As the all-AAPI voice cast of Paramount+’s animated film “The Tiger’s Apprentice” assembled on the red carpet at the premiere, it wasn’t lost on them that not all that long ago, Asian actors were frequently auditioning for a single role in any given broadly appealing film that wasn’t specifically targeted as a niche cultural audience.
Adapted from Lawrence Yep’s bestselling children’s book and boasting a cast that includes Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh, Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Henry Golding, Greta Lee, Bowen Yang, Jo Koy and a roster of rising stars, “The Tiger’s Apprentice” zippy, zeitgeisty approach to traditional Chinese mythology marks a new era of inclusion going mainstream in popular animated fare.
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Oh, who plays Mistral, an incarnation of the Chinese Zodiac’s dragon, told Variety at the premiere at the studio lot’s Sherry Lansing Theater that the shift “means that time has passed – time has passed slowly – and that obviously we see all of this, that there is more inclusion and the storytelling has included more stories, and that’s such a satisfying thing to be a part of and to witness.”
But she added that even with the significant progress in recent years, “the efforts to continue inclusive storytelling must always continue. It’s to note, but nothing is ever finished.”
Actress and stand-up comic Sherry Cola, hot off recent breakout turns in “Good Trouble” and “Joy Ride” was optimistic the films and TV series featuring a panopoly of AAPI characters and storylines are now a permanent fixture in Hollywood,
“I feel really grateful that I get to be in the industry right now where we are single-handedly seeing a shift and changing the narrative and more and more every year,” Cola said. “It doubles, it triples the amount of representation, and the fact that these trailblazers who are also in the film, I get to be a part of this with them after they pave the way – I mean, I don’t take it lightly.”
Cola said she was also thrilled that Asian actors were no longer in direct competition for a limited array of roles, and able to celebrate each other’s successes. “We’ve reached this point of AAPI folks in the industry where we see each other, we root for each other and that’s that. It’s a group project. ‘You’re killing it in this corner, I’m doing my thing over here, and I’ll see you at the top.’ And that’s because society, this country, Hollywood has really brainwashed us for years and years that there’s only one spot. But that is not the case, honey. We all get to eat – it’s a dim sum Lazy Susan, baby!”
“It really is a definition of inspirAsian,” agreed Deborah S. Craig, marveling at the mix of accomplished icons and rising stars in the ensemble. “This cast is full of my heroes, full of Asian icons and entertainment that I’ve looked up to or I have aspired to. And I studied their work to see how they have led their careers and also choices that they’ve made and characters.”
The supportive vibe mirrors the film’s theme of mentors and apprentices, and castmembers reflected on others who helped set the table for the pursuit of their own dreams.
“I’m thankful to my father’s sister, my Aunt Lilia,” recalled actress and martial arts consultant Diana Lee Inosanto – who recently had her own breakout playing the Star Wars universe’s villainous Morgan Elsbeth in “The Mandalorian” and “Ahsoka.” “She was an actress in the 70s, and as an Asian American actress it was so hard for her to find work, because there just weren’t enough roles back then. But she knew I had a love of the craft, and so she would always guide me with the different teachers to study under. She’s no longer with us but I know she would be so proud, and I take her with me.”
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