If I could inspire a movement right now, this very minute… it would be for people to mind their own business and be kind instead of meddling in other people lives. It’s not cool to tell others what to do with their lives re: identity or choices they make that has nothing to do with you. A woman choosing life or abortion has nothing to do with you. A person living as an LGBTQ… has nothing to do with you. A migrant trying to cross the border to feed his family has nothing to do with you. On the latter, some might argue they are taking my jobs… etc. and to all the that argument I simply ask how many brown/black/ yellow/ LGBTQ friends do you have that you invited to have over for dinner at your house? Bottom line, it’s none of your business and if you need to tell others what to do, it’s probably because there’s something in your life that you don’t want to deal with that probably needs your attention much more urgently.
As a part of a series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Judy Jean Kwon. Judy is the star and creator of MILFriend, a Fresh New Comedy she created with her husband and creaticve partner Richard Henkles under the banner of OORI POP (‘Oori’ means ‘Us’ in Korean). The duo casts a light on humor portraying Judy as “Pepper” a punk misfit dealing with Crazy-Ass Moms in a Gentrifying Venice Beach, California. Navigating the differences in culture, “MILFriend” brings “Pepper” in contact with many different cultures and characters resulting in hilarious situations. Loosely based on her own experience growing up as a Korean-American immigrant, Judy writes characters she relates to … people from immigrant parents who feel like they are on the outside, trying to fit in. Growing up, she split her time between Korea and America and not always feeling like she didn’t belong anywhere, or as Judy says, “one foot in the east and one foot in the west.” She turned to music and the arts. Started acting at age 17, Judy went on to form a successful acting career appearing in over 100 commercials, breaking the mold for Asian-American actors by taking on non-stereotypical roles. Uniquely beautiful, she also went on to model for renowned photographers Herb Ritts, and Steven Meisel. Playing the lead in one of the first digital feature films to screen at Sundance Film Festival — The Item, Kwon was also in the thriller Unspeakable, and the feature Making the Rules, starring Jamie Pressly. Her big break came when she proudly beat out over 300 Caucasian actors and landed the lead role in the famous “Philip’s flat TV” commercial. She has appeared in over 100 commercials and the feature Making the Rules, starring Jamie Pressly. She continues to break barriers for ethnic actors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles in my dad’s Korean-American video store. Literally, I would spend all my after schools and weekends there as free labor. I watched numerous hours of both American and Korean movies and TV.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
TV was my portal into American culture. Even though, I was born here, I was sent to Korea to be raised by my Grandma so as an infant when I came back to America, I had to learn everything from scratch like an immigrant. I learned english by reading books and learned about the American way by watching many hours of American TV. This and living in LA, naturally brought me to be in entertainment and the film industry.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I started, Asians were stereotyped as either demure, quiet, nice with long hair or a prostitute. There were no leads and only minor characters that drove the story of a white actor or actress. So when I chopped my hair off and donned big black framed glasses and acted quirky, I thought I was breaking stereo-types. Well, come to find out, I broke one stereotype and created another — the smart, trustworthy tech, banking professional, smart-mouthed Asian-American.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I started so long ago… I remember a casting agent called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to be an extra on “Austin Powers”. I was like, no because back then if you wanted to be considered a serious actor, it wasn’t good to be known as an extra — some directors will only see you as an extra and not an actor once you do extra work. I’ve actually seen this happen. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I regretted it. Decisions are made so fast in this town, I couldn’t take it back. So the lesson is, “Can you give me a minute to think about it?” is a good one to remember.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity needs to be represented because America is diverse. America is not just one POV.
America is a melting pot or a tossed salad. That is what makes America great.
Media and Hollywood has a responsibility to make all American feel included.
I believe when everyone is not represented and made to feel like an outsider, you create discord, unhappiness and make people feel invalid. I believe that exclusion contributes to terrorism, crimes and hate.
Look at ‘rural America’ with Trump election and those were people that felt left behind. What about those in the shadows where they were never ever represented?
And the industry and country says diversity but I see self-selected seclusion mostly. Stories about one group of people, white, black or asian… I don’t see diversity has come to full realization yet but we are headed in the right direction.
Inclusion is so important and I feel strongly about this. This is my on going theme in all my story telling and that is why I created “MILFriend.”
Personally, I feel like my story is never represented.
As I mentioned, I’m from a broken family. My parents just didn’t care. I didn’t have guidance, curfew or UCLA expectations put on me like most stereotyped Asians. I didn’t have a herd of family, a tiger mom or limits put on me.
