Adina Luo and Vivian Huang left Silicon Valley to tell Asian American stories
Filmmakers Adina Luo and Vivian Huang took a circuitous route to Hollywood. After stints in venture and software engineering, respectively, Luo and Huang chose to pursue their passions for storytelling, and especially telling Asian American stories. Their latest series, The Kids Table, launched September 25 on YouTube.
“We wanted to tell a deeply Asian American story that wasn’t explaining our identity to someone else, but rather exploring it for ourselves,” Luo tells me. “We didn’t want to just debate about whether cultural appropriation existed. We wanted to talk about how we were going to navigate it.”
Focusing on a group of Chinese American family friends, “forever relegated” to the kids’ table at a family friend gathering, The Kids Table explores identity through food and gossip. The show discusses the typical “Asian American” topics like dating and parental expectations, but also mixed-race Asians’ fight for acceptance, and what Asian Americans “owe” their communities.
I spoke to Luo and Huang over the phone and chatted about The Kids Table, leaving Silicon Valley for Hollywood, and the fallacies of being a “good” Asian American.
These are highlights. Read the full interview on Medium.
On the Asian American experiences that influenced The Kids Table
Adina Luo: Thematically, every episode draws on experiences we’ve had in real life. I will say the premise, which is that someone’s getting married and here’s what’s happening at the kids’ table — that’s what happens in real life for my kids’ table. You know, we got back from a wedding that was an older person at the kids’ table getting married.
Vivian Huang: Certainly a lot of things I think about on a bigger level are things that — we both left our jobs, my boyfriend is not Chinese. But across the series, we didn’t feel we were the only people who were going through [these experiences]. Whether it’s interracial relationships or people contemplating whether to leave their jobs.
AL: We had a lot of conversations about not having those [personal] experiences be the only ones represented, but go beyond this 101 conversation of “oh, here is an interracial relationship, these exist” and go beyond to what it really is to be uncertain of one’s identity.
On the dichotomy of “bad Asians” vs “good Asians”
AL: There’s two frames that are loaded into good Asian, bad Asian. There’s the “how Asian are you?” frame, which is like, are you ticking all the boxes off Asianness? And there’s the “filial responsibility to parents” frame, which I feel is slightly different.
When we wrote the first episode, we spoke to both and the interchangeability of those frames. When Jonathan is like, “wow, you’re not doing so great, if we’re talking about how parents approve,” he’s like ticking all these important boxes. And it becomes apparent how much of a contrast these things really are.
And over the course of the episode, what we wanted to get at was how it’s become a very jokey thing, and most of the people at the table are okay with having this conversation. And yes, there’s some truth to it — I guess some of their parents are happy or upset — but at the end of the day, they can mainly feel good about who they are.
It’s Chloe who tries to prove her Asian American identity in some kind of way, which I feel is why this becomes her episode. She’s the one driving a more serious part of this conversation. Because whereas everyone else is like, “haha, fun joke,” she’s like “no, there’s something to categorizing people in this way.”
On leaving Silicon Valley to go to Hollywood
VH: You have to be ready to unattach from a lot of the things that you got in tech that you got really used to. Like getting used to being in a place where you make little money, and being unemployed for maybe, like — there were three months where I was earning maybe $1,000. And another month when I was unemployed. And I just started working this summer.
But it’s just kinda like, you can’t expect things to move at the same pace. You have to be ready to suck it up and wait for the right opportunity. So it was kind of a different perspective and an adjustment.
AL: I think there are a lot of people who kind of graduate from school, who jump to entertainment as maybe an assistant. And they often have to get money from family or make it work in some other way. So you know, I do think often the Asian American path has a little more to do with, okay, have your first job, build up a little bit of a nest egg. And I think in that sense, Silicon Valley was a helpful transition. And being able to have a little bit of runway so you have time to figure it out.
VH: Anyone I know who went into entertainment straightaway, they’d do the weirdest odd jobs ‘cos it’s kind of like, you need to do it. They don’t have the freedom to be flexible. Even people I know who started as assistants out of college, after a couple years they’d say “look, I don’t have the time to make the things I want to make, so I’m switching to freelance life.”
Adina Luo is a filmmaker and media entrepreneur focused on diversity and representation. In addition to the Kids Table, Adina has worked in production roles for several films, including a work in progress feature on police brutality and a recent Guardian-distributed documentary. Also, check out her current (non-film) projects at www.deartechpeople.com and www.forothercards.com.
Vivian Huang is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. In addition to co-creating The Kids Table, she works as the writers’ assistant and script coordinator on an upcoming TV series from UCP/USA.