On December 11th, the 19th Annual Unforgettable Gala presented by Lexus, was held. Unforgettable is the biggest awards show in the U.S. to recognize API icons and changemakers who represent the community through their creativity and excellence, at the Beverly Hills HIlton.
This year, something in the air was different. I was able to catch up with the talent on the red carpet to get some powerful reactions to the success of runaway hits of the year from Squid Game to Shang-Chi to BTS to celebrating our very own Asian Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani.
Many have echoed the same sentiment: people are now interested in our Asian demographic as a whole. But we should make sure that we're able to represent the right type of stories, not just entertaining stories. 2021 was the year to accomplish this.
Selection Committee Chairperson Daniel Dae Kim, mingled on the red carpet, along with Simu Liu, Sandra Oh, Jimmy O. Yang and more.
We first caught up with child star 12-year-old Canadian, Jayden Zhang, who played the young Shang-Chi. When asked about his favorite scenes in the movie, “It was the family scenes because they were really fun and felt like a real family. It also helped with the filming chemistry.” With a recently shaved head, he teases that it will be for his next movie, but cannot reveal details at this time. In the meantime, the Vancouver native misses home and being with his beloved pomeranian.
Chris Pang of Crazy Rich Asians fame spoke at length with us. When asked about his proudest moment this year, “I love that I have to think about right now. Not one thing that pops to mind.” He chose Crazy Rich Asians as the trailblazing movie a few years ago, which broke the dam open and set the tone for the success in 2021 for Asians in entertainment.
Chris is currently working on As I See It, “coming out on Amazon Prime on January 21, which explores living exploring friendship, love and work whilst being on the autism spectrum.” He spoke very honestly about not knowing much about autism until taking this role and experiencing a “steep learning curve. I learned just not to be scared of it. You're always afraid of things that aren't familiar. I think that's what I hope the show will really do is to educate people on what it means to be autistic and what that experience is like.”
Ken Kirby, of Dynasty, also joined us to chat, as he plugs his upcoming horror movie project, “They Live In The Grey” and a spy movie released on YouTube, “a ballsy move”, which he likens to Naked Gun. He also likened this to Asian prom, connecting all artistes from film to tv to music. “I mean, it's awesome. We're on the forefront of everyone's minds right now. And it's been long overdue.”
Another child star, 14-year-old, Momona Tamada, who plays Claudia Kishi on “The Babysitter’s Club”, said she is working on a movie called Secret Headquarters, “I feel like it's such a community. And I can't wait to meet all these people that inspired me to kind of be who I am today, and it's truly such an honor.”
We also caught up with Nicole Kang, who plays Poison Ivy in the Batwoman TV series, spoke to us about her role, “Batwoman is incredible. So I feel so lucky to be a part of it. The best part about it is Poison Ivy. It's a really great moment for our community and just the comic book Batman fan that I am. I grew up with Poison Ivy. So to be a fangirl and take over the role at the same time: what an honor it was.”
Lilan Bowden of Andi Mace said, “I think that this is the year that we've seen a lot of instead of it feeling so novel, being able to normalize Asian people on TV, in film. I'm excited that we're also seeing a lot more Asian directors getting the limelight. ”
Dhruv Uday Singh of Good Trouble loves Shang-Chi’s success, “I’m proud of Shang Chi and the impact it has made around the world. It's such a cool celebration, a milestone of a great future for Asian films.”
Celia Au of “Wu Assassins” told us, “I’m looking forward to spending time with my friends, because it's been forever. We’ve been stuck at home”. Chantal Thuy of “Black Lightning” echoed that sentiment, noting it’s been two years and she’s excited to see her community. Their friend, Filipino American producer, Jeremiah Abraham, CEO of Tremendous Communications, said “We call this Asian prom for a reason, just so we can all come together and celebrate how excellent the Asian American community is.”
