Leon Wenhao, Yongze “Charles” Wang, and Skyler Robertson want the lack of representation of Chinese Americans and the Asian culture in the American media to change. So the Emerson College students have taken matters into their own hands.
We spoke with the roommates-turned-founders about their mini-documentary series, the importance of bonding over food and culture, and the pandemic as an opportunity to reach struggling restaurants in Chinatown.
Below is their story, plus an exclusive clip from the documentarians.
For those that are not familiar, what is Chinatown Confidential?
Chinatown Confidential is a mini-documentary series. Every episode that we host features a specific restaurant that we visit. We order their best food on the menu; then, we talk about the history behind the food and our personal connection to the food and Chinese culture overall.
With the lack of representation of Chinese Americans and the Asian culture in general, in American media, I think our show is important, especially with rising xenophobia across this country related to the virus. Chinatown has been losing a substantial amount of business since everything began, so we actually talk to restaurant owners about this.
We want to put ourselves in a positive light in the media because no major media outlets will do that for us. There is no better way to bring people from all different backgrounds together than with food. This kind of show is what our country needs right now. All three of us have a passion for food and culture in general. So, we threw out the idea of a mini-documentary and decided to create it.
How recently did you start Chinatown Confidential?
In April, we were trying to figure out what to do since many of our opportunities and internships that we had were affected by COVID-19. We started throwing around ideas- who are the people and things we know best? What equipment do we have access to? We’re all very passionate about Chinese food and culture, and we frequented Chinatown together. And that’s how Chinatown Confidential started.
How has the restaurant community in Chinatown contributed to this?
Many, if not most of the restaurants in Chinatown are very supportive of our project. Right now, they could use partnership and support, and to be shown in a positive light. And we want to do our part to support them, so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Do you have involvement from students or faculty/the university at large?
Yes, the school really helped the initial ball get rolling and gave us some initial exposure to gain a platform. We secured a budget from them and were able to rent equipment from the school.
Once we had our show and ideas out there, we were able to get 30 other students to join our crew.
A lot of Chinese students go to Emerson, and many of them reached out to us about how Chinatown Confidential gives us Asians/Asian Americans a place to talk about our culture that didn’t really exist before.
Since COVID-19 hit, a lot of Chinese international students cannot return to campus. Some of those students started messaging us saying they want to work for us, but they’re not on campus. So now we have a couple of crew members that are actually working for us remotely in China. Our audio editor and our composer are in China right now. They’re so passionate about this project. We can’t say no to them.
What has it been like to operate a remote team? What does your team look like?
We’ve delegated amongst a lot of different people. We’re kind of following the guidelines of what Hollywood’s doing, and we’re finding a versatile way of working flexibly- the show must go on.
We’d love to do everything in person, but we know that’s something we have to compromise on for now. It’s all about communication now. So we have team happy hours and trivia and just check in on people in the meantime- Slack is a lifesaver.
Do you see Chinatown Confidential forming partnerships with other universities or partnerships with any, you know, restaurant associations in the future?
At this moment, we’re focusing on Boston. We want to keep our crew members safe, so it’s difficult to travel to any other cities or universities to do any other partnerships. Still, we’re open to expanding to new cities in the future.
What do you see next in Chinatown Confidential’s future?
First and foremost, we hope to bring back more business to our local Chinatown. One of the reasons we started this was to give back, and our community has supported us, students, a lot. If we can bring back business to Chinatown with our show, that’s something we’d be incredibly proud of. It would be an honor.
A lot of restaurants have already had to close during quarantine- and one of our favorite fried chicken places, Boom Crispy Chicken, had to close.
Some of our favorite restaurants are losing thousands every month because of COVID-19. No one is really going out to eat now, and restaurants that are still open still have to limit seating. We want to help bring business back.
Also, many of the customers at these businesses are Chinese international students who cannot make it back this year because of COVID-19. We want those international students to be able to watch our show and be reminded of some really good memories here.
We are lucky to have this as a platform, and we hope we can use it to help others.
What support do you hope to receive from the community? How can all of us support your journey?
The biggest thing is when it comes out. Just please watch it.