Meet Christopher Louie, Asian-Mexican Renaissance Man… and One Cool Dude
By Alex Chester
Christopher Louie is an up-and-coming director. He has had quite the career as a model, DJ, director, and self-dubbed “brand-maker.” In a way, he is a poster child for the millennial Renaissance-man. Meaning he does everything, and he does it well.
Chris’s feature film XOXO, which he directed and co-wrote, was produced by Netflix. XOXO is based upon his time as a DJ in the SoCal rave scene.
He has even worked with music artists such as Modest Mouse! He spoke with Hapa Mag for its inaugural issue.
What makes you Hapa? How do you feel about the word? Is it how you identify?
It seems that, to most people, Hapa means half-White/half-Asian. Even though I know Hapa means just half-Asian. I'm Mexican and Chinese so I sorta identify as Hapa.
But yes. I'm not Asian, not Mexican, not White. I’m Hapa-American.
What are your family gatherings like? Do both sides of your family get along well? Has there been any culture clashes? Any “fun” stories?
I grew up with lap cheong on the stove and chile relleno in the oven. My mom did all our Spanish homework and is the definition of strong Latina. My dad is the definition of a stern, stoic Chinese man. So it was emotionally hot and cold and the food was spicy and sweet.
Rarely would both sides get together but, when they did, both sides of family would stick to their respective sides of the party, like boys and girls at school dances.
What’s your favorite thing about being Hapa? Least?
Favorite is not having a distinct ethnic group to belong to.
Least is not having a distinct ethnic group to identify with.
What was it like for you growing up Half-Asian? Are you first or second generation American? Do you think this has had any sort of influence on your identity?
Second generation. I grew up in Orange County in a conservative White town. Not having a clearly identifiable ethnic group forced me to be ashamed of my ethnicities. I think if I were one race it would’ve been easier to gravitate to either complete denial or just hanging out with the Hispanics or the Asians. But putting me in the middle was just an ethnic grey area. I mostly hung out with White people.
I think it’s so funny with kids in the O.C. and L.A. now, it seems like racial identity is more fluid, despite all the racist bullshit we see in the news. I see a lot more mixed kids now than when I was growing up.
Funny aside, being Hapa actually benefited my life. From 21-25 I was a model. I worked a ton in Asia, they loved me being Hapa. I could pass for Half-Japanese, Thai, Korean, etc. I was a novelty. And when I went back this year, I saw tons of Hapas!
Do you think being mixed-Asian has affected the way you direct? Has it influenced your casting choices?
Definitely! Because of my ethnic grey area I identify with all ethnicities and therefore have a preference for casting POC (persons of color).
My film XOXO has two Hapas!
What has it been like for you as a person of color in the entertainment industry? Do you think people perceive you differently because you are Hapa? Has it helped or hindered you?
I honestly don't know. I don’t think about it. I'd like to think my work speaks for itself.
I don’t know if it’s hindered. I've never had that idea that, "ooh I didn’t get that job because I’m not White." Again, it might be because of the ethnic grey area where I/we exist in.
Your movie you co-wrote and directed XOXO was picked up by Netflix. Can you talk about the inspiration for this film? What was the process like working with Netflix? Are you planning on directing another film for them?
I grew up going to raves and DJ-ing in SoCal. Then when the scene bubbled up again in 2012, I had the opportunity to tell a “looking back” story set in present day. Netflix was amazing. It was honestly a dream come true. I had about five notes total, super simple bullet points, and they were so supportive of my process. I got to keep all my temp dream music, which was so important to the movie! I cut a lot of it at home on my computer. They even trusted me to shoot at three live music festivals!
I don’t plan on doing another film as of now. I'm focusing on a TV show and building my brand-making business.
What are your thoughts on “Representation versus Presentation” in the entertainment industry? Specifically, should one play a specific ethnic role just because they look like said demographic, even if they are not that?
Funny you mention this. In my movie the “best friend/manager” character named Tariq is played by a White guy named Brett Delbuono. The Tariq character is based on my real life former manager Tariq Merhab, who is Lebanese. But Brett was part Spanish, looked ethnic and was by far the best actor we saw. So I think the best actor should take the roll.
I understand [the problem] with things like Jake Gyllenhaal playing a Persian or Scarlett taping her eyes back to be Asian. That's kind of annoying, but I see that more driven by market needs and studio comfort level than any inherent racism. There are so many people involved in movies, a racist agenda would certainly be shot down at some point in the process.
Maybe I'm wrong?
Any other projects you are working on?
A cool TV show called Tribes. And I am working with brands and startups, telling their stories. I recently helped a biotech startup raise $35 million. Seeing how much impact that has on the world has me splitting my focus between film/tv and startup world.
Alex Chester is the creator and producer of the theatre company WeSoHapa - a theatre based on diversity and inclusion. She is a New York City based columnist for On Stage Blog and contributing writer for ManhattanDigest.com and HuffPo. She also hosts a podcast with fellow writer Melissa Slaughter, We're Not All Ninjas. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester if you like food and cats.