June Angela of Fresh Off The Boat and Lori Tan Chinn of Roseanne, Orange Is The New Black and Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, said together, “It’s time!” when asked about this year’s banner year for Asians in entertainment. Lori says, “In terms of theater, I've been in it for 52 years, being one of a few, a handful of Asians. Know it's been quite a thing to stand up and be heard. We were shut out for quite a bit.” June adds, “It's time to have different stories being told. Everybody's having an opportunity to say something new, to let people learn different things about our culture and our differences. And then it'll show that basically, we're the same. We all have emotions, we all have certain feelings. We all can share these through our art and show we are human.”
Korean Soul was the musical act of the evening and they were happy to talk to us about their influences and credits technology for getting them exposed to great American soul music, “Not only gospel singers, but Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding really impacted us”. They also love BTS and will be releasing their first single early next year. Meanwhile, catch them on America’s Got Talent, where they made it to the semifinals.
Two other musicians, AJ Rafael and Alyssa Navarro, joined Korean Soul in the end for a group number. Alyssa also works at Disney’s studios in the Diversity Inclusion department, is sworn to secrecy but promises great things. “We're just getting started in terms of representation in Hollywood. And there's so much more to come”. Dressed in a beautiful Filipiniana dress and AJ in a sharp barong from vintagallery.com, they said “I'm excited to get more Filipino representation, for more Filipinos to get their names out there.”
Besides music, Asians are making a splash in sports. Aside from Shohei Ohtani in baseball, Xia Li is gaining fame in the WWE as the first Chinese female wrestler in the franchise. Her goal is to win the WWE women’s title, but being a trailblazer, she says “There's a lot of people watching me become the first. So every step, I need to be very good. So that's a lot of pressure. But I think I'm good. Yeah, always good. So I will be getting my title one day.” She was joined by Zeda Zhang, the first Asian American woman signed to WWE, who told us she’s focused on “wrestling and making sure that there is Asian American representation, especially in entertainment.”
Olivia Liang of “Kung Fu”, learned martial arts just for her role. “I learned for the show. They invested in me. I made a promise to myself. When I started my career, I was not going to learn martial arts until someone paid me to and then it happened.” She is looking forward to Kung Fu’s second season but hopes to do a romantic comedy one day. Olivia also is a proud fangirl, ‘I will never stop talking about Shang-Chi. Meng’er Zhang is incredible. I can't wait to see what she does next.”
Rock M. Sakura of RuPaul’s Drag Race sported a beautiful kimono dress that was self-designed, which has been worn many times. “My mom's Asian. We learned to take Tupperware from restaurants and use it again later. Of course, we're all about recycling.” Also referencing wearing shoes on carpet, Rock says “You know, it feels so awkward being here right now because we're on a red carpet. Should I take off my shoes? Oh, my mom always taught me before we get on a carpet that we take off our shoes.” Watch out for Rock’s new album coming out next year, which is two years in the making, mostly J-Pop and K-Pop influenced a new comic book.
SUPPORT SMALL ASIAN BUSINESSES
Speaking of great outfits, my favorite was Ludi Lin’s. The Mortal Kombat actor sported an apron saying “Support Small Asian Businesses”, recognizing how they were most affected during the COVID shutdowns. “I got this outfit from a working chef. And although we're here rebuilding, and we're working our way through the pandemic, there's still a lot of small businesses that need help. I live in Chinatown in Vancouver. And it's becoming very dilapidated, and it's sad. There's a thing called revitalized Chinatown that I think that should be all over the country And another thing is we make food for all of America. It's time to also get a seat at the table.”
Ludi also gave me the best quote on the rise of Asians in entertainment, “It's great. It's time to celebrate. When we first immigrated here, all we've done is build the country, and now it's time to move into the entertainment industry and to build something great there.” Indeed, it’s time.
