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“Don’t Leave Her Out,” Meet Saleen Lee

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!

 

Sick of the Same Stories? Your New Storytellers Are Here.

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“I Only See the Typical Stereotypes,” Meet Alex Sorto

Alex Sorto immigrated from Honduras when he was 16 years old and is now a dynamic entrepreneur, an incredible filmmaker, rapper, graphic artist, and his signature on his email says, “Future CEO.” With English as his second language, he found his way to BAYCAT through one of our programs at San Francisco International High School and has since inspired our own CEO Villy Wang to do a TED Talk. After directing award-winning music video ‘Hard Times,’ Alex began college at California State University, East Bay where he’s studying Multimedia, Marketing and Advertising full time. Yet despite his success, Alex says that when other people look at him, they won’t necessarily see him as a filmmaker or a music maker.

We’re always portrayed as the gang members, the drug dealers, the maids, the Spanish speakers who don’t know English,” says Alex. “On TV, we’re never the main actors. We aren’t portrayed as being successful.” So in the eyes of other people, Alex doesn’t feel seen for who he truly is or, the values he represents or the future he imagines for himself. “They never show a Latino who is a CEO, never.” Instead Alex sees the media industry profiting by villianizing his culture.

Like Angela, Alex carries the burden of misrepresentation by the media every day. He recalls how he went to a job interview and the first thing they asked was, “How good is your English?” Though he is bilingual, Alex wants the world to know that not all Latinos only speak Spanish.

Before BAYCAT, Alex wanted to be a musician. He remembers thinking, it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through, nobody cares about Alex. But then I came to BAYCAT and they said, it does matter, and people need to hear it, people need to know who you are. Without BAYCAT I wouldn’t be who I am today.” At BAYCAT he learned English, filmmaking, music production and most of all, that his own story matters.

Latino Success

“The media always make us feel like we aren’t worth being represented in a positive way. It’s sad, that we are always seen as the bad guys.”

Alex might attribute his success as a creative to BAYCAT, but BAYCAT owes our success just as much to young people like Alex. CEO Villy remembers, “We were talking and dreaming about doing a TED Talk, and he showed me his draft of what his would look like. Seeing his fearlessness to tell his story, he inspired me to pitch his story and then mine. I wouldn’t have been invited to do a TED Talk if it wasn’t for Alex.

Alex makes media to change the way people think. He is sick of the lack of diversity in media creation. He imagines a world where communities represent themselves in media. Only then, he says, will people see the reality of diverse communities from their own point of view, without stereotypes or bias. Alex’s simple solution: 1. Be the change you wish to see AND 2. Donate to BAYCAT

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