With the Pan-Asian Screen Collective, Asian-Kiwi creatives won’t have to ‘politely wait in line’ for their chance to tell diverse New Zealand stories, say its founders.
It’s barely two months old, but a new arts collective dedicated to combating the lack of Asian representation in New Zealand’s screen industry is proving to be a “critical mass” that’s a growing force on the scene.
Since its launch on 28 August, the Pan-Asian Screen Collective (PASC) has grown exponentially, with 300 emerging and established screen practitioners and counting – over a hundred of whom are actors.
PASC’s goal is for New Zealand’s cultural landscape to “honestly and equitably reflect pan-Asian faces, creativity, expertise, experience and history on screen and behind the camera”. People with a Pan-Asian identity include those from across the Asia region, and Asians with a multi-cultural heritage.
The group already has a few triumphs: PASC has just won financial backing from the NZ Film Commission to conduct two workshops – including one that will feature international expertise – for its members.
The first workshop will provide practical proposal and application assistance and takes place on 28 October. The second workshop, planned for 4 November, will involve stars from Mulan sharing their skills with emerging PASC actors.
NZ On Air has also given $259,831 in funding to one of PASC’s founding members Chye-Ling Huang, who with Cole Jenkins, will create Life Is Easy, a millennial body-swap comedy series for TVNZ OnDemand.
PASC member Becky Kuek and Mukpuddy Animation have also received support to make an animated children’s show, Tales of Nai Nai, as part of NZ On Air’s $15-million investment into children’s media to strengthen identity.
The show revolves around a set of seven-year-old Kiwi twins being spellbound by their Nai Nai’s (grandmother’s) stories.
Shuchi Kothari, PASC co-founder:
“There is an assumption that if you wait in a linear queue your time will come. We know it won’t.”
Pan-Asian stories few and far between
PASC was borne out of a mounting sense of frustration at the lack of change in the industry.
Roseanne Liang and Associate Professor Shuchi Kothari – co-founders and executive members of PASC – say not enough has changed in the last decade, in spite of the country’s rapidly-changing demographics, especially in Auckland.
The first Pan-Asian produced comedy TV series, A Thousand Apologies, broadcast in New Zealand in 2008. Apart from Liang’s feature film My Wedding and Other Secrets (2011), little has happened since then.
According to Statistics NZ, one in three Aucklanders will identify with an Asian ethnicity by 2038.
Yet the NZ Film Commission have reported that over the past 40 years, only 1 percent of their funded feature films were created by Asian-New Zealanders.
NZ On Air reported in their 2018 financial year that only 5 percent of their funded projects featured a pan-Asian director and few pan-Asian writers.
“The numbers are officially dismal,” says Liang. “Several studies have shown ... the numbers of Pan-Asian people in our country are not matching up with that representation on screen, in terms of our key creatives (directors, writers, producers).
“Why is that happening? We’ve been part of this country since the 1800s,” says Liang.
“It’s because we politely wait in line,” says Kothari. “There is an assumption that if you wait in a linear queue your time will come. We know it won’t.
“Something had to coalesce to make [change] happen, to become official and to be able to lobby really strongly,” says Kothari.
So fed up with a lack of roles, barriers of discrimination and their narratives being told by non-Asians – the founders launched PASC.
“PASC is now a critical mass,” says Liang, “and it’s making waves in New Zealand’s screen industry.”
Encouraging talent to step forward
PASC’s significant grassroots network is valuable, as there has been a consistent lack of funding applications from emerging Asian creatives in New Zealand, says the NZ Film Commission.
“PASC are new, but they are connected to the biggest group of emerging pan-Asian practitioners. They can help this group to connect to the industry,” says Raymond Suen, the NZ Film Commission’s Asia Outreach Executive.
Kothari sees the issue related to the definition of what is considered a ‘New Zealand story’.
“Pan-Asian creatives feel their stories are not relevant to New Zealand. The perception is that there is no interest in their application.”
Liang says: “Some have applied and got knocked back; they see we’re not represented in front of and behind the screen, so ‘this is not my world, not my place, why should I even try?’”
“That’s why we need more vocal advocacy groups,” says Kothari. “Pan-Asians need to bat for each other. There is a need for this collective.”
Suen says the goals of groups such as PASC complement the NZ Film Commission‘s work, and will benefit the industry.
“It’s important to have a platform for Asian creatives. Guilds like PASC will contribute to the industry’s sustainable growth,” says Suen.
While PASC is enjoying steady momentum, the founders say they are not resting on their laurels and are keen to get to work.
“We can’t be complacent,” says Kothari. “It’s timely, there’s a huge surge in numbers, especially younger and emerging members – and we are hungry.”
– Asia Media Centre