US-Asia Entertainment Summit and Game Changer Awards showcase Asian women’s empowerment

The Asia Society Southern California summit and awards ceremony led the change in creating more inclusive spaces in the entertainment industry.

The Summit offered a space for an inclusive space in the entertainment industry. (Amani Kalla / Daily Trojan)

Filled with inspiring women who are at the forefront of making the entertainment industry more inclusive, the 14th annual US-Asia Entertainment Summit and Game Changer Awards took place this past Tuesday at the gorgeous Skirball Cultural Center. The Asian Woman Empowered Luncheon hosted both veterans and newer members of the entertainment industry and gave them a chance to make connections and honor multiple women who were driving change in this field. 

The luncheon created a space to promote and uphold women of color who have changed the industry for the better and created more opportunities for future generations of women to carve out a space for themselves in a largely male-dominated environment. 

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Throughout the day, eager attendees celebrated their fellow creatives and businesswomen in fields such as games, esports and anime.

Janet Yang, a chair of the Asian Women Empowered Luncheon board, foregrounded the purpose of this luncheon and summit: to make more room for women to lead in the industry. 

“We felt the need to have more women in high-profile positions or leadership positions,” Yang said. 

The Asia Society Southern California summit and awards also honored and hosted many prominent Asian creators in the entertainment industry. Rina Sawayama, the singer and actress, was in attendance as one of the game changers of the entertainment industry. Takashi Yamazaki — director of the Oscar-nominated “Godzilla Minus One” (2023) — and the cast and crew of “Warrior” were also present. 

The main components were the AWE luncheon and the three panels and conversations that took place later in the day. The luncheon in particular was charged with hopeful energy as three women — Gita Rebbapragada, the chief operating officer of Crunchyroll; Maya Rogers, the CEO of Tetris; and Michelle Sugihara, the executive director of Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment — were honored for their achievements in putting women at the forefront of the entertainment industry. 

In both the acceptance speeches and the panels, all women reemphasized and championed their commitment to bettering the film and game industry by telling women-led stories and creating authentic media. 

“If we just focus on opening doors all the time for everyone, then eventually there will cease to be walls,” Rebbapragada said. “Eventually, there will cease to be ceilings.”

In a separate panel during the luncheon, the three women discussed various achievements and emerging topics within the film industry. When asked about their proudest accomplishments, the progress that women have made in the industry felt much clearer, almost like a beacon of hope for women and nonbinary filmmakers who hope to break into the industry.

“[The awards offer] more opportunity for more voices to be heard, and more opportunity for content to build knowledge, connection and understanding,” said Kathy Le Backes, one of the event’s hosts and AWE committee members. 

The winners of the Julia S. Gouw Short Film Challenge —  a filmmaking competition that emphasizes authentic stories about women and nonbinary people of color — were also awarded at the luncheon. One of the winners, Kristy Choi, introduced her film’s synopsis during a brief acceptance speech. 

“I’m a kickass Asian woman,” Choi said. “My film was called ‘You Left Me a Ghost.’ It’s a dark fantasy film set in the underworld for those who’ve actually died by suicide. It follows a sister trying to save her brother from another world.”

The second half of the event featured three panels centered on topics such as games, esports and Japanese media in Hollywood. The final panel was an interview with Yamazaki and Kenji Yamada, one of the producers of Godzilla Minus One. 

Each panel discussed the groundbreaking work and the best way to continue to improve the entertainment industry for those who have previously been marginalized or discriminated against within entertainment. 

“We’re witnessing history shifting right now because of film produced by exclusively Japanese people,” Yamazaki said. “The Japanese production, even the story, the theme [were] all very, very local and domestic, yet [the film] was so well-received and it wasn’t even dubbed — it was subtitled.”

There was a focus on emphasizing the ASSC’s mission of widespread representation in all sectors of the entertainment industry and prioritizing women who are already creating change. 

“I keep [saying] we are changing representation from the writer’s room to the boardroom to your living room,” said Sugihara.  

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