“The gender gap is too large to catch up”: Celebrating Li Huang
Apr 08, 2022
The film industry is one of the most influential and high profile among the creative industries. Its cultural, social, and economic weight is so vast that our worldview can be shaped by trends in filmmaking. In other words, movies are a powerful medium that can reflect and shape how we perceive ourselves and others. Thus, filmmaking must focus on gender equality and diversity if the industry wants to empower women and show their experiences and perspectives.
Discussions about gender equality in the film industry have gained traction in the last years thanks to global movements and campaigns that seek to empower women by promoting gender equity and women’s rights. Nonetheless, gender inequality has been a constant problem in the film industry for many decades. For example, women are underrepresented in the whole industry, have less access to resources for filmmaking, and face gender pay gaps.
When those issues arise, one must ask what can we do to challenge and overcome those gender barriers and stereotypes? That is why today we want to put the spotlight on our friend Li Huang, producer, advocate, and ENFP-type adventurer. She has worked for more than ten years in the film industry and seeks to build bridges and connections between individuals to achieve a goal. Her focus and goals also include creating and supporting women networks and bridges that empower them. Li Huang is a strong woman who wants to give other women the tools, support, community sense, and opportunities that she did not have back then. She works to overcome gender inequality by putting the spotlight on other women, seeking and promoting representation in the industry, and paving the way for the next generation of women to achieve their full potential.
Hello, Li. Thanks a lot for the interview. Can you tell us what inspired you to pursue your professional path?
With an upbringing in a traditional Chinese family, I did not grow up to live up to my parents' expectations. Instead, I chose to become who I wanted to be. After graduating from university with majors in English and Communication, I found among my strengths building bridges across cultures. This led me to an interest in connecting people to achieve a common mission. After over 10 years working in media and entertainment, I chose to move to Los Angeles in 2017. Then, I transferred to the nonprofit world. This field of work broadened my narrative in arts, culture, and social impact. It is challenging for a first-generation immigrant to confront changes every day and fight to establish myself.
Is there any experience that shaped how you see and understand gender roles?
Yes, the male gaze in film. We found it in the act of depicting women and the world. It used to bother me while sitting in the theatre, full of doubt and anger. What I see is changing now is that more women directors are rejecting it. More than that, they are taking steps to avoid the trap that is Hollywood's tendency to objectify female characters. Chloe Zhao, Cathy Yan, Domee Shi, among others, are paving the way through creative storytelling as Asian women directors in Hollywood. I work with entertainment decision-makers like studio executives and showrunners. They never stop impressing me with their efforts and persistence in promoting more diverse programming and supporting women's empowerment.
Have you experienced any prejudice, discrimination, or lack of support towards you or your ideas because you are a woman?
I sometimes feel silenced because women tend to be a minority in the room. I face many obstacles to reach my full potential. There is an important piece missing: Asian women's voices are underrepresented in larger corporations. This led me to question, who shares the same feelings I have? Where is my community for support? Where can I find a mentor who is willing to share her advice in leadership? Therefore, developing a network of allies has been critical. If you're fighting for or against something, and you're fighting alone, you don't feel you are making an impact large enough to benefit other women.
What kind of projects are you working on right now regarding gender equity?
I participated in the Asian Women Empowered (AWE) initiative from its inaugural meeting back in 2018 and the Asia Society Southern California (ASSC) launched it last October. While developing the idea for a global network of influential Asian women, we found groups of women in different industries sharing the same vision. The vision of a world where we realize our full potential and leverage our prominence to invest in future generations. My job is to work with Diversity, Equity & Inclusion groups in large corporations for programming which educates the public on the intersectional challenges faced by Asian women. At the same time, we spotlight success stories in which they have triumphed.
Do you think there is any kind of barriers for women in the film industry?
During the pandemic, I, as well as other women leaders, have taken on extra responsibilities in supporting the organization. Yet, we have not been rewarded for this critical work. That phenomenon, of increasing invisible workload without increasing recognition, has become a struggle for work-life balance. I'm also facing double ceilings: the glass ceiling and the bamboo ceiling. The term glass ceiling refers to the invisible barriers that women often encounter in the workplace. These barriers prevent them from ascending to the same leadership levels as men. Bamboo ceiling refers to similar barriers faced by Asians. According to a report released by McKinney and LeanIn.org, women (particularly women of colour) are underrepresented in financial-services roles above entry-level. That is to say, they are less likely than men to get a promotion. If women are not getting promoted at the junior levels of the pipeline, it is challenging to equalize gender diversity at more senior levels. The gap is too large to catch up.
How is gender equality connected to the idea of building bridges among cultures?
I have a personal responsibility to promote DE&I (Diversity Equity & Inclusion). I want to organize team-bonding events and build a sustainable framework for mentorship. This will foster close bonds between established and emerging leaders. I would do that so people who follow me afterwards into the room do not have to endure what I did. In the end, what we do as a community will evolve into the foremost network for Asian women in fields that connect the U.S. and Asia.
What piece of advice would you give to women that want to follow in your steps and create cultural bridges?
Be fearless. Invest in yourself and find a room that sees your value.
Gender inequality is a problem that still affects the film industry. However, women like Li Huang work and fight every day to reduce the gender gap and build a better future, not only for themselves, but for the next generations of women. The sociocultural impact of filmmaking makes that positive messages regarding gender equity, feminism, and women’s rights start to be seen as fundamentals for social progress instead of just a temporal trend.
Achieving gender equality is fundamental to retake our common nature and sustainability. After all, we must remember that respect for freedoms and human rights, including gender equality, is a prerequisite for the creation and distribution of diverse cultural expressions. That is to say, if the filmmaking industry wants to promote gender equality in a way that watching films written, directed, or produced by women is a common thing. Filmmaking should be an industry in which women can make the same decisions as men, and that is only possible by having the same rights and opportunities.
About Li Huang
Li Huang is the program director for Asia Society Southern California. She has more than ten years of experience in the media and film industry and specializes in project management. Her talents include management and support in production, content marketing, global promotion, and talent management.
In recent years, Huang has crossed over from the Chinese entertainment industry into Hollywood. This has helped her to develop her cross-cultural communication skills. Likewise she is a fundamental part of collaborative projects between the U.S. and Asia and the promotion of multimedia content that resonates with people around the world.