Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer
In a time where the power of Hollywood and politics intersect, it has become more important for artists to use their voices to help enact change. One of those artists making waves in the entertainment industry (and around the world), is Krista Suh. A Hollywood screenwriter, author, craftivist, and creator of the iconic Pussyhat Project and Evil Eye gloves, Krista has utilized the Hollywood network as a means to spread a movement far and wide.
Back in January of 2017, the Pussyhat took over the nation by storm, becoming a permanent symbol of the Women’s March and resistance. Krista illustrates the marriage between art and activism, and how important it is to diversify voices in entertainment, both onscreen and off. In the politically tense climate we’re in, its more important than ever that art reflects its society. Over the course of her career, Krista defied the odds and cultural expectations to make a difference.
CC2K was able to speak with Krista on the importance of diversity in entertainment, as well as making a change, and keeping the momentum. She sheds light on the mentorship and mentoring, as well as being a hero in your own story. Krista has recently appeared on the “Mind the Gap: Live Beyond Diversity Programs” panel at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and “Women in Film’s How We Engage: The Intersection of Hollywood Power and Politics” panel. We’re sure to see a lot more of her in the next months as the midterm elections are underway, and she’s been using her platform to encourage citizens to vote. In January of this year, Krista released her book DIY Rules for a WTF World, a must-have guide for infusing art, activism, and happiness.
What are your thoughts on diversity programs in the entertainment industry? You were a part of the Fox Writer’s Initiative? How did that help you?
I think that diversity programs are so important. I know that there is a lot of cynicism about them. As long as these diversity programs are seen as a beginning and not an ending, then it’s a good thing. Not just in the film industry, but anywhere. If a company is running a diversity program but they’re using it to just point fingers and say, “Yeah! We do that!” versus actually making a commitment to increase diversity in shows, in front of the camera, and behind the camera. That’s the really important difference. The film industry is getting there. I personally found the program at FOX really helpful even when it was in its beginning stages…Just having some access alone and being able to say that I was in a program. I got to be taken more seriously as a writer, which can be hard when there are a lot of screenwriters in L.A.
With diversity programs, one of the best resources you get from them is that you meet other people. I think that that has been the most helpful and fulfilling for me. Someone advised me before I went in to really get to know your peers because that’s the real gem from this type of experience. I remember at the time, being young I kind of brushed it off. I wanted to make connections, but I was thinking buyers and executives and just making that happen. But really, she was right. The best part is just meeting other writers.
What are some steps that you think that entertainment companies can do to bring in unique perspectives?
Humility and openness to change is really important. Even just awareness that there is a problem and openness to see why it might be a problem. If the world is working well enough for you, it can be hard to make efforts to change. I do understand that it is a long term process. If one were to hire someone behind the scenes, or in front of the scenes, it’s not just a matter of hiring that person, it’s also a matter of making sure the other people involved know how to communicate effectively and respectfully. It is like a ripple effect when you really allow that effect to happen and are invested in making a company-wide change, not just a band-aid. It doesn’t just help minorities, it helps everyone. It helps the bottom line as well. Consumers really want to see shows with more diversity and shows that have stories that they can relate to, especially in this creative medium where we are connecting to people emotionally. It’s not just about showing the same old stories over and over again.
At what point did you realize you wanted to be a part of this and start making a change?
There’s this moment when you realize…I remember coming into Hollywood and the screenwriting system and feeling like, “I just want someone to help me. I want someone to mentor me, guide me, and give me a chance!” What I found was that I would meet people that in my mind had the abundance and the resources to do that. From my perspective, they didn’t. They were too scared to take a risk on someone who wasn’t as approved by the traditional system.
I realized that there was a big gap. I saw this person as successful, but they did not see themselves as successful. They felt that they were under the thumb of someone else. The turning point was when I realized that I already- as a beginner writer could give other people chances. I could share my knowledge of how to apply for diversity programs, where to go for networking, and yet I was under the same spell of “I’m so busy! I can’t help other people.”
