Nancy Wang Yuen is a fascinating sociologist, cultural critic, and DEI expert and consultant. She is the author of ‘Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism’ and co-author of The Prevalence and Portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders Across 1,300 Popular Films.’
“Through her scholarship and advocacy, Nancy Wang Yuen has been a primary catalyst for greater and more diverse Asian American representation in Hollywood,” offers Stephanie Chan, Ph.D., Research Manager at Stop AAPI Hate.
Yuen has appeared on PBS, NPR, MSNBC, BBC World, and Dr. Phil. She has spoken and consulted on diversity issues at Amazon, Disney, Dreamworks, Lionsgate and Netflix.
“Nancy’s superpower is taking complex topics and making them easily digestible for a mass audience. That’s what makes her an incredible consultant, and such an effective storyteller,” says Amber Madison, Co-Founder at Peoplism.
Nancy Wang Yuen is a guest writer at CNN, Elle, LA Times, NBC, Newsweek, Today, and Vanity Fair and often trends for her opinions on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.
Goldie Chan: Hi Nancy, thank you for joining us. What has been your favorite project to work on?
Nancy Wang Yuen: My favorite project of all time was researching and writing my book Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism. I loved listening to the 100 actors I interviewed, especially the stories from actors of color on navigating Hollywood’s racism. I also enjoyed weaving their stories with statistical evidence and theorizing how racism works in the Hollywood industry. Overall, I’m proud to meld sociological research with gathered stories to reach a broad swath of readers from Hollywood executives to students of all backgrounds.
Chan: What has your career path been?
Yuen: I loved everything about college, especially being able to explore all of my interests in art, creative writing and sociology. I started out majoring in art and then writing poetry–graduating with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. But I also took an Introduction to Sociology course that changed the way I saw society–leading me to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. Ultimately, I became a sociology professor–combining my love of writing and sociological research and teaching for more than a decade. Even though I rose up the ranks and was promoted to full Professor–the highest level in my field–I made a difficult life decision in 2022 to quit. I gave an interview about how racism made my job unbearable. Thankfully, I transitioned seamlessly to a new career as a full-time DEIB managing consultant at Peoplism, helping organizations build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company where all employees can belong. I also continue to write and speak on Asian American representation in Hollywood.
Chan: What is a book or podcast that you’re reading or listening to now that inspires you?
Yuen: I am currently reading a memoir by disability activist Alice Wong called Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life. This book is a delightful, inspirational, and breezy collection of essays documenting Alice’s amazing life and her hilarious insights on what it means to be human.
Chan: Describe your personal brand.
Yuen: I fight for underrepresented voices not just because we deserve to exist, but because our stories are infinitely entertaining, inspiring and badass.
Chan: Who is an Asian American that has inspired you and your career?
Yuen: Making a major career change in my 40s, I wondered with trepidation what the future would hold for me. But Michelle Yeoh (age 60), who made history as the first Asian woman to ever win a Best Actress Oscar, inspired me to believe that my best years are to come. These words from her acceptance speech became my mantra: ”ladies, don’t let anybody tell you [that] you are ever past your prime; never give up!”
Chan: What is a life lesson you’d share with your younger self?
Yuen: I would tell my younger self, “You are stronger and will accomplish more than you can ever imagine. No one (no matter how many have tried) can ever silence your voice, or rob you of your joy.”
Chan: What are you working on now?
Yuen: I am currently writing a memoir of essays about my life through the films and TV shows I grew up watching. I published the first essay, “As an immigrant kid, I learned about Christmas from TV” on Today.com in December, 2022.
Chan: Any career advice for this year?
Yuen: If you are an immigrant or child of an immigrant, you might be miserable in your career but too afraid to take a chance. Listen, I get what it’s like to be stuck in survival mode. But you deserve to thrive–not just survive. Put out feelers and make the plunge. It’s never too late to center your happiness in work, and in life.
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