W+K Debunks the Myth of Asian Americans as the 'Model Minority'

Titania Tran wrote and narrates the piece

"A model student. A model citizen. A model. An example. Of what, though?"

Wieden+Kennedy poses that question at the start of "The Myth," a remarkable short film that debunks the "model minority" label frequently applied to Asian Americans.

The stereotype emerged in the 1960s. It pigeonholes AAPI folks as an overachieving "favored" group, generally superior to other minorities living in the U.S. In fact, the "model minority" designation disregards everyone's cultural identity and serves as a wedge to divide communities and disrupt broader understanding.

Now, with anti-Asian racism running high, "The Myth" uses archival images and fresh footage—of faces, families and simple human moments—to weave a melancholy, defiant spell. It reminds viewers of the "false reality designed to serve a purpose—to serve a people who wanted us to be exactly what they wanted you to see."

The Myth

W+K senior copywriter/creative director Titania Tran composed and voices the spare yet powerful narration, at one point declaring, "They made me their scapegoat. Their virus. Their weapon to use against you. They made me your enemy."

The words build to a pointed, perhaps hopeful conclusion: "I am not what they told you I am. I am not what they told me I am. I am not their 'model minority.' I am not their anything. I am mine. You are yours. And we are ours."

"The Myth" broke this week, timed to AAPI Heritage Month, and follows several recent projects with similar themes. These include W+K's lauded 2021 film "Call It Covid-19" (which Tran also worked on), Droga5's thought-provoking faux travel posters for the Asian American Federation, and these powerhouse PSAs from the Ad Council and producer Alan Yang.

Below, Tran and W+K senior art director/creative director Dan Koo share their perspectives and explain what they hope to achieve.

Why tackle the "model minority" myth specifically?

Titania Tran: This film was a response to the times. We started a little over a year ago. During the Black Lives Matter movement, and after the Atlanta spa shootings, the violence against both communities was overwhelming. We reflected on ourselves, and what our roles were. That's when we recognized the common denominator: The "model minority" myth. That myth was the weapon used to hurt all of us.

The film has a docu-poetic feel. It's hypnotic yet rooted in everyday lives. What vibe were going aiming for?

Dan Koo: We wanted this film to feel different, yet painfully relatable. We wanted this film to feel human. That drove us to use a mixed approach, a combination of original footage and archival footage, to create what resembled a human perspective of the world. It needed to feel visceral, rather than overly intellectual.

Can you pick a few scenes or images and explain why you put them in?

Dan Koo: The ones that haunt us in the best way possible are:

  • The opening school photo scene. When I was a young kid growing up in L.A., during a school picture day I was told to sit in front of the backdrop of an American flag. I remember feeling uncomfortable as the photographer posed me. That feeling stuck with me. It felt so sterile. I thought to myself, "Am I American enough now?"
  • The mirror scene. Introspection always seems to happen at an innocuous moment during the day. Like when you see yourself in the mirror. Or during a moment of reprieve in the shower. It's in those quiet times that the feeling of self-loathing surfaces.

Dan Koo and Titania Tran:

  • The "looking up to Grandma" scene. This scene holds a lot of importance for us. We see our own grandmothers in this character, and our reverence for her. In Asian societies, especially at a young age, we are taught to revere our elders. We look to them for guidance—for how to act, and how to present ourselves to the world. But as we grow older, we start to recognize how their examples may be flawed. The "model minority" myth is something that is passed down generationally and within our own communities.
Can you talk about the narration?

Titania Tran: The script and the way it is read came together in about an hour one night following the Atlanta spa shootings. Surprisingly, it has remained almost completely intact from the beginning to the end of this project. Of course, we were open to evolution, and experimented along the way. But we kept coming back to the original. The way the words first spilled out that night seemed to be the most organic and honest expression.

The soundtrack also really drives the narrative. It's moody, propulsive and really gets under your skin.

Dan Koo: As we started to edit, we came to the realization that the film needed to be scored. Our editing team cut together this film in such a beautiful way that you needed to feel the full range of emotions and pain, without overpowering the message [with music]. We wanted this film to feel ominous. The tension of something foreboding and lurking throughout—much like the "model minority" myth itself.

Titania Tran: Where we landed was something of a miracle. It was composed and arranged in a little over a day, literally less than 24 hours before launch, by Natalie Huizenga and Louise Woodward. Natalie and Lousie took all the conversations and learnings that we'd had up until that point, brought out their own instruments, and created what we hear.

CREDITS:

W+K PORTLAND
Creative Director: Titania Tran/Dan Koo
Writer & Voice:    Titania Tran
Art Director: Dan Koo
Executive Producer: Hayley Goggin
Executive Producer: Mimi Munoz
Sr. Producer: Mauricio Granado
Head of Production: Orlee Tatarka
Senior Business Affairs Manager: Kacey Kelley
Business Affairs Manager: Kevin Moyer
Business Affairs Manager: Maggie Harasyn
Associate Business Affairs Manager: Tristan Martin
Group Media Director: Jason Strickland
Group Media Director: Samantha Casagrande
Group Media Director: Kim Sizemore
Media Supervisor: Philip Chiu
Associate Media Planner: Kiran Boyal
Integrated Traffic Manager: Eric Nguyen
Integrated Traffic Supervisor: Billy Mucha
Studio Manager: Alicia Kuna
Sr. Studio Designer: Hui Chen Ou Yang
Director of Retouching: Frazer Goodbody
Sr. Retoucher: Saskia Thomson

PRODUCTION
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director/DP: Jackie Bao
Creative Director: Isaiah Seret
Partner/Managing Director: Shawn Lacy
Executive Producer: Jordana Freydberg
Head of Production: Sean Moody
Producer: Quentin Lee
Producer: Stanley Yung
Production Supervisor: Han Yan
Assistant Production Supervisor: Michael B. Williams
UPM: Aaron Shershow
Production Designer: Hanrui Wang

EDITORIAL 
Editorial Company: JOINT
Editor: JB Jacobs
Associate Editor: Ling Chua
Executive Producer: Kathleen Russell
Head of Production: Catherine Liu
Senior Post Producer: Jenny Greenfield

VFX + Finish
VFX + Finish Company: JOINT
VFX CD/ Lead Flame: Stefan Smith
Finish Artist: Kevin Alfoldy
Executive Producer: Nirad “Bugs” Russell
Head of Production: Catherine Liu
VFX Coordinator: Zai Outlaw

MUSIC
Music Supervision: Walker
Executive Producer: Sara Matarazzo 
Executive Producer: Stephanie Pigott
Senior Producer: Danielle Soury
Composer: Wilson Trouve
Cartoon Music Company: Score A Score
Owner/EP: Jordan Passman

MIX & SOUND DESIGN
Mix Company: JOINT
Audio Mixer: Natalie Huizenga
Associate Audio Engineer: Candace Mortier
Executive Producer: Kathleen Russell
Head of Production: Catherine Liu
Audio Producer: Louise Woodward
Composition & Arrangement: Natalie Huizenga / Louise Woodward

TELECINE
Telecine Company: Co3
Telecine Producer: Kevin Breheny 
Colorist: Tom Poole

FOUND FOOTAGE
Center for Asian American Media: Memories to Light
KFMB CBS 8
Additional Music Provided By: Score A Score
Owner/EP: Jordan Passman

 

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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