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  • The Silicon Valley and the internet gave me superpowers,

  • tools to go to battle with,

  • a suit to take bullets with

  • and a giant signal in the sky that told me when it was time to fight.

  • Now, I can't actually prove any of this.

  • I am not a "scientist,"

  • I don't have "facts."

  • In fact, my Rotten Tomato score is running around 50 percent right now,

  • so I'm not sure why they let me in.

  • (Laughter)

  • But if we're talking about colliding with a power

  • that's bigger than us,

  • then I'm in the right place,

  • because this last year,

  • I had an interesting year with a movie called "Crazy Rich Asians" that I did --

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Thank you, thank you.

  • And if we're talking about connection specifically today,

  • then I know my story is only possible

  • because of a collection of connections that happened throughout my life,

  • and so hopefully by telling a little bit of my story,

  • it will help someone else find their path a little sooner than I did.

  • My story begins when I opened the holy book for the first time ...

  • The holy book of gadgets, of course, "Sharper Image."

  • (Laughter)

  • Yes, those who know.

  • It was a magical magazine of dreams

  • and had things in there that you knew could not possibly exist,

  • but it was right there.

  • You could order it -- come in the mail.

  • And some things that probably should have never existed,

  • like "Gregory," a lifelike, portable mannequin

  • who deters crime by his strong, masculine appearance.

  • This is a real --

  • (Laughter)

  • This is a real thing, by the way.

  • (Laughter)

  • But my eyes were set on the Sima Video Ed/it 2.

  • This thing was so cool at the age of 10.

  • You could connect all your VHS players together

  • and cut something together,

  • so I called my parents and convinced them to buy this for me.

  • But before I get into that,

  • let me give you a little rundown about my parents.

  • They came to the United States when they were young,

  • they're from Taiwan and China

  • and they settled in Los Altos, California --

  • the Silicon Valley before the Silicon Valley --

  • and they started a restaurant called Chef Chu's.

  • 50 years later, today, they still work at the restaurant,

  • they're still there,

  • and I grew up there, so it was great.

  • Talk about connection -- this place was a hub of connection.

  • People coming there to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, business deals,

  • eating, drinking --

  • connection.

  • And I got to grow up in that environment.

  • And my parents always said America is the greatest place in the world.

  • You can --

  • if you love anything, you can work hard and you can accomplish anything you want.

  • So, they raised five all-American kids.

  • I am the youngest --

  • you can see I'm the one with the eyes closed there --

  • and they named actually my sister and I, Jennifer and Jonathan,

  • after Jennifer and Jonathan Hart from that TV show "Hart to Hart."

  • (Laughter)

  • So that's how much they loved America, apparently.

  • And they thought that we were The Kennedys --

  • my mom specifically --

  • so she dressed us up all the time like each other

  • and she put us in etiquette classes and ballroom dance classes,

  • made sure that we had the right dental plan --

  • (Laughter)

  • This is a real picture of me. That is not fake.

  • Thank God for that one.

  • And I was in charge of the video camera every time we went on vacations,

  • so I would collect all these videos and had nothing to do with it.

  • Thus, the Sima Video Ed/it 2.

  • I convinced them to get it for me,

  • and I spent all night trying to wrangle all the VCRs

  • from my brother's and sister's room, tangled in wires,

  • and now I had something to show them.

  • So I brought them into the living room one night,

  • it was probably 1991, somewhere around there,

  • and I sit them down in the living room --

  • my heart was pounding, my breaths were deep --

  • sort of like right now --

  • and I pressed play

  • and something extraordinary happened actually.

  • They cried.

  • And cried.

  • They cried not because it was the most amazing home video edit ever --

  • although it was pretty good --

  • (Laughter)

  • but because they saw our family as a normal family that fit in

  • and belonged on the screen in front of them,

  • just like the movies that they worshipped and the TV shows that they named us after.

  • I remember as the youngest of these five kids

  • feeling heard for the first time.

  • There was this place where all these things in my head

  • could go into the great, electric somewhere-out-there and exist and escape,

  • and I knew from this moment on,

  • I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,

  • whether I was going to get paid for it or not.

  • So I had this passion and now I needed some tools,

  • and my dad went to work.

  • He continued to brag about my home video editing skills

  • to the customers at Chef Chu's,

  • and luckily this is the Silicon Valley,

  • so they're working on stuff, hardware and software --

  • these are all engineers.

  • And they offered to give me things for digital video editing.

  • This is like the mid-'90s, early '90's,

  • where this stuff didn't exist for kids like me.

  • So I'd get this beta software and hardware from places like HP and Sun

  • and Russell Brown at Adobe.

  • And I had no manual,

  • so I'd figure it out and I fell in love with it even more.

  • I went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and started to go there,

  • and my mom and dad would always call me randomly and remind me

  • that I've got to do movies about my Chinese heritage.

  • That China was going to be a huge market for movies one day.

  • I was like, "Yeah right, guys".

  • (Laughter)

  • Always listen to your parents.

  • (Laughter)

  • I wanted to be Zemeckis, Lucas and Spielberg.

