Here’s a webseries that’s been simmering for a while–it’s finally ready for viewers to see, especially if you’ve been following the career of Kenny Leu, who’s starring in National Geographic’s upcoming miniseries The Long Road Home. The webseries? Munkey in the City.
Munkey in the City, created and developed by Michael T. Nguyen, stars Leu as an aspiring writer who wants to make it big in New York City, while having tons of misadventures and growing pains along the way.
Check out the trailer:
A few years ago, I spoke with Nguyen about Munkey in the City. He told me the webseries is partially based on his own experiences as a writer in a big city.
Munkey in The City is actually based on my real life experiences living in San Francisco. I had moved here in 2010 hoping to start a new life for myself, but two years after, I was still confused about the direction I was headed in. I was busy working a job I was unhappy going to, and as a result, found myself delving deeper into alcohol as an escape. I had just dropped out of film school so I could focus on paying my overpriced rent, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything right or connect with anyone. My life was going nowhere and I realized I needed a change. Then, I decided to channel my energies into something more creative. I wrote my experiences down and decided I could use them to help me further my career as a filmmaker. Munkey in The City is really a story about my struggle with adulthood and the real world, while trying to achieve my dreams in a vast new place.
I happened to name the main character Munkey, because “Monkey” is actually a nickname I’ve acquired over the years for various reasons. And I added the fact that San Franciscans simply call San Francisco “THE City.” Thus, Munkey in The City was born. Now I’m determined to bring this story to life, not just for me, but also to share it with anyone striving for their own dreams as well.
Nguyen also laid into Hollywood’s reticence to casting Asian actors for big parts, particularly leading male roles.
Compelling movie and television characters just aren’t written for Asian American males. That, combined with the industry’s unwillingness to take chances on them, for fear that audiences won’t fork over time and money to see them, equals very few opportunities outside the martial arts genre. The industry happens to run on a very basic premise: if you can bring in money, you can be on screen. But even with John Cho’s huge success with the Harold and Kumar franchise, the industry still hesitates to put him into leading roles. So there has to be something else at work here. And I can call it bias and racism all I want, but the industry will just call it a poor business decision.
The fact is that it’s going to take a lot more work by a lot of people to fight for that opportunity from Hollywood, and to sway audiences into accepting an Asian American as a dynamic leading man. But the foundation is being laid, for sure.
APTN is launching All Nations Network sometime this year. The 24-hour channel will be, as the press release states, “the first network to bring both native and non-native audiences in the U.S.”, providing “native news, sports, scripted, lifestyle, feature-length movies and children’s programming written, produced, and directed by Native Americans, among others.”
APTN cites Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes speech and Jim Jarmusch’s statements about the need for Native entertainment in America.
In the midst of the discourse over the lack of diversity in Hollywood, some of entertainment’s top stars and creators have joined to endorse ANN’s U.S. entrance. From Robert Redford to Oscar nominated actor Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), Robbie Robertson (The Band) and acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch they have joined in endorsing the network. Their voices echo the Golden Globes speech by actor Leonardo Dicaprio who thanked the First Nations people in his acceptance speech for his award for “The Revenant.”
“I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world,” the actor said at the award ceremony held in Los Angeles. “It’s time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them,” added DiCaprio. “It’s time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”
“There is demand for a national Native network across the country,” said award winning filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. “A vibrant new generation, a golden era of Native film-makers and artists will be born and have a dedicated channel through which to express their voices. There is a market that is waiting. There is an audience that is waiting. The time is now.”
The channel has also received the endorsement of Jarmusch, Robert Redford, Graham Greene, and Robbie Robertson.
Jean La Rose believes its high time for Native Americans to be represented in their own nation.
“We think the time is right for Native Americans to have their own channel and are happy to see the positive discussions Castalia has had with major US Pay TV operators,” says Jean La Rose, APTN’s Chief Executive Officer. “Certainly, our experience in Canada has been one of creating and providing opportunities for our producers, for our storytellers, to tell our stories, in our words, to our Peoples and to the world. Native American producers are poised and eager to have the same opportunities and we believe that we can work together to provide a unique window into the lives – past, present and future – of this community.”
The channel will be headquartered in New Mexico and is currently working closely with Native American filmmaker, Sundance Film Festival award winner and Directors Guild of America award-winner Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals and NBC’s Friday Night Lights).
This is awesome news! You need to know the four reasons the All Nations Network (ANN) will become a force to be reckoned with.
1. Proper representation of Natives
You know as well as I do that Native Americans are barely represented in today’s television landscape. Most would say they aren’t represented at all.
The lack of representation is appalling, and that kind of lack of representation finds its way into American policy and practice. For example:
- Many Americans only learn about Native American culture in a past-tense, historical setting; we rarely learn about the state of Native American life as it is today. This leads many to just assume that Native Americans are extinct.
