Outfest’s Crazy Queer Asians Panel Tackles Representation in Hollywood

"There are so few of us that if you are out in the open, there’s a lot on your shoulders not to mess up."

Outfest is a celebration of queer storytelling, one that gives a voice to those who’ve long been ignored or silenced. But for LGBTQ Asians, the struggle for exposure is twofold: They are not
only fighting for more queer storytelling onscreen, but also pushing for more Asian representation in Hollywood.

This issue was highlighted at Crazy Queer Asians, an Outfest panel in Los Angeles this past weekend that featured LGBTQ actors, writers, and producers who have successfully crossed over into the mainstream despite their sexual orientations, gender identities, and ethnicities.

The panelists in attendance included actors Nik Dodani (Atypical), Nicky Endres (One Day at a Time), Vincent Rodriguez III (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Leo Sheng (Adam, The L Word) as well as Atypical writer Lauren Moon and Superstore writer-producer Vicky Luu. The group agreed that long before they were making their mark in Hollywood, they’d looked to the handful of Asians who came before them for inspiration.

“I grew up watching Rufio and seeing Dante [Basco] play that role in Hook,” Rodriguez recalled. “I grew up seeing Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher in Cinderella. Those were my little glimmers of hope.”

As a child, Endres, an adopted trans woman who grew up with a white family on a cornfield in Wisconsin, found a hero in Connie Chung, instantly assuming the news anchor must have been her birth mother.

“From ages 3 to 4, I just thought, Yeah, she’s a career woman. That’s why [she put me up for adoption],” Endres joked. “No shade, Connie. I understand.”

Seeing the few people who looked like them on TV eventually resulted in a pressure to be successful for the next generation of Asian kids.

Luu said she was thrilled when she got to write a queer Asian character for Nico Santos on Superstore, adding that they immediately connected over a mutual understanding that they were “doing something important for us and the community.” She talked about a day in the writers’ room when she pitched a joke based on a line Nico would often use: “If I fail, all queer Asians fail.”

“They all asked, ‘Is that how people feel?’” Luu recalled. “And I said, ‘Yes! There are so few of us that if you are out in the open, there’s a lot on your shoulders not to mess up and to represent people.’”

The panelists admitted that while the industry still has major strides to make, they are excited about the groundbreaking year Asian Americans have experienced in Hollywood.

“We’ve come such a long way in the last five years, particularly in the last three,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like we’re in a really good place and like a lot of momentum is building. I feel like it’s becoming super unstoppable.”

Pictured: panelists Vincent Rodriguez III, Leo Sheng, Lauren Moon, and Vicky Luu; moderator Jiavani Linayao; actor-comedian Kevin Yee; and panelists Nik Dodani and Nicky Endres.

Adam Salandra is a writer, performer and host in Los Angeles. When he's not covering the latest in pop culture, you can find him playing with his French Bulldog puppy or hovering over the table of food at any social gathering.