Actor and UC Berkeley alumnus Ki Hong Lee discussed his experience navigating the entertainment industry as an Asian American at a Berkeley Forum event Wednesday.
Lee, known for his role as Minho in the Maze Runner film series, expressed excitement about the changing landscape for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry, citing Marvel’s “Shang-Chi,” featuring actor Simu Liu, and the show “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” starring Awkwafina.
Lee noted the disbelief he felt when he noticed billboards with Asian actors less than a minute apart during a drive through Los Angeles.
“We’re living in a time where I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone,” Lee said.
It came as a surprise for Lee, who said he had previously thought there would never be mainstream Hollywood movies and TV shows that feature both Asian leads and center their plots around people of color.
Lee said that for children, being able to see someone who looks like you portray a superhero or be featured on the cover of a magazine is empowering.
“That is a big thing for your psyche and your mental awareness,” Lee said. “I hope more and more representation can occur, with Asian Americans and other people of color as well.”
While Asian American representation in the entertainment industry has increased in recent years, Lee said there’s still room for further growth, noting that Asians are not a monolith.
Lee is still optimistic, and said it’s “just a matter of time” before other Asian subcultures will also be represented in Hollywood, adding that the industry needs to build on current progress and keep the momentum going.
Over the years, Lee has landed a variety of roles, working with Wong Fu Productions, Netflix and big screen movies. He said he is now trying to discover what kind of artist he wants to be and what stories he wants to tell.
“(I’m) trying to find projects that have entertainment value, but also say something about our culture and about our world,” Lee said.