Katherine Park, Korean-British American actress-singer, discusses identity, pens letter to younger s
Katherine Park tells #AmyLieuPresents her latest entertainment projects. (Source: Katherine Park)
Katherine Park is a Korean-British American actress and singer whose studied music and the arts since she was 2 years old.
She said one of her first memories is her teacher helping her play "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" at a recital where her feet couldn't touch the ground.
Her roles include narrating "Aviatrix: The Katherine Sui Fun Cheung Story" about a pioneering Chinese American woman pilot, a film she worked with director Ed Moy. She then voiced a character based on Cheung in the animated short "Up in the Clouds" (also directed by Moy). Park also played Emily Wong in director Raymond Ma's film "I Don't Have a Phone," winning the "Best Actress" Platinum Award at the 2016 LA Shorts Awards
#AmyLieuPresents caught up with Park, who is 100 percent self-represented, to talk about her bi-racial identity, latest music and film endeavors.
I know you are a mixed-heritage American (Korean and British). What was that like growing up bi-racial? Has that affected your career in entertainment? If so, how?
I particularly love that you used the term "bi-racial" -- I believe words have power and growing up I heard a lot of people refer to me using words like "half" or "ban" or "hapa" or "part" or "a half" as in "She's a half," and I strongly feel that I am not half anything, bi/multi-racial people are full, whole complex human beings and I love that the prefix "bi" means "two" and I take it to mean both or double, and it matches how I feel inside. I feel I have both cultures, both bloods, it is a dense, rich, decadent feeling -- it's like a flourless chocolate cake topped with pieces of dduk, I've never had that per say, but if it were on a menu I'd order it!
Growing up as a kid, my Ummah would let me wear my hanbok to school picture day, and at talent shows I would play Korean folk songs on the piano, my Korean background was what I felt made me who I was, from a young age, and in some ways I felt a little like a unicorn because I never met anyone older than me to look up to who was biracial and particularly Asian and European, or even saw a picture of a person who was older than me with that background. I remember the first time I met a camp counselor who was older than me, and biracial like me, I think I was 15, she was in her 20s and her background is Chinese and European I think and she was incredible to me, simply for being her and existing in this world. To this day, I know only one unnie who is Korean and Caucasian and older than I am!
In entertainment, my bi-racial background has made me who I am as a person and it is in my bones as an artist. In work I'm naturally drawn to diverse teams, inclusive stories with a diverse crew and cast.
Congratulations on the starring role in the horror flick "The Party's Over," just in time for Halloween! What was it like playing the role of Jackie? Why do you feel it's important for Asian Americans to have starring roles?
Thank you, Amy! I loved the role of Jackie, it takes place on October 30th, 1980 and stepping on this set was like stepping back into time-- our director Bryan Aguirre is an incredible musician and used music and suspense in beautiful ways to unfold her journey in the film. Growing up watching classic American horror films, I never saw lead characters in those cult films who looked like me, until I saw my friend and fellow Asian American actor Teresa Navarro and I on the monitor, haha. Our award winning cinematographer Ashley Valenzuela had worked with me previously and recommended me for the audition-- she asked Bryan something along the lines of "would you consider an auditioning actors of any race" and without hesitation, the response was, "Yes." It's conversations like this that make me smile because I know there are a lot of people boldly asking these questions now, and we have a long ways to go, but as an actor in the SF Bay area, I feel we're leading in diversity and I see people every day who use their positions of power in inclusive ways. It's important for Asian Americans and people who are underrepresented in media and entertainment like actors who are native, brown, actors, older, with disabilities, it's important for every community to to have their name in the hat for starring roles because it gives us power, and a voice to say, we exist on our street in our towns and cities and deserve to be remembered in art, and upon the silver screen, we have complex, gritty, spellbinding stories that are as human as anyone else's.
Also, as of now, there has still never been an Asian American woman to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards for a lead role. The last nomination was Merle Oberon in the 1930s, and she hid her biracial identity until just before her death due to racism. It's important for people to consider Asian Americans and women, womxn with Asian backgrounds for starring roles in American films so that we can have the next Merle Oberon, the next Anna May Wong, Nancy Kwan! Maybe Constance Wu and Gemma Chan will nab nominations for lead and supporting next, wouldn't that be epic? I would love to see the FIRST _____ insert your name here ____!