- Native Americans are subjected to a harsher climate of racism. While the media is (rightly) focused on the plight of African-Americans, the media isn’t reporting on the other atrocity that’s facing the nation: the amount of race-related and sexual abuse crimes levied against Native American communities. Combined with a lack of substantial local and national government support, Native Americans are faced with substandard living conditions (conditions that have been compared to “third world” scenarios), higher rates of crime committed against them in their communities with little to no recourse for justice, high rates of food-and-drink related illnesses such as diabetes, and poor mental health support (just last year, the suicide rate among young Native Americans was considered to be at “crisis levels.”)
- Native Americans must routinely fight against racist imagery, such as the Washington NFL football team (you know the one), who is fighting tooth and nail to keep their racist mascot. Native Americans must also fight against the unauthorized usage of their cultural arts and culture, such as the successful outlawing of headdresses at certain music festivals and the current lawsuit the Navajo Nation has against Urban Outfitters, who has labelled several of their products as “Navajo.” The appropriation stems from the erroneous idea that Native American culture is somehow public domain. Some folks also think that by showing up in redface to a football game, or by wearing a headdress with fake war paint on their cheeks, that they are somehow “honoring” Native culture.
Will a television channel solve all of these problems? Of course not. But some of the tension surrounding these issues can be alleviated, at least minutely, with Native American people able to actually see themselves and their culture, humor, community issues and successes shown to them (and the rest of America) on the TV screen. Speaking anecdotally as a black woman, I know that my life would be 10 times harder if I wasn’t able to see shows like Sleepy Hollow, black-ish, Empire, and the smorgasbord of the ’90s sitcoms that shaped my childhood. Seeing my image on screen has helped me figure out my place in the world and it showed that despite all the wrongdoing America could level against me, I was still a valuable part of the country. To never see your image on television is something I don’t have the words to describe.
2. We’ll finally get to see what Canada’s been able to see
Canada has been hogging all of the good programming for themselves. I’ve heard so much about Mohawk Girls and Blackstone, and I’ve never been able to watch an episode. But now that the ANN is coming, perhaps they’ll lease out some of the Canadian shows for American audiences. Maybe we’ll also get to learn more about the history and culture of Canadian First Nations as well. I’m crossing my fingers and toes that APTN gives us the goods and enlightens us at the same time.
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
3. New stars on the horizon
Speaking of Canadian shows, wouldn’t it be great to have a platform for Canadian First Nations stars in the U.S.? Also, wouldn’t it be great if the ANN becomes the launching pad for new Native American stars? Hollywood has been bad business for every minority, but Native actors are one of the most underserved and abused groups in Hollywood history. Between a lack of representation, having their history propagandized by racists, and having white actors play Native characters in redface, Native Americans have had one of the most heinous battles against Hollywood and getting proper representation. Hollywood would say that there aren’t enough Native actors to fill roles, but the catch is that Hollywood discriminates against Native actors and discourages others who could be great actors from trying out.
Hollywood has to do better on its end, for sure. With that said, a channel like ANN could become the starting point for many Native kids who have been bitten by the acting bug and are inspired by ANN programming to become the star they’ve always wanted to be. Again, seeing yourself on screen is powerful, and it makes you believe you can become anything you want to be. ANN could definitely be the moment that defines many young kids’ lives, kids who will ultimately become part of the driving force behind Hollywood’s change towards true equality.
4. More representation=less discriminatory/uneducated views
As written up top, one single channel can’t wipe out the ills of every issue facing Native Americans. But a channel can help teach the rest of us non-Natives about the issues our Native friends and family face.
A lot of us don’t have any starting point when it comes to knowledge about contemporary Native life. And, frankly, a lot of people are too lazy to use Google to learn about it for themselves. Most of the knowledge many Americans carry around about Native Americans is false, because it all comes from movies and TV that portray a very racist, propagandized view of Native culture. Heck, movies and TV don’t even portray that there are different Native tribes, with different rituals and heritage. All we get shown is a monolithic, cartoonish view. That’s unfair to Native people, certainly. But it’s also equally unfair to us, because we have been robbed of expanding our minds and exploring the lives of our neighbors, friends, and family members. In short, we as a country have been unsympathetic to Native issues and we as a country haven’t empathized with them. Check this tweet:
— Mic (@micnews) February 23, 2016
We haven’t practiced the ability to see ourselves in Native Americans, and that’s one of the many shameful practices America has yet to contend with.
But, a channel like ANN can go far in helping us rectify that shame. Is it looking with rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Again, one single channel isn’t the end-all-be-all for solving centuries worth of problems. But for the upcoming generations, it can help them be more empathetic and, probably, allow them to bridge the gap better than prior generations have. At the very least, they’ll be willing to try instead of wash their hands of an entire group of people. And those of us that are older, who still want to make a difference, will be able to have an even deeper understanding of the ills that face our society. Listening to Native voices through ANN’s programming (which will include entertainment, but also news and special interest pieces, I’m sure), will help us get a true grasp on what’s happening right under our noses in America, and how we can help be better citizens and better people overall. Coming to terms with hard truths like this:
is what’s going to make America go forward in a clear-headed, much more responsible way.
What do you think about the ANN? Give your opinions in the comments section below!