The Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) is kicking off today, and Bling Empire’s Kevin Kreider is hoping people can pay attention to “real stories” beyond stereotypes.
Kreider, known for his role on the hit Netflix reality show, is a special guest for VAFF’s opening gala and a long-time advocate for Asian representation in media.
“Representation is not a single pill for everybody,” he said, adding that more Asian stories need to be told, regardless of the subject.
“The media sets the mindset (of) how we see the world and how we view people is through the media,” said Kreider.
“So if all we do is tell stories of us coming from another country, trying to make it in America… that’s how the world will see us.”
Kreider said his Bling Empire castmates realized the importance of representation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was “about time.”
“They used to make fun of me for talking about representation so much, now you’ll hear (about representation) from all their work.”
But this doesn’t mean stories about the immigrant experience and popular subjects such as Kung Fu should be ignored.
“It just means we need to put more of the other stuff to it. We don’t hear us complaining, ‘Oh my god, not another white rich show.’ And you definitely don’t hear that from Asians, right? So why are we putting that on us? Why are we limiting ourselves?”
Bling Empire’s global appeal, said Kreider, boils down to the cast being “normal people” who “just so happen to be Asians,” and the reality show format allows them to be “the ultimate storytellers.”
Apart from the cast's lavish lifestyle, viewers also saw Kreider navigate life after sobriety and other storylines including Kreider and co-star Kim Lee searching for their respective birth parents, and co-star and producer Christine Chiu's fertility journey.
“And that’s the best part of unscripted is that we get to just be people. We’re the ultimate storytellers because we are just people,” he said.
Kreider, who recently started Asian-Lead Love Stories Productions with girlfriend Devon Diep to tell love stories that feature Asian leads as “desirable and sexy” love interests, hopes Hollywood executives will “have a little bit more courage to bet on other people and other talents as well,” and hire Asian talents who are less well-known.
Representation is “across the board”
Apart from representation on the screen, this year’s VAFF is also hoping to highlight representation for “all those individuals that are behind the camera,” said Susan Hanson, VAFF director and actor.
“A lot of times the people behind the scenes that are of Asian descent, in our Asian diaspora, are dismissed or not given the opportunity or not recognized,” she said, adding that the festival is also hoping to highlight more animation by Asian filmmakers.
The goal of the festival is to “serve the Asian diaspora, to showcase their talent,” explained Hanson. She hopes those in and outside of the industry will use the festival as an opportunity to find and enjoy Asian talents.
Talents, said Hanson, is partly why productions such as Parasite and Squid Game are popular worldwide.
But despite the rising popularity of Asian media, the landscape for representation is still changing “very slowly,” with different obstacles posed by the industry.
For example, said Hanson, VAFF remains relatively unknown to the world despite being the longest-running Asian film festival in Canada.
“The issue with all this, as with anything that’s nonprofit, is funding. And so we’re always sort of battling so many aspects to this industry – not just trying to get the representation, but trying to find a way to have that representation be shown,” she said.
This poses an obstacle in addition to the fact that mainstream media hasn’t “truly recognized” the Asian diaspora talent, said Hanson.
While she is hopeful Asian media talents will become more widely recognized in the future and VAFF is becoming more well-known, Hanson thinks there is still “a long way to go.”
Kreider thinks community members can also contribute to the conversation.
“Use the number one currency that you have to help the Asian community, which is to actually pay attention and watch what we put out there. If you like a TV show, or a movie, or want to see more of it, then watch it, like it, follow those people,” he said.
“I feel like we’re too silent. How are we supposed to know and build the community up if we don’t actually support them and watch what they’re doing?”
The 26th VAFF is running from now until Nov. 13, 2022. Both in-theatre and virtual screenings are available, and programming and ticketing information can be found online.