BY NIDHA KHAN
Misrepresentation and under-representation can have profoundly emotional impacts on people – whether you admit it or not. It hurts to be forgotten, side-lined, and consistently made the ‘butt of the joke’. It hurts because we connect, express, learn, and live through stories.
The point is diversity matters. It mattered yesterday, it matters today, and it’ll matter tomorrow. Diverse representation has been a slow-burn in the entertainment industry. But recently, there’s been a certain energy rippling through the industry; a burst of fresh life with the likes of Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, and Bohemian Rhapsody.
The highly-anticipated live-action remake of Mulan is another big step forward, in particular for Asian women, and it stars South-Auckland born actress Xana Tang.
Xana is set to play Mulan’s sister and has a list of notable acting roles from Power Rangers to Filthy Rich. She also won the ‘Rising Star Award’ at the Macau International Film Festival late last year and is a lover of love and flawed characters.
“Love gives us permission to behave in incredible ways. Sometime’s stupid, sometimes heroic, or just plain insane. The relationships we create for the love we have for others, our work, and ourselves is fascinating… [I’m drawn to flawed characters because] we are all flawed and it’s important to be reminded of that. It’s 100% how you are made to be – a constant work in progress. You have to be gentle with yourself sometimes and not fix those flaws – they might hold the essence of who you really are.”
Xana’s acting career sprang into fruition when she was 16 years old and had given herself the ‘permission’ to follow a less traditional career path – a feeling which she describes as ‘freeing’ and ‘liberating’. She explains that “a few more layers” are tethered to Asian culture, particularly referencing the notion of a “very clear path to success” and the pressure to succeed and become financially stable – for the sake of the individual and their parents.
Of course, being ‘Asian’ is not a monolithic experience – the way people think about ‘success’ can vary across families and whether families have recently immigrated to a new country. But, in the end, Xana claims that it’s all about making a choice, saying, “I understand where your fear is coming from, but I’m going to live my life my way because I need to experience my life, through my own fears – not yours.”
But what challenges might you face after giving yourself ‘permission’ to pursue acting? Xana believes that it’s her struggle to deal with the lies her mind feeds her.
“My mind starts telling me these lies about how I might fail because I never formally trained to become an actor, or that I’m not actually talented and I’ll end up being a disappointment to those who love me. Sometimes, it’s harder to have faith in myself than convincing my parents that it’ll all work out”.
Xana openly shares that her early 20s involved a heavy dose of “constant and big rejection”. To the point where she came close to abandoning acting and re-focusing on a less emotionally taxing career path. Now, she’s not only gaining buzz for her acting roles but also for her unapologetic stance on diversity – from writers to producers, directors, and editors – and the authentic representation of minority groups and their stories.
“You can’t just make stuff up and call it ‘a diverse story’… [if there’s nervousness about creating authentically flawed characters from minority groups], it comes from people writing for people from a community that isn’t theirs. In other words, they should be nervous because they’ve never experienced living in that life or community.
It is about adding value to the world… If you grew up and never watched anything that resonated with you, would you be happy with that? Imagine never hearing your own voice and then you hear it for the first time – wouldn’t you stand up for it? Wouldn’t you shout as far and as loud as you could? We share this world with others. How boring is it to hear your own thoughts and never allow others to help you evolve into the best you?
The most frustrating part is constantly explaining why you want to see something you can relate to. It’s like people telling you about a trip to Bali you never went on or constantly showing you memes you don’t find funny.”
And if you’re about to leave claiming this is all just part of a ‘PC culture gone wild’?
Well, “they should really question why they feel so triggered and answer it honestly”.
NIDHA KHAN is a public health graduate and policy student who spends her time writing about human rights, youth activism, and social issues. She’s also a lover of puns, a terrible cook, and is on a mission to hug every pug in sight. You can keep up with her antics on Instagram at @nidha01 and check out more of her work below:
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