The actress opens up about the diversity she wants to see on TV.
You may know actress Ally Maki best for her roles on shows like “Wrecked,” and “Dear White People.” But now, the star is now speaking out about roles she’s so not into — and that includes anything that plays into negative Asian American stereotypes or makes her feel like she’s playing a punchline.
In a new interview with NBC News, Ally shared that her personal experiences with racism date back to when she was in elementary school. She recalled that as a third grader, she witnessed a group of kids singing racially offensive songs to her, and she felt like she had to laugh because everyone else was.
“Everyone would just crack up, dying with laughter. I didn’t know what to do so I just started to laugh, too,” she said. “That was my first experience with Asians in general being used as a joke, being used as a punchline.”
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking followed her into the pursuit of her first acting jobs. Even though Ally says she enjoyed exploring her comedic talents throughout her career, sometimes she felt uneasy about why her performances were bringing in the laughs. “I always thought, ‘Have I been getting laughs because of what I’m doing or because it’s a stereotypical joke?'” she shared. “I am so tired of Asian Americans being the joke. It’s time for that to stop.”
Ally also said that she felt taken advantage of as a young actress who wanted roles and exposure, and wasn’t quite comfortable speaking up for problematic portrayals in her roles.
“You’re a kid, so you’re not aware of what’s really happening. When I was going into [auditions] it was like, ‘Hey, Ally. Can you do an accent? Can you do the nerd girl? Can you do martial arts?’ In my head, I was like, ‘I’m killing it. I’m doing everything that they want of me,’” she said. “But in the long run, looking back now, it wasn’t helping me or helping the general cause of where we’re at in terms of diversity.”
“I felt like I wasn’t important because all people viewed me as was an accessory,” Ally added. “They were essentially saying, ‘You don’t matter. You’re a sidekick. You’re there to facilitate someone else’s story and their dreams.’ If I walked into a room of all white girls, I immediately felt less than. I would walk two steps behind her or let her go first. I don’t want this new generation of Asian-American girls to feel like that ever.”
Now, Ally feels more comfortable in understanding how her own roles have the power to help or hurt the overall conversation about diversity.
“It’s such a catch 22. If you’re not working, how are you going to get ahead? At that time, I didn’t have enough power yet and I hadn’t found enough of my identity and voice to say, ‘OK, what’s really happening here?’” she shared. “Looking back now, would I have done that? No. But this whole thing has all been a part of my journey. If I didn’t go through all of these experiences then I wouldn’t be at a point now where I can analyze and talk about it.”
Ally is working toward proving stereotypes wrong through her incredible roles. “Everything that I thought this whole time is wrong,” she shared. “To say an Asian American can’t be a lead is false. This was the one thing the industry basically told me wasn’t going to happen, and it happened. What else now can I disprove? What other barriers can I break down?”