20th Century Studios’ new sibling comedy, Quiz Lady, is another much needed step in representation and the telling of diverse stories. Starring two of the biggest Asian actors in Hollywood today, Sandra Oh and Awkwafina, it’s also directed by Asian American filmmaker, Jessica Yu.
Yu is no stranger to the industry, as she has been directing films and television for 30 years, winning an Oscar® for Best Documentary Short for her film Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, and an Emmy Award® and a DGA Award for Fosse/Verdon. Yu is the first Asian American woman to direct a network drama pilot, and has worked on shows like The Morning Show, This is Us, Billions, Hollywood, 13 Reasons Why, The Affair, American Crime, Lady Dynamite, Grey’s Anatomy, and The West Wing.
I had the opportunity to speak with Yu about her new film, which is the rare story that centers two Asian American women in the leading roles. Yu, who has two siblings, including an older sister, shared that what attracted her to this project was the chance to explore the unique relationship between two Asian American sisters.
“The idea that your siblings always know you and you can’t hide anything from them as much as you try to be a grown up. So I think in trying to reconnect these sisters, there was a way that we wanted to show that you can never make things perfect with your sibling, but you also will never completely detach from them,” Yu said. “There was something in playing with that I felt really rang true and was something that I haven’t seen on screen with Asian American sisters.”
While Quiz Lady is primarily focused on Sandra Oh’s Jenny and Awkwafina’s Anne, there’s a larger theme of Asian American family dynamics and the pressures that often come with them. Yu talked about how she enjoyed delving into, in a fun way, the different ways Asian Americans respond to such pressures.
“We talked about growing up Asian American, we talked about our relationship with our relatives, whether it was siblings or parents, and then tried to bring it into this world of the sisters,” Yu said. “I would say one thing we could all speak about was the idea of being outsiders in different circumstances and also the idea of family expectations. I was very lucky, I didn’t have pressuring parents, but certainly grew up in a culture where you see a lot of that. So I think it was in that where we could create this world where we know what the sisters are dealing with, the anxiety they have, the pressures that they feel, and we see the very different ways that they deal with it – one is retreating in, the other one is trying to take on the world.”
Yu began her career as a documentary filmmaker and transitioned into scripted projects as the first participant in John Wells Productions’ director diversity program. There, she felt the pressure of being one of the very few women of color in the industry. In an interview with the Directors Guild of America, Yu shared her thoughts at the time, saying that she told herself that, “[i]f you screw this up, they’ll never let another woman of color from documentaries do this again.”
Given her experience, Yu talked about how the industry has improved over the last few years, but emphasized that it’s still difficult and there is more work to be done.
“The question of whether it’s easier is hard to say because I think this business is always tough, but it certainly helps when you see that there’s a demand, not only for more opportunity behind the camera, but you also see the hunger for more stories on screen,” Yu said. “So I think it all works together to push the needle a bit. I’m definitely encouraged, but if you look at numbers, and the number of women directors, the number of Asian American leads, it of course could be much more even. We’re not there yet, but compared to when I started, I definitely felt like ‘Anyone else here?’ It was a little lonely.”
Watch our full conversation below. Quiz Lady premieres on Hulu November 3rd exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ in all other territories.
20th Century Studios’ “Quiz Lady,” a hilarious and heartfelt comedy starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh about a dysfunctional family and the game show which just might be the key to their salvation, will premiere November 3, 2023, exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ in all other territories. In the original film, a brilliant but tightly wound, gameshow-obsessed young woman, Anne (Awkwafina), and her estranged, train-wreck of a sister Jenny (Sandra Oh), must work together to help cover their mother’s gambling debts. When Anne’s beloved dog is kidnapped, they set out on a wild, cross-country trek to get the cash the only way they know how: by turning Anne into a bona fide gameshow champion. The movie, which also stars Jason Schwartzman, Holland Taylor, Tony Hale, and Will Ferrell, is directed by Jessica Yu, written by Jen D’Angelo, and produced by Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, Maggie Haskins, Itay Reiss, Jen D’Angelo, Awkwafina, and Sandra Oh, with Alex Brown and Erika Hampson serving as executive producers.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.