You wrote a post recently on the romantic-comedy "Crazy Rich Asians" and the significance of representation for the media. Is there anything else you'd like to add as far as the struggles you've had to deal with in entertainment, either in music or acting?
I watched CRA twice the first week and my heart felt like it doubled in size. I couldn't afford to buy a whole theater, but I bought a couple extra tickets and gave them away on my Facebook page to friends. I'm a total underground indie artist, and have never auditioned in the room for any big name studio or network project, but I dream of someday meeting Jon Chu and telling him I loved his student musical film about the dancing moms, and if by some miracle he's reading this- if there is a CRA sequel San Francisco couturiere Colleen Quen who has dressed Tyra Banks, Gina Davis, Paris Hilton would be so in to help dress Astrid's costumes!!!
As far as struggles in my journey, I am grateful for them, especially when we have courage to face them, or even share them, they open my eyes to realize we are not alone, and if someone is burning you - you can bet they're burning others, too, and if you choose speak out at some point, if it's safe and you're able to, even if only to your diary or a post, or to a friend's ear, it can be lonely and feel like a big effort, but afterwards, it feels easy and GOOD. If I only engage with people I trust, my circle will not grow, it is scary to reach into the dark, because it's true, once in a blue moon someone will say something shocking.
I remember the first time someone made fun of my eyes. I was too stunned to respond. At a dinner last year, when a filmmaker I had just met made an inappropriate joke about my eyes, I was shocked again and didn't say anything about it for a few minutes, but I took him aside and told him not to use a fake accent or comment on an Asian person's eyes like that ever again, I felt safe and strong in my decision to say that to him, and we are not friends, but I certainly hope he will think twice about saying it in the future.
Tell us about your musical endeavors!
"We'll Glow in the Dark Forever" is a single that director Dominic Stevenson commissioned me to write for the soundtrack of a short film called "Just Us, Jazz and the Stars." I recorded it on a sunny afternoon with Byron Allred of the Steve Miller Band at his home studio in Martinez, California, and he plays bass and keys on the track as well.
I started writing Sonatine Dream, my first collection of solo material way back around 2008 just after my parents divorced, my band went on haitus, my Ummah was admitted to the hospital for a short while, and after helping her get back on her feet I decided to move across the country to California. It's my only solo EP and only available privately now, my not so secret/secret dream is to make it an album before releasing it internationally. I'm excited for that release when it comes, as well an upcoming radio edit of a collaboration with another biracial Asian American artist ADN called "Water." I am working on an upcoming EP in a new collaboration in a still unnamed band with some extraordinary musicians - Bryan Aguirre, Tadashi "Tod" Mori, and Kevin Morrison. We played our first show last week at the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival in Oakland.
Any advice you would give for Asian American women just entering film or music? that you could've told your younger self?
Maya Angelou wrote such a beautiful letter, I would love to include it here, because I think of it often, and mine below.
Dear Little Katherine,
You are an Asian American young woman. Maybe today you are playing on your red toy piano, or making a song about ice cream, or singing with Halmoni at the dinner table, or asking Ummah for voice lessons, or emailing strangers asking to audition for their band, or handing your first cd to a dj of a radio station. Maybe today you are 12 and in 8th grade when your favorite teacher Mr. Seaman asks you, "Do you want to perform professionally?" and you were too scared to say out loud the word screaming in your head which was, "YES!" Maybe today is the day you saw The Sound of Music, or The Little Mermaid, or the first time you heard Lea Salonga's voice, and thought, "I want to do that, I think I can do that." Listen to that voice in your heart, that voice is calling you from a big and beautiful place in a chorus that is full and flourishes out in all directions. Care for that voice because no one will care more about it than you, and follow that voice because it will lead to extraordinary sights, and adventures, you will encounter angels and demons, and many, many good people in between who, if you listen closely, will unselfishly share their voice with you, too. And that's what it's all about.