As a Chinese-American teenage girl, Saleen Lee describes how being misrepresented and underrepresented in media is an isolating experience. When she walks down the street or watches TV and sees people in ads and popular televisions shows, she doesn’t see someone who looks like her. “I feel like I’m always left out. I am always looking for someone who looks like me in all the media I see. I’m always yearning for that person I can relate to.”
When Saleen was a kid, her mom watched Charlie’s Angels. Saleen felt like really empowered, seeing Lucy Lui, a powerful woman, fighting villains and defying stereotypes set for Asian American women. This positive role model made a huge impact on Saleen, who notes that Asian women are often left in the shadows.“People who look like me are often background characters, secondary characters, or have non-speaking roles. Asian women are portrayed as two dimensional characters that aren’t relatable or likable.” As a result of discouraging media representation, Saleen feels she is seen through this lens by the world.
“Media stereotypes tell me that I am supposed to be quiet and submissive. I am supposed to be a secondary character in someone else’s life. I am not supposed to have my own troubles or feelings. It puts me in a place where I feel like I am a background character in my own life. I feel invisible because I have no one to relate to. It makes me feel like because my story isn’t told, it isn’t valid.”
Saleen believes that the sharing of diverse stories is the vehicle to validate people’s unique and authentic experiences in the world. Far too often, the storytellers come from outside of the community they tell stories about. Saleen thinks instead, people need to listen. Let communities speak for themselves and represent themselves!
”The fact that there are so many stories throughout history that could involve people of color, that could involve people that look like me, but that aren’t being told is really disheartening.” Growing up at BAYCAT, Saleen says that she was exposed to the most amazing work she’s ever seen, produced by women and people of color. Yet in Hollywood, it’s still mostly movies made by white men.
“I know that women and people of color produce amazing work, but we aren’t given the resources to be filmmakers.” Saleen sees BAYCAT as the solution. At 12 years old Saleen was put in front of a camera and behind a camera for the first time. “BAYCAT really helped me discover my talent and passion for filmmaking. At my school, I don’t have this type of equipment or programs. When I went into BAYCAT it was like entering a whole new world. We worked with a camera on the very first day.” Saleen says that because of BAYCAT she’s gone from a shy student in the back of the class to a leader creating her own independent films.
Through a BAYCAT partnership, Saleen was hired by UCSF to make films for two annual Young Women’s Health Summit, where she was able to impact thousands of diverse young women by shedding light on critical issues like body image, rape culture, female empowerment and social media. You can watch one of her videos here. Saleen says, “The most important lesson is that whatever stories I create deserve to be told.”
Saleen’s message is loud and clear: Stop portraying people of color and women as background characters!