Students and faculty came together last Wednesday to hear from Will Yu, a digital strategist and the activist behind the #StarringJohnCho campaign in Studio A at the Reynolds School of Journalism. Yu never envisioned becoming an activist. But when his love of movies and media led him to realize the undeniable underrepresentation of Asian-Americans at the box office, he created the #StarringJohnCho social media campaign.
It all began with Yu placing a sticker reading #StarringJohnCho over a subway advertisement for a blockbuster movie, but it soon became much more than that. Yu’s work on the campaign, which later included photoshopping the Korean-American actor John Cho’s face into blockbuster movie posters, a website and media coverage in national publications such as the New York Times, BBC, CNN and others.
Yu began his presentation to students by posing the question upon which the entire Starring John Cho campaign is based.
“If studies show that films with diverse casts result in higher box office numbers and returns on investments, why doesn’t Hollywood cast lead actors to reflect this fact?”
He used his social media campaign as an anchor to talk to students about the ripples of underrepresentation of Asian-Americans (and all minorities) can have not just at the box, but beyond. Yu also looked toward a future in which Asian-Americans and others are represented in media, stating that he was not only hopeful but confident that with movies like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” representation is becoming more important to Hollywood’s priorities.
The discussion was particularly prescient with the 2018 Academy Awards at the start of next month. Oscars season is proving to be an increasingly important time for talking about representation in Hollywood as the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences has come under scrutiny for its lack of diversity among Oscar nominees.
During the discussion, students and faculty were able to hear from Yu, and later ask questions and engage with the ideas that he was presenting. Yu also used his work on promoting Asian-Americans in Hollywood as a launching point to discuss inequality at large and his belief that minorities should work together to amplify each other’s voices.
“We can’t say this isn’t our problem, we can’t say this doesn’t affect me because at an institutional level, it does,” Yu said.
Yu encouraged the students in attendance to get involved with professional organizations that focused on diversity as a way to get started, citing MAIP and Ad Color as two advertising professional groups that helped him break into the industry and meet like-minded individuals.