Executive Director, CAPE
Michelle Sugihara is the executive director at the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) and has long been a champion for Asian representation both on and off the screen. As part of our arts and culture series, CANVAS, Sugihara shares her "brief but spectacular" take on changing the world through stories.
Amna Nawaz: Michelle Sugihara is the executive director at CAPE. That’s the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and has long been a champion for Asian representation both on and off the screen.
Tonight, as part of our arts and culture series, Canvas, Michelle shares her Brief But Spectacular take on changing the world through stories.
Michelle Sugihara, Executive Director, CAPE: I think what is so powerful about media is that it touches everybody, and it is one of the most pervasive and quickest ways to change perception, which in turn changes reality.
Growing up as a Japanese-American in Honolulu, Hawaii, I really did not think very much about race at all, to be honest. And it really was not until I came to California for college that I started to learn more about it. Eighty percent of media consumed worldwide is produced and created in America. And so that means Hollywood has a profound responsibility.
And one of the problems with the stereotypes is that people eventually become flattened. They are only seen as that stereotype. So, it’s the stereotype of the model minority, which is the stereotype of Asian Americans being the smart, hardworking, nerdy, and the other stereotype we face is that of the perpetual foreigner.
The problem with a stereotype is when it is used to make the character the butt of the joke. The more that we have those types of caricatures, it becomes easier to harm people. There’s a reason that propaganda during wartime uses the same tactics of dehumanizing people, so that it’s easier to hurt them because you don’t see them as fully human.
It’s really important to be conscious about the choices that you’re making and the media that you’re consuming. And, also, it’s about celebrating and pushing the envelope for more stories, different stories. We would love to see more stories about Asian joy and stories about Asian love and hot Asian American men.
Like, there are so many other stories that have yet to be told that — they’re starting to get told now. I think we believe that narrative and stories can change the world. We started with writers because representation starts on the page.
And then, five years ago, we looked at the other end of the spectrum, which is executives, because inclusion starts with the gatekeepers. And then the final piece of it is to promote and celebrate the films that get made. So everything that we do on our program side is very strategic. And we look at where we can push the levers the most, for the most impacts.
It’s really important for Asian Americans to be in the rooms where the decisions are made, because we need to be telling our own stories and the stories about our communities, stories for everyone by us.
My name is Michelle Sugihara, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on changing the world through stories.
Amna Nawaz: Watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.