I was a free agent as a little girl and was independent with no one to answer to. I traveled freely in the RTD (that’s the LA bus system, now called MTA) as a little girl of 12.
I could hold myself amongst the poorest of poor and float with the wealthiest of wealth. I don’t discriminate by color, money or status. I don’t like herd and herd mentality.
My stories are not about being in one community about one group of people but being a part of all communities.
Knowledge is power and ignorance breeds fear so we should share in the knowledge of each other.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Hollywood is a very closed community where it’s all about who you know… It’s hard for people without family or connections to break into.
It is natural for human kind to congregate to what they know and what they are familiar with.
So if the first family in Hollywood was say purple wealthy giraffes, the system will keep repeating that same pattern and will only tell stories from that one POV.
1. We need to make Hollywood a more democratic system where people without connections can tell their stories.
Also, I noticed in marketing that most projects are geared toward targeting white male audiences age 16- 34? Why? Is it because they are the easy sale? I’m not a marketing major so I can’t say but I do know in most families I see it’s the moms that hold the purse strings who give her son and husband the ok to make purchases.
2. So maybe, Hollywood needs to rethink their target and value women as an audience.
I personally don’t want to see sexy, horny girls and things blowing up all the time and I don’t want to see Martha Stewart homey G-rated stuff either. Moms and my girlfriends talk smack and have wicked senses of humor.
Maybe Hollywood should take hint from Korean film industry where most of the writers there are women that write great, addictive content that you watch for days. It’s not women trying to act like men and not men writing what they think women want but women writers writing stories from their POV. You will find most characters in Korean shows are multi-dimensional and not sexualized. Korean Dramas are one of the most watched contents internationally.
3. Lastly, filmmaking is a rich man’s sport. They keep saying diversity but it costs lot of money to make professional content. I see lot’s of panels and workshops where they keep talking about diversity but I think maybe they should focus on funding and putting money where all the diversity talk is.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I don’t think I have 5 things… I just wished I listened to what an industry insider told me which was “It’s who you know not what you know.” I didn’t listen and I just kept studying (cinema, photography, writing, acting, singing, standup comedy, cold-reading, on and on…) and working on my craft thinking hard work equals success. Dooof.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You only live once. Try your best, throw your hat in the ring and let go. Be kind to yourself. After that. it’s up to the universe.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I have so many ideas coming out of me all the time, it’s like a flood.
If I could inspire a movement right now, this very minute… it would be for people to mind their own business and be kind instead of meddling in other people lives. It’s not cool to tell others what to do with their lives re: identity or choices they make that has nothing to do with you.
A woman choosing life or abortion has nothing to do with you. A person living as an LGBTQ… has nothing to do with you. A migrant trying to cross the border to feed his family has nothing to do with you.
On the latter, some might argue they are taking my jobs… etc. and to all the that argument I simply ask how many brown/black/ yellow/ LGBTQ friends do you have that you invited to have over for dinner at your house?
Bottom line, it’s none of your business and if you need to tell others what to do, it’s probably because there’s something in your life that you don’t want to deal with that probably needs your attention much more urgently.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That is my husband and business partner Richard, who believes in me.
He probably got sick and tired of me spewing out all these ideas and reading scripts out loud and did our project “MILFriend” to shut me up. However, I am grateful to Richard for giving me this chance to get my voice out. I feel so much less frustrated and bottled up now.
I learned a lot about myself, making films and having relationship with people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
LOL. I have a persona I go by — yoMamaRice for comedy and blogging. I have many saying there that I like to share like “Creme de la creme, best rises to the top where it’s full of fluff” or “If you brown nose, you’ll get shit on your face.”
“It’s not me, it’s you.” is my personal favorite because as an Asian woman from a broken family, I was always made to feel like everything that went wrong in life was my fault but as I got older, I realized it wasn’t me but it’s the system and just life. This saying is not taking away my own responsibility but recognizing that a lot of things are just f-d up and sometimes you have no say in it. it just is.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
The person I would love to have dinner with is my Grandma who has passed on. She was my mom and was my saving grace.
Alive, it would be Childish Gambino and Dave Chapelle.
I love both of these men. They are to me today’s artists. The modern artists of today are not painters to me but multi-talented media artists with a unique voice who could navigate all forms with their strong message. These men are masters that promote voices that has not been traditionally supported that are creating their own waves and breaking down walls. These men are great.
How can our readers follow you on social media.
www.MILFriendComedy.com www.facebook.com/milfriendComedy www.instagram.com/milfriendComedy www.youtube.com/ooriPoP www.yomamarice.com