When I realized I was being a hypocrite in doing that, I made a conscious decision that wherever I was, I would help people. It doesn’t matter where you are in this so-called hierarchy of success. You can be at the very top and still feel like you don’t have the time or resources to take a risk and help others. That was a turning point for me when I was rejected by mentors. I thought, “I can mentor people too.” I could relate to why they didn’t feel that way and I wanted to change that in myself before I asked other people to make that change. It’s really empowering to realize that instead of focusing on what you don’t have, you can think about what you already have and you can share. That only begets more success for you.
How have your experiences in the industry shaped your activism as it is now?
In the film and television industry now, the barrier to entry is a lot lower in terms of prices of cameras. In a way it’s like the wild west. The gumption and can-do attitude really carries over to activism really well. I identify as a screenwriter, and the best screenwriters have a flair for not only writing…. I do think that in this world of so many screens and so many things vying for our attention, it’s really helpful to think,
“What’s a different way to grab people’s attention that hasn’t been seen before? What’s a more creative way?”
That is how I came up with the Pussyhat. I specifically wanted to do something different than just something on a screen that doesn’t have that tactile feel to it. Hollywood’s famous for producers calling in favors. It is a network in that way. My activism tends to rely on a network. My obsession with stories really set into this. I never really worried too much about numbers. I was vying more for impact. What I hope to do in my activism is remind people that everyone is a hero. You might be looking for a hero or mentor, but forget that you already are a mentor or a hero in the making. In activism, it’s important to remind people that they have an important story that they are the hero of. With the Pussyhat and the Evil Eye Gloves- whether you are wearing them, making them, or giving them away, or organizing, everyone has a part that is super important.
To me, my art and my activism really ties because they are both rebellion. For me, art was not something that was encouraged. I had to really rebel against everything I was taught as an Asian-American child of immigrants. I was taught to work hard, become a doctor, build a lot of stability. Yet, arts and entertainment really called out to me. It was really hard to go against what everyone around me was saying. These are people I love, and these are people who care about me deeply and have raised me and I still went against what they said. To navigate that was really hard for me and really defined my twenties.
When I was 29 and the Pussyhat happened, in a way it’s like I went through boot camp already to become an activist because I learned what it was like to go against what everyone around me was saying. This time, the people telling me not to do the Pussyhat were people like Trump and the Koch Brothers. They don’t want me to do stuff like that, but it was easy to go against what they wanted because I had already done it with people who loved and cared about me. It taught me how to find my voice and really believe it what I was saying and find it worthy of sharing with other people.
How do you keep the momentum going? How do you ensure a movement is not just a fad?
In the last chapter of my book I talk about throwing a party. In order to make things sustainable, it has to be fun. Shame and anger only takes you so far. Shame and anger can really awaken a lot of people at once, which is amazing, but in order to keep the momentum going, we have to on some level enjoy what we’re doing. It’s a really hard thing to say sometimes, because people are so affronted and shocked, like “How dare you make it so simple and so fun?”
I’ve worked in a lot of more serious places. I’ve worked at a chemical plant. I’ve worked at a doctor’s office. I’ve worked at an art museum. At the art museum, it felt like a battle. We really had to beg people to come, kind of shame people to come into the museum… “You need to get cultured! You need to get educated!”
With film and TV, people flock. It has to do with emotionally connecting with people, and not simply talking over them. I talk about throwing a party in terms of being a host and being a guest. To make it sustainable, I think we have to be hosts and guests. A host in my mind is someone who really takes on project whether it’s like the Pussyhat or local canvassing effort, or whatever matters to them. They make something a party whether it’s an organization, an event, or a donation drive, and that’s when guests can come in and join the party. These guests don’t have to do all the work behind the scenes or get the party started. Finding that right balance where everyone is doing some hosting and when they aren’t hosting something, they are being guests at other people’s parties. Sometimes people feel like if you’re a guest too often, you feel like nothing you do really matters. You throw some money here, Tweet some things there. It doesn’t feel fulfilling. To me, it’s a sign that you need to host something of your own to really feel that joy and that sense of moving things forward. I think if you’re really burnt out, it might mean you’re hosting too much. They’re both very much needed and they’re both fun in their own way.
Georgia-born, (North) Carolina raised, Adriana is now based in Southern California (Migrating between San Diego and LA). As well as being a writer, she works as a film festival Marketing Coordinator. She has always been passionate about film, writing, and creating and celebrating work that champions diversity and feminism. She is also a potato enthusiast and fashion school defector.