Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu, who has worked on numerous feature films and popular television shows such as “E.R.,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “13 Reasons Why,” was recently nominated for an Emmy for her work on an episode of FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”
But while Yu’s extensive work dating as far back as the early 90s would make her easily recognizable among members of the Hollywood press, she still somehow got misidentified in the August 2019 Emmy Special Hollywood Reporter Issue. In the issue, Yu was credited for her recent nomination but was shown under a picture of a totally different woman.
The “mistake” was brought to light by the filmmaker’s 15-year-old daughter Esme Salzman, who wrote an impassioned open letter on AsAm News on Saturday.
In her piece, Salzman sheds light on the case as a form of “micro racism on an everyday level” which, she pointed out, needed to change.
“She has been a trailblazer in the directing field, being the first-ever Asian American woman to direct a broadcast drama pilot and has earned many an episodic credit, as well as an Academy Award for her documentary, Breathing Lessons,” Salzman wrote.
“She has worked hard over the course of her career, and as her daughter and her biggest fan, I know she deserves the Emmy nomination. She is also extremely humble, which is why it is I writing this email and pridefully mentioning her accomplishments, not the woman herself.”
The daughter went on to share the error and how her mom reacted:
“In the August 2019 Emmy Special Hollywood Reporter Issue, when credited for her nomination, my mother’s name was shown under a picture of a woman that was not Jessica Yu, or at least not the Jessica Yu who had directed the episode. Upon realizing this, my mom (always in good spirits) exclaimed, ‘I mean, she’s cute, but it’s obviously not me.'”
Then she explains how such an error should not be easily dismissed as a “simple mistake.”
“I called this micro racism— for a couple of reasons. The main, more obvious being that if you search up ‘Jessica Yu’, you will be met with plenty of nice pictures of my mom. How far would you have to scroll down the Google results page to find a picture of this other Asian woman (probably by the name of Jessica Yu), make the decision that she looked enough like the woman in the other pictures before it, and choose that photo?”
“Did no one, while editing or proofing the issue, notice that the picture was not of director Jessica Yu? I suppose not, because the race of the woman in the photograph allowed her to ‘pass’ as my mom. I’m sure this was not done intentionally, but it goes to show that we have a long way to go in terms of diversity and awareness. We may pat ourselves on the back for nominating people of color, but we are not sensitive enough to actually pick the right photo when crediting that person.”
She ended her letter to clarify that it was her independent decision to write it with “the permission of my mom” and not intended to draw attention to her work.
“I don’t mean to call anyone specific out or to discredit Hollywood Reporter. I wrote this email simply to draw attention to the fact that things like this are still happening. We are still allowing this to happen. What use is giving her credit through a nomination if the person being shown receiving that nomination is not her? How can we praise ourselves for increasing diversity in this industry if it was another Asian woman who represented that diversity?”
“Do we not care enough to notice? And if not, we must begin to work harder towards a world where we, as individuals and as a society, always care about these things. That means you too, Mom— she took the mistake very pleasantly, to her it is laughable, and even that must change.”
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