Breathtaking. Beautiful. Inspiring. Crowded. Terrifying. Impoverished. Displaced. Alone.
I took a trip for the first time to France for the first time in my life for the Cannes Film Festival which was inspirational and changed my viewpoints. The first time I even knew about the beauty of France was my dad showed me pictures of art pieces. I asked him, “dad can we go to the museum and see it?” He would say “no its very far” and show me on a map. He continued “and it’s too expensive to get there, maybe one day.” I was drawn to the image from the art book my dad loaned from the library, it showed Van Gogh’s starry night. It became the first pieces I was so captivated by. We had a very intense art teacher Mr. Catchiatti, but I remember how much I respected how seriously he took teaching us. He established points of view and heavy technique to make sure we weren’t lazy just sloppy calling everything “art” for an easy A and really filled what we were trying to communicate. We had an upcoming art fair, and I remember he was also taken back by the odd 8 year-old girl doing an homage to “Starry Starry Night” with colored paper cut outs and colored pencils. The next year I did a picture of a person that was done with Lichtenstein style that he taught us. I could imagine he would say in a probable unimpressed Tim Gunn voice, “not your best work, hard to top last year’s.” Yet I didn’t pick these homages to art work to be a teacher’s pet or a little know it all, for me it was respect. I had so much respect for these pieces of art that made me feel I belonged in this greater connection to humans spanning across time. It was that perspective that was crafted by my dad who when I was at home drawing would ask “you can draw this and make it look just like how it is, but give it soul, meaning. Don’t just try to be perfect at making it look good but you also have to ask how does it make you feel?”
It was that little breathe of life that I was taught the responsibility of artists in their work. It wasn’t just “be pretty” and well composed, pieces of art made you think and feel a perspective you normally wouldn’t experience. Be messy, be raw, be real.
My parents both worked nightshifts and before my dad left for work he would read me stories of greek mythology to comic books which deepened my love of the arts and storytelling. I would bury myself in stories and art. I was taken to places I couldn't go. I loved art and felt okay being the quiet kid in class drawing, my parents encouraged it because they could see tangible evidence I could draw. In high school I was in my first play, I remember being terrified and had this extreme fear of public speaking. I also remember being so uncomfortable but this feeling of magic was there. I can’t explain it any other way. It scared me because I was being seen for who I was and it was a different level of expression that wasn’t safe. I couldn’t hide behind my watercolors or my book, I had to tell it and live it while being so emotionally free and vulnerable. I knew that was the medium of artistic expression I wanted to explore and live in. I ended up studying art history in college, I loved it but it also made sense, this didn’t but it felt right. I found myself sneaking around to film studies classes and deepening my understanding of film while taking acting classes. It was magic to me, watching movies, art in all forms, emotional expression, music, poetry with dialogue, cinematography, all on this beautiful moving canvas.
And there I was at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was the most glamorous event and prestigious film events in the world. It was inclusive and exclusive at the same time. I was there for two projects headed to production, I felt grateful feeling but also so out of place. I felt like this little person looking at this vast abyss. I am an actor, first and always but felt this weird confusion when I would state “I’m an actor but producing to act.” I met some female actors doing the same and shared the same feelings of judgement from people. Somehow if you’re a guy, “good for you man its empowering.” But if you’re a woman, your hybrid title makes your work a vanity project or you’re somehow advancing for other reasons other than talent and drive. (My eyes are rolling if you can’t tell.) Still I was a great time there.
I went to a private party and I was greeted by the waitstaff and the help who were Filipino. The woman told me in Tagalog that her family moved to France to work and I addressed her with “salamat po” which is how you say thank you to your elders in Filipino. It was a feeling not so much of the glamorous side of Cannes, but the feeling I’ve bit hit with the need for diversity and more dynamic need for female roles. I am proud of my mixed heritage and there’s nothing wrong with what she was doing. It was more so prevalent of the very little representation of Asian Americans were getting in film and media. I try not to take things personally but its more so a piece of a larger issue when people tell me “oh, you remind me of my nanny or my maid.” Then I wonder why the smallest auditions are hard for any actor and women honestly but based on ethnicity, its a bit demeaning. There is nothing wrong with being a nanny or a maid its the connotation that we are not represented in the dynamic connotation other people are. Men are often in very engaging stories about a reclusive troubled genius or another wonderful inspiring role. But yet there we are, women are the undeveloped character of the girlfriend, help or victim. Again, nothing wrong with those roles, but even out the playing field a bit. Men, often get to be the boyfriend, the help, victim but also the leader, the scientist, etc.
Jessica Chastain after the festival who served as a Jury member had mentioned, “One thing I got to take away from this experience is how the world views women, from female characters I saw represented. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.” That had encapsulated all the feelings I’ve felt in a predominantly less diverse and male dominant field. I've focused so much on art and craft that when you suddenly want to be a part of the game and creation process there seems to be these hurdles that weren’t there before.
I stopped over in Paris for two days on my way back to Los Angeles, and had friends there too but spend some days by myself. I went to the Muse d’Orsay and there it was, “Starry, Starry Night” by Van Gough. My eyes watered, there it was. There were two versions and this one had the two people below. The audio guide said “this piece was symbolic to the feeling of looking up and feeling a sense of hope with someone. That feeling of looking at the stars.” It was exactly the reason I’d felt that as a kid, that someday I’d be looking at the real thing. But I’ve always wanted the real thing for everything, and I felt so blessed in that moment to have that experience reminding myself of that little girl who had this pure love of art. I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed with the side of film that goes in to making it that may stifle the love of art.
In film there are no rules, people come from all sides to tell their stories. So why was I listening to those playing it safe, telling me what to do? The critics? No one knows what your struggles are, what your stories are, why things are important to you. What fills every action comes from somewhere, comes from heart if you choose that route. That is what I want, that is all that matters. No one gets to live your life but yours. I thought of all the stupid things I've let get to me. The validation from the wrong people. Wanting to be reminded that people you like believe in you. But first, you have to believe in you.
If people spend too much time talking about how much they doubt you, they're doubting themselves. I promised myself to leave all that energy behind to let it go, not bring it back home. All those life experiences were given to me for a reason, to own every obstacle, every flaw, every gift, and to be able to put myself in many peoples shoes as a performer, and to honor every act of kindness from people by not stopping.
Sometimes people may not understand who you are not because they are not seeing your dreams go faster-its because they haven't even started to take the risks for theirs. Because if they knew how much risk and bravery it is took, guess what they would be doing it rather than wasting their time gauging you. People like will want to be around you for how you make them feel, for the work they haven’t accomplished within themselves.
One night I treated myself on a dinner cruise down the river in Paris by myself. Several people thought I was stood up and kept staring sadly, I thought it was funny. I would eat my meal then run up to the top of the boat and feel the cool breeze while seeing the sights of the city, an odd way to multi task. I saw the city, uninterrupted. No boyfriend, love interest, no friends, no festival markets or pitches, dress ups or photos. It was this moment by myself looking into that starry starry night I was truly standing on my own.