As you read this, Lia Chang is most likely multi-tasking between writing for her website and blog, editing her photographs, studying scripts for her next play, and rehearsing for her jazz vocalist debut this March. This San Francisco native turned New Yorker started her career in modeling and acting while just a teenager. Since then, Lia has continued acting but has become an internationally-known photographer and has won many awards as a multi-platform journalist and a publicist. With all this on her schedule, she still graciously found time for an interview.
You are an actress, a journalist, an activist, a photographer, and the list goes on. What is the one thing that you truly love to do, or that best represents you?
My first love is my life as a performing artist - as an actor in the theater, in films and on television. Last summer, I returned to the stage in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play opposite Pauletta Pearson Washington and Roscoe Orman at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, where I played a campaign manager for a Black gubernatorial candidate who two days before his election, there is a scandal that I have to fix.
This month, I’ll be making my jazz vocalist debut. I began my life in front of the camera at a very early age. My performing arts background informs each of my other professions, which are all forms of storytelling. My good fortune is that I have a choice of the medium that will best serve my story.
Is it fair to describe you as THE one person to know if you want to be connected in the Asian American entertainment industry?
I have access to many worlds, but I would not describe myself as "the one person to know" to be connected in the Asian American entertainment industry because there are many other journalists who cover Asian Americans in the performing arts.
I have been involved in numerous facets of the industry since my teens. In 1993, after working for many years as an actor and a model, I was disturbed by the lack of positive coverage of artists of color in the mainstream media. However, with regards to my own specific history as a journalist, I began documenting my colleagues and contemporaries in the worlds which I have worked - the arts, fashion, journalism - to insure that we as artists of color be properly represented.
I have also received numerous journalism fellowships where I honed my multi-platform journalism skills. Since then, my photographs and articles have been published in books, newspapers, magazines and online, and have been exhibited around the globe. Several years ago, the Library of Congress created a collection in my name - the Lia Chang Asian Pacific American Theater Photography and Other Works Portfolio, which features Asian Pacific American theatrical artists in rehearsal in theater companies across the countries.
Do you find that your peers are approachable?
Most of them.
Why do you think that Asian Americans (not Asians) are still not fully accepted in lead roles in Hollywood?Or do you think Hollywood has fully embraced Asian Americans already?
In the past, projects with Asian Americans in the lead have not been considered to be bankable by the powers-that-be calling the shots. Today, there are more Asian American series regulars than there used to be, and hopefully in the future this will lead to more leading roles.
What three characteristics do think Asian American women should have when venturing into the entertainment world?
Tenacity, drive and determination, but that really applies to anybody in the entertainment industry, not just Asian Americans.
What was the hardest situation you have ever encountered professionally and personally as an Asian American woman?
As an actor - only having the opportunity to portray maids, victims, hookers, dragon ladies and karate killers. As a photographer - being taken seriously by my male counterparts.
As an Asian American advocate, what are the challenges our community faces today?
We are still being perceived as foreigners. It is important to have a seat at the table to have our voices heard and to be properly represented.
What does being an Asian American woman mean to you?
I am a citizen of the world. I am proud to be a sixth-generation Chinese American who has skewed different worlds, diverse professions and throughout it all, I’ve manage to stay grounded and to retain my cultural heritage.
Who is your role model and why?
My parents, Beverly Umehara and Russell Chang. They taught me to believe that anything was possible, imbued me with my independent streak and allowed me to forge my own path in the world. My father was also an amateur photographer and my sisters and I have been the subjects of his camera since birth. He was thrilled to pieces when I added the photography component to my life, and loved hearing about when my photos would get published. There have been so many Asian Americans who have broken the bamboo ceiling and paved the way for me, too many to mention, but I am grateful to them all.
For more information on Lia, please visit:
blog: Backstage Pass with Lia Chang
Cover photo credit: Brianne Michelle Photography
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