and dealt with challenges on my own, with very few ways to connect with other women of color in my field and certainly of my age. For me, the power of these digital platforms are huge, and love it or hate it, we control the message we put out. I’m not interested in trauma porn or sharing my own pain if it’s not going to create positive change in someone’s life. The way we deal with change often is not in the grand gestures, the big headlines, the public displays… but in the day to day interactions we have with people who diminish and belittle us and in the way that we can get support, however it comes, to handle this. I hope that my work as a journalist but also as an organizer with the A+ (AAPI) group within TIME’S UP gives support to women mentally, emotionally and professionally to speak up and feel like they have a voice and a community to support them.

What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry level role in your industry?

Seek out mentors. When you get someone, be very specific about what you want to ask them and be a person who is great at following up and keeping in touch.  

 

What are some positive changes you’ve seen take place, since the #MeToo movement gained traction and TIME’S UP was launched to combat workplace sexual misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry?

I can’t stress how important language is. I never had the language, the literal vocabulary to articulate what was happening to me or the toxic things I was seeing in the workplace. Now, we have that language. People may not agree, but the language is there, so we can start to advocate, support policies that give voice to this and begin to create environments where this language of inclusion, of visibility, is the norm.  

 

What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety and accountability?

It’s all the people that move the machine of media… the producers, casting agents, talent scouts, writers, development execs, HR staff… we need to see more of us in those seats. We can speak about change and what we want, but if there are not people implementing, funding and advocating for a different way, it’s just talk. There’s also a huge disparity among the AAPI group in terms of visibility, pay equity and opportunities.  Asians like all communities of color are not a monolith. Understanding the nuances is critical to the most vulnerable in our community.

 

What further changes do you hope to see in your profession in the future?

How many national news desks are anchored by women? How many late-night talk shows are anchored by women? We just got our first woman of color nominated for an Oscar in the director’s category. All of this is too slow, too few and not reflective of what the audience looks like.  But the wheels are turning and this is what gives me hope.