APAHM 2021: Spotlight on Earl T. Kim
As we’ve started last year, I wanted to continue to highlight Asian Pacific Americans for the month of May. There continue to be so many brilliant APA folks out there that are doing some amazing work, and so I hope we can share with you some of that brilliance.
The next person I’d love to highlight is someone I was fortunate enough to get to know throughout these “unprecedented times.” He’s someone you might recognize as Norio from the recently popular game known as Ghost of Tsushima. Today, I’m pleased to introduce you all to Earl T. Kim.
Who are you?
Earl T. Kim: Earl T. Kim, he/him/his
What do you do?
Kim: Disappoint my family.
I’m an actor, voice actor, mover, director, fighter, and storyteller.
What makes you a geek of color?
Kim: The Venn diagram of “geeky shit” and “Things I’m into” just looks like a circle. I work on stage, film, TV, and video games, so I guess that’s pretty geeky in and of itself… I think the only geeky thing I’m NOT into is biting the heads off chickens.
What inspires you?
Kim: My family. My mom and dad are incredible humans. They immigrated to the US from Korea in 1980 and went to Chicago without knowing a single person, off of a couple of job leads and an undeterred drive to make a better life for their children. My older brother – he’s like the best version of a first-born Asian son. He was an engineer and then became a lawyer (Intellectual Property, works for the US Patent Office), and he’s also beaten CANCER (ladies, he’s SINGLE~). My relationship with my brother definitely played a part in my performances of Norio in Ghost of Tsushima.
My friends. I am constantly inspired by the work my friends are doing.
Bigots getting exposed and being deplatformed.
How do your identities play a part in the work/art you create?
Kim: All of the creative work I do comes from my lived experience as a hyphenated American/Third Culture Kid/Asian (Korean)/queer/etc. and sometimes, some of those identities are front and center, through characters, themes, explicit statements made throughout the story… and other times, they’re just there, just below the surface, for no one but yourself. They might not always be featured, but they’re there.
How do you integrate your culture and your representation into your art?
Kim: I think it depends on what part of my art is working? If that makes sense… like, any project where I’m on stage or on camera, it plays a visible and palpable factor. Regardless if my race is a “color-conscious” or “colorblind” casting choice, the reality of my skin tone and my eye shape and lack of an epicanthic fold is immediately perceived by someone watching. If I’m playing a role like Sir Toby Belch or Little John from Robin Hood or Eddie from Rocky Horror, or other existing characters in dramatic/filmic literature, then my integration comes in breaking stereotypes and using the performance to say: YES even THIS character can look like ME. When it comes to writing and filmmaking and weaving my own stories, I don’t really think there’s going to be a way to separate them. I will always be observing and writing about the world from the hyphenated experience of my life.
What does representation mean to you?
Kim: Shit you not, watching Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is why I wanted to be an actor.
Maybe one day I’ll get to be a fat queer Asian Hamlet.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to yourself five years ago?
Kim: There’s gonna be a pandemic in 2020, heads up.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to yourself five years down the road?
Kim: You should probably call Mom and Dad.
Do you face any challenges as an artist of color? How do you combat those challenges? What sorts of challenges do you think still exist for artists of color?
Kim: Don’t we all? An active challenge that I face in my industry is that my race has historically disqualified me from consideration of certain roles. On top of that, the unique shitty dance that I feel trapped in sometimes is having my Asian-ness and my American-ness both questioned and reflexively pitted against each other to negate any sense of having an authority of either identity/voice. (I have issues with the concepts of “authenticity” that often get used as a largely bullshit metric that more often than not comes from white producers/people higher up in the production chain).
If we want to delve even further, we can try unpacking cross-cultural Asian casting in Hollywood and talk about how I would probably never work if I wasn’t able to be cast as anything BUT Korean. I think that also leads to how there is a HUGE disconnect in perception between the typical Asian/Asian American media consumer and Asians/Asian Americans that work within the entertainment industries, specifically stage, film, TV, games, etc. and the process/ordeal that it is to even get a toe in the door. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Where can people find you?