List off as many Asian-American stars in Hollywood as you can. Most likely, you won’t use all ten of your fingers. You might not even use five. This is how YouTuber, actress, filmmaker, and owner of six cats Anna Akana started her lecture, sponsored by the Pitt Asian Students Alliance, on Asians in the entertainment industry, which took place at University of Pittsburgh’s William Pitt Union Friday November 10 at 6 p.m. Attracting not only Pitt students but Carnegie Mellon students and fans of her work, Anna Akana’s lecture was entertaining and insightful but also impactful, inspiring, and surprisingly personal in how she communicated, in how others responded to her, and in how I even felt about her.
After introducing herself, her YouTube channel, and her six (yes, six) cats, Akana talked about the lack of Asians in entertainment by breaking down the problem into a few main categories regarding their representation, such as yellowface, whitewashing, racial era- sure, and stereotyping. While most of her lecture focused on issues I had heard about before, she incorporated a lot of her own per- sonal stories to further highlight the issue and its seriousness. She discussed a few stories featured in her book, So Much I Want to Tell You, but still made everything she told fresh, new, and interest- ing. She also made the solutions that she advocated for — support- ing other works by Asian creators, speaking out on social media — appealing, emboldening people with the confidence to follow her advice and stand up in the greater public sphere for Asian repre- sentation. I was still incredibly excited about what she would say and what to expect; for the first time, I was hearing someone talk about the kind of issues that I felt strongly and passionately about, and I couldn’t wait to hear about a perspective on these issues other than my own.
What truly spoke about the lecture and her character, however, was her interaction with the audience and the Q&A portion of her lecture. At the start of her lecture, she asked if anyone in the audience was considering a career in entertainment. Out of the 200 people in the room, with 90% being Asian, three people raised their hands. She responded saying, “This lecture is for you,” starting her talk off on a personal and intimate vibe by helping to give these three people a perspective on the industry they wanted to work in. She also extended her Q&A portion by a few minutes, taking the time to candidly answer the audience’s questions about her own perspective on the industry, her personal experiences, and her six cats. She’d often have conversations with them too, making her only more open, lovely, relatable, and an amazing role model to the audience around her.
I’d gone through most of my high school career watching a lot of vloggers on YouTube. While I thought classic stars such as Tyler Oakley, Dan Howell and Phil Lester, John Green, and Grace Helbig were just hilarious people, I had never connected with some- one so instantly and personally as when I watched Anna Akana’s “Why Girls Should Ask Guys Out” in September, a week after getting rejected. Still feeling sour about my love life, I poured over more of her videos and instantly cheered up in finding a kindred spirit, regretting not fully discovering her earlier, but knowing that I wouldn’t have appreciated her then as much as I do now. In “I’ve Made a Horrible Mistake,” she said things I agreed with about regrets that I could never follow, and gave me the confidence to use that time I spent regretting things to do more. In “Can I be happy single?”, she encouraged me that being single gave me more of a chance to discover more about myself, and helped me to just live my life in the moment. In all her countless videos about Asian stereotypes, Asians in the media, and her one-off jokes blast- ing whitewashing, she gave me a greater self-confidence to speak up more on this issue I strongly believed in. She was charming, funny, and most importantly, I saw myself in her. Thankfully, these were things that all resonated and remained true Friday night.
In just two months, Anna Akana helped me get in touch with who I am as a young Asian-American adult woman. In each of her four- minute videos, I see myself nearly going into her situations, and her telling me what to do and what not to do. I see a common shared experience that goes beyond personality, and just beyond race. And last Friday, so did nearly 200 other young Asian adults. In her lecture and each of her 188 videos on her YouTube channel, Anna Akana never fails to be a reminder of why representation is important.