Inside the Industry Effort to Boost Asian American Representation at Polls Led by 'Agents of SHIELD' Actress, Former Funny or Die Exec

Chloe Bennet
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Chloe Bennet

Not long after the 2016 election, Agents of SHIELD actress Chloe Bennet sat on the same panel as Brad Jenkins who served as associate director in the office of public engagement for the White House during President Obama’s administration.

“It was a very sad panel,” Jenkins recalls to The Hollywood Reporter of processing a Donald Trump victory. “It was supposed to be this celebration of the Asian-American experience, and it essentially ended up like a wake. The biggest takeaway was that Asian-Americans did not show up at the polls. The Asian-American community is so vibrant and powerful and creative and we weren’t seeing it.”

So, they teamed up with like-minded peers from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to officially launch RUN AAPI (aka Represent Us Now) in 2017 as a way to help boost civic engagement. Now as another election inches closer, the org has amped up efforts via a new campaign called #TheNew. With designs developed by another Obama alum, Simple Scott’s Scott Thomas, the campaign also arrived with a video spotlighting the diversity of the culture, personalities and force of the AAPI community. It was shared by notable names like Taika Waititi, Steven Yeun, John Cho, Lulu Wang and Lana Condor, among others.

For Bennet, the campaign is meant to inspire voting but also much more. “We need to rebrand what it means to be Asian-American. We need to make sure we instill pride in our community,” she tells THR. “You might not be represented yet but look at what we’re doing so far. Let’s bring it all together to bring pride in our community.”

Coinciding with the launch, #TheNew partnered with Meena Harris (niece of Kamala Harris) and her Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign for a #TheNew x Phenomenal collaboration, “I Am an American,” featuring a sweatshirt designed using a photograph taken by Dorothea Lange on March 30, 1942, as inspiration. The image shows the Wanto Co. store in Oakland, which was owned by the Matsuda family. Tatsuro Matsuda commissioned the “I am an American” sign after an order to evacuate those of Japanese descent following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Run AAPI also used a recent fundraising infusion to partner with the National AAPI Power Fund and the National Education Association to commission the first-ever political opinion poll focused exclusively on young Asian Americans, ages 18-34. Among the results were that one in three young AAPI unregistered voters didn’t plant to register and 43 percent of registered voters were still undecided on whether they will vote come Nov. 2.

“It’s kind of on us as a community to step up and go, ‘We’re actually going to change that.’ This is a bigger culture issue. The lack of pride in our community comes from generations not seeing ourselves on screen, not seeing ourselves in politics, not seeing ourselves represented. When you see yourself, you are inspired," says Bennet.

Says Jenkins: “For us, Chloe and I believe a fundamental thing we want to change is we want to be a lot more out front with why our community is so important and why you need to pay attention to us. You have to make the case for politicians to pay attention to our story and why we matter.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.