The gala, themed “Rise,” was hosted by “Good Trouble” star and comedian Sherry Cola. She told Hollywood Times, “I just actually got back to LA. I just filmed [screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians] Adele Lim’s directorial debut on Lionsgate, an R rated comedy. I'm shooting season four of ‘Good Trouble’ right now. And I'm about to host this gala, the 19th annual unforgettable Gala. And it's going to be a celebration of our resilience, of our accomplishments and all these beautiful faces come together for this moment.”
The evening saw accomplished actor, producer and writer John Cho receiving the Lexus Legacy Award. Actor Simu Liu, star of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” received the Breakout in Film Award recognizing a rising talent who has impacted audiences around the world. Liu, who starred in the award-winning Canadian series “Kim’s Convenience,” has been noted as the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” won the Vanguard Award, celebrating a seminal work of film or TV that reshapes the entertainment landscape, while the 88rising collective and its founder Sean Miyashiro were honored with the Changemaker Award. Other confirmed award winners include Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Breakout in TV), Sandra Oh (Actor in TV), Justin Chon (Actor in Film), Destin Daniel Cretton (Director), Jason Y. Lee (Digital Influencer), Jimmy O. Yang (Comedy), Adele Lim (Writer), Shohei Ohtani (Pechanga Athlete on Another Level), and Andrew and Peggy Cherng of Panda Restaurant Group (Community Impact).
“Asian Americans have made tremendous strides in the arts, entertainment and culture, with more representation than ever before, which the Unforgettable Awards is proud to celebrate,” said James Ryu, publisher at Character Media and founder of the Unforgettable Gala. “At the same time, given the increase in anti-Asian sentiment and violence during the past two years, we hope this night will remind us of our strength and pride, while also inspiring our community to continue to rise above.”
Additional event sponsors include Joseon Empire, Panda Restaurant Group, J&K Gouw Foundation, M&L Hong Foundation, Pechanga Resort Casino, Le Mieux, The Coca-Cola Company, and Remy Martin. Guests enjoyed curated Cognac cocktails courtesy of Remy Martin during the reception and after-party, and an exclusive tasting menu, curated by Panda Inn, at the after-party.
Follow Character Media and tag #UNFO on Facebook (@CharacterMediaCom), Twitter (@Character_Media), Instagram (@Character.Media), and TikTok (@charactermedia). Highlights from previous years of the Unforgettable Gala may be seen at the Character Media YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/charactermedia).
About The Unforgettable Gala:
The Unforgettable Gala was created by James Ryu, founder and publisher of the award-winning magazines KoreAm Journal, Audrey Magazine, and Kore Asian Media (now a subsidiary of Imperial Family Companies) that highlight Asian American changemakers who are making their mark. Founded in 2002, the black-tie affair celebrates Asian Pacific Islander celebrities, influencers and leaders who have contributed to arts, entertainment and culture. For more information on the Unforgettable Gala and how to be a sponsor, please visit UnforgettableGala.com.
About Character Media:
Character Media has been the premier source of news and events for the Asian American entertainment community for more than 30 years (through its predecessors Kore Asian Media, KoreAm Journal and Audrey Magazine). Character Media traces its roots back to 1990, when it was founded by Jung Shig Ryu and his son, current publisher James Ryu, under the name KoreAm Journal.
Lexus’ passion for brave design, imaginative technology, and exhilarating performance enables the luxury lifestyle brand to create amazing experiences for its customers. Lexus began its journey in 1989 with two luxury sedans and a commitment to pursue perfection. Since then, Lexus has developed its lineup to meet the needs of global luxury customers in more than 90 countries. In the United States, Lexus vehicles are sold through 243 dealers offering a full lineup of luxury vehicles. With six models incorporating Lexus Hybrid Drive, Lexus is the luxury hybrid leader. Lexus also offers eight F SPORT models, one F SPORT Performance model and one F model. Lexus is committed to being a visionary brand that anticipates the future for luxury customers.
Marc Ang (email@example.com) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He is also a big supporter of Asians in entertainment and getting Asian American stories heard. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” will be released in early 2022