Oscar-nominated actress Stephanie Hsu visited USC on Wednesday, April 5 for a Q&A event hosted by USC’s Asian Pacific American Student Assembly (APASA). Several hundred students sat in Bovard Auditorium for over an hour and listened to her discuss her career and opinions on pressing social issues, with some even getting the opportunity to ask her questions themselves.
Hsu kicked off the event by expressing her gratitude for being offered the opportunity to speak at USC, saying that she “could never have imagined that I would be out here with all of you.” She went on to discuss how her entire career has been built on the belief others have had in her.
“I could have never imagined a long career in the arts, but so many people opened the door for me and showed me the way,” Hsu said. “My whole career up to this point has been about finding people that believed in me and showing that [belief], which was key for creating a career for me.”
Hsu’s career began in theater, but her film career was jump-started when she was cast in a national commercial advertising the Nest thermostat. After being casted in a second commercial by the same director, Hsu was put on a trajectory to her career in the arts and mused on this rapid success during the Q&A.
“I got to sit in the same theater that I initially performed in and got to see how my career shifted in just one year,” Hsu said. “Change feels like it’s trudging along and then sometimes it floods open.”
While her career has experienced rapid growth, Hsu does not think the same can be said about representation in the film industry. She cites instances of racism in her own set experiences, stating that she “walked away from things where people asked her to do things with an accent.” Furthermore, Hsu believes there is a distinct lack of authentic Asian representation within Hollywood. Rather, she said that there are several harmful stereotypes instead.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes around the APIDA [Asian Pacific Islander Desi American] community that are generated around ignorance.” Hsu said. “The silent model minority trope. Asian people were not speaking as a form of protection and survival, and the word minority confuses me, because we are not “minor” in any way. There’s actually a lot of us.”
These stereotypes are something that Hsu believes is antithetical to progress.
“How are our parents ever going to evolve away from a trope if we don’t show them anything but that trope?” Hsu said. “If we get stuck in the old stories and narratives, we get stuck in old stories and can never progress. We need to hope again. We need to show them something else.”
Hsu also expressed the importance of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” in the current film landscape and how its accolades are indicative of the impact that Asian people have had on the film industry.
“I feel like the APIDA community is a firm patch in the quilt of cinema,” Hsu said. “No one can say that silly little movie came and went. We did that and that’s going to be in the history books forever.”
Despite her misgivings about the current state of the film industry overall, Hsu is still optimistic about the future after the audience reactions to “Everything Everywhere All At Once”.
“It’s nice to know that people can feel so big,” Hsu said. “I’m worried that these days people won’t be fazed anymore, but I’m glad it’s possible for people to witness something and then let it have a life of its own.”
The reactions to the film have extended beyond tearful watches and 10/10 reviews. Hsu said that she had people walk up to her expressing how the film helped them process personal life events.
“I met a Korean writer that was excommunicated from her family because of her queerness, and she told me that after seeing the movie she felt like she was accepted,” Hsu said. “I also had a mother tell me that her daughter is trans and they hadn’t talked in five years and she was really trying.”
However, Hsu said that the most impactful reaction that she witnessed came from her own mother. After Hsu first expressed her desire to be an actor, her mother dismissed the notion, stating that “nobody looked like [her], so how could [she] be an actor?”
“When we watched the movie, my mom pointed to the screen and said, ‘That’s me,’” Hsu said. “She didn’t say, ‘That’s you.’ That’s the first time my mother has ever seen herself on screen. We haven’t seen three generations in one spot before and the false hope that is passed down to children that is actually more harmful than is good.”
Hsu reiterated the emotional impact of the filmmaking process of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and her role as Joy throughout the Q&A. It is something that she believes has led to “intergenerational healing” for queer people and the Asian community.
“Playing Joy taught me that there are so many people like me experiencing intergenerational trauma,” Hsu said. “This movie and what the reception has done for me and the Daniels [directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert] has made me feel like there is intergenerational healing. All of the cast has been alive at the same time and it feels like this last year has been a time for us to heal.”
Hsu ended the Q&A on a hopeful note by expressing excitement at the progress made by the generations following her and the idea of a more representative film industry.
“There’s been so much growth that has happened since I have been in college in terms of the way people are talking to each other,” Hsu said. “I’m so excited for a time where what we see on screen around us have so many people from diaspora that it is normalized. I want to be human and have my prism of identity to be part of humanness. I hope we can get to a point one day where we don’t need to emphasize our differences to be accepted.”