  • The last thing I wanted to talk about was my own cultural identity,

  • my ethnicity.

  • And honestly, I had no one else to talk --

  • there was no one at school that I could really open up to,

  • and even if I did, like, what would I say?

  • So I ignored it and I moved on with my life.

  • Cut to 15 years later,

  • I made it in Hollywood.

  • I got discovered by Spielberg,

  • I worked with The Rock and Bruce Willis and Justin Bieber.

  • I even came to the TED stage to present my dance company LXD,

  • and it was great.

  • And then a couple years ago,

  • I felt a little bit lost, creatively.

  • The engine was going down a little bit,

  • and I got a sign ...

  • I heard from voices from the sky ...

  • or more it was like, birds.

  • OK, fine, it was Twitter.

  • And Twitter --

  • (Laughter)

  • It was Constance Wu on Twitter,

  • it was Daniel Dae Kim,

  • it was Jenny Yang, who's here today,

  • it was Alan Yang --

  • all of these people who were writing their frustrations

  • with representation in Hollywood.

  • And it really hit me.

  • I thought these things but never really registered --

  • I was really focused on --

  • and I felt lucky to be working,

  • and so then I realized --

  • yeah, what is wrong with Hollywood?

  • Why aren't they doing this?

  • And then I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I am Hollywood.

  • I literally --

  • I popped my collar before I came out here,

  • that's how Hollywood I am.

  • (Laughter)

  • Is it still up? OK, good.

  • (Applause)

  • For all these years I felt I had been given so much,

  • and what was I giving back to the film business that I loved?

  • I felt lucky to be here,

  • but at this moment, I realized that I was not just lucky to be here,

  • I had the right to be here.

  • No, I earned the right to be here.

  • All those sleepless nights, all those parties I missed on Fridays,

  • every friend and girlfriend I lost because I was editing --

  • I earned the right to be here not just to have a voice but to say something,

  • and say something important,

  • and I had, actually, the power --

  • the superpower to change things if I really, really wanted to.

  • When you try to tell stories about yourself

  • and people who look like you and look like your family,

  • it can be scary,

  • and all those feelings of being alone came back.

  • But the internet is what told me --

  • sent the sign that there was going to be a whole army waiting for me

  • to support me and to love me for it.

  • And so I found Kevin Kwan's amazing novel "Crazy Rich Asians,"

  • and we went to work.

  • We put this movie together.

  • All-Asian cast --

  • the first all-Asian cast in 25 years with a contemporary story --

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • But when we started it was not a guarantee at all.

  • There was no comp for this kind of movie.

  • Every time we did surveys and stuff,

  • the audiences weren't going to show up.

  • In fact, even in our test screenings

  • where you give free tickets to people to watch your movie,

  • we had a one to 25 ratio,

  • meaning after 25 asks, only one person said yes,

  • which is super low for these types of things.

  • Asian people who knew the book didn't trust Hollywood at all,

  • Asian people who didn't know the book thought the title was offensive

  • and other people who weren't Asian just didn't think it was for them.

  • So we were pretty screwed.

  • Luckily, Warner Brothers didn't turn away from us.

  • But then the electric somewhere struck again,

  • and this army of Asian-American writers, reporters, bloggers,

  • who over the years had worked their way up through their respective publications,

  • went to work, unbeknownst to me.

  • And they started to post things.

  • Also, some tech founders out here started to post stuff on social media,

  • write stuff about us in articles in the "LA Times,"

  • in "The Hollywood Reporter" and "Entertainment Weekly."

  • It was like this grassroots uprising of making ourselves news.

  • What an amazing thing to witness.

  • And the swell of support turned into this conversation online

  • between all these Asian Americans

  • where we could actually debate and discuss

  • what stories we wanted to tell,

  • what stories should be told or not,

  • what kind of --

  • are we allowed to make fun of ourselves?

  • What about casting? What are we allowed to do?

  • And we didn't agree -- and we still don't,

  • but that wasn't the point.

  • The point was the conversation was happening.

  • And this conversation stream became an infrastructure.

  • It took all these different groups that were trying to achieve the same thing

  • and put us all together in this connective tissue.

  • And again, not perfect,

  • but the start of how we determine our own representation on the big screen.

  • It became more physical when I went to the movie theater.

  • I'll never forget going -- opening weekend,

  • and I went into the theater, and it's not just Asians --

  • all types of people --

  • and I go in and sit down,

  • and people laughed, people cried,

  • and when I went into the lobby,

  • people stayed.

  • It's like they didn't want to leave.

  • They just hugged each other,

  • high-fived each other, took selfies,

  • they debated it, they laughed about it.

  • All these different things.

  • I had such an intimate relationship with this movie,

  • but I didn't understand when we were making it

  • what we were making until it was happening --

  • that it was the same thing that my parents felt when they watched our family videos

  • in that living room that day.

  • Seeing us on the screen has a power to it,

  • and the only way I can describe it is pride.

  • I have always understood this word intellectually --

  • I've probably talked about this word,

  • but to actually feel pride --

  • and those of you who have felt it know --

  • it's like you just want to like, touch everybody and grab and run around.