MANILA, Philippines – For decades, Hollywood’s representation of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been questionable – from the lack of roles for nuanced Asian characters, to just including Asian cast members to claim that a film is “diverse,” among many other issues.
And while some of these poor practices are still evident now, we also do recognize that there are more Asian actors headlining blockbuster movies, more Asian narratives being put in the spotlight, and more Asian creatives being acknowledged and celebrated as well.
For 40-year-old Filipino-American producer Jeremiah Abraham, who personally witnessed and experienced these gradual changes first-hand, continuing this movement is important: “Hollywood is starting to shift, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Who is Jeremiah Abraham?
Since he was a child, Jeremiah has always been fascinated by sci-fi, video games, and Mickey Mouse. “Those interests really helped me hone in on my creative sense, daring to imagine things that were unconventional and new. Star Trek, Michael Crichton, and Nintendo helped me get to where I am today,” he told Rappler.
He obtained his Master’s Degree in Communication Management with a focus on Online Communities and Digital Social Media from the University of Southern California, and has been involved in story-telling since then.
In 2007, he founded a media outlet called BakitWhy.com, which was one of the first Filipino-American content sites to cover the Filipino community in the United States.
Jeremiah was also a marketing director for Condé Nast, working for big brands like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and more. “This job allowed me to explore a side of media and entertainment I had never before, through publishing, digital video, and even virtual reality. It was familiar and full of learning opportunities,” he recalled.
With more than 15 years of work experience, Jeremiah was no stranger to the treatment that Asian-Americans go through in a fast-paced and cutthroat entertainment industry.
“There have been many moments where a non-POC (person of color) was promoted over me, even though I had more experience and notable successes,” he told Rappler. “I never really thought about it back then, but thinking about it now, there was definitely bias because everyone in charge was also a non-POC.”
He added: “I reported to people who did not know how to lead and did not know how to fully do the job – all because they had an ‘in’ with the boss. I can’t tell you how many times I had to save them and the number of times they took credit for my work. It’s unfortunate because I know this is a common thing across all industries.”
It was in these lived experiences that Jeremiah started dreaming of having his own company that wouldn’t tolerate such practices.
The birth of Tremendous Communications
Established in March 2020, Tremendous Communications is a PR and marketing agency that “aims to uplift Asian-Americans in media entertainment.”
Jeremiah, its founder and CEO, said that the agency wants to help “change” and “spotlight the way our world” sees AAPIs. “I’ve always been an advocate for our community and I wanted to use my skills as a marketer to help make this change,” he said.
“AAPIs have historically been excluded and dehumanized in Hollywood, and were depicted as disposable and collateral damage. Anti-Asian storylines have been used as cinematic tropes to uplift white characters,” he explained.
But he envisions Tremendous as a way to change that narrative: “We are strong, confident characters who deserve to be the heroes of summer blockbusters. This is the motivation behind Tremendous and I think it’s a critical one.”
Jeremiah was ready to make a mark in the industry in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans for him. “Two weeks [after Tremendous was launched], all of the movie studios closed! I was devastated. The thing that never happens, happened right when I launched a company that I strategized, planned, and lost sleep over for years.”
“There were times when I wanted to give up and let it go, but I knew deep down that the company was solid. It was needed, our skills were needed,” he said.
With movie production on pause, Jeremiah and Tremendous decided to shift their focus towards helping support the AAPI community, which has been constantly under attack.
In February 2021, the group Stop AAPI Hate, which was formed “in response to the alarming escalation in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” recorded nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, with the number representing “only a fraction” of the actual hate incidents that occur.
Jeremiah said that given the situation, they decided to use their skills “to shed light on AAPI violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” “We helped support Racism Is A Virus and co-founded Unapologetically Asian to help combat the horrible anti-Asian sentiment across the world. We kept going and persisting,” he added.
Now that movie studios have opened up again and their agency is finally busy with projects, Jeremiah shared that they still continue their support for the AAPI community in any way that they can: “I’m proud of the work we did behind the scenes to uplift the community in its time of need.”
How Tremendous fights for the AAPI community one project at a time
“Tremendous serves as an advocate for the AAPI community from the studio level,” Jeremiah shared. “We work with some wonderful studios from various parts of production to a film’s release to ensure that stories are culturally aligned and people are not devalued.”
Jeremiah was born in Manila, but is now based in Brooklyn, New York. Tremendous, meanwhile, is fully operated by Filipino-American publicists and marketing strategists. All the employees have different upbringings and experiences as an AAPI in the USA, which Jeremiah said, is helpful in their work.
“It is important to have an entity like this that understands the cultural nuances of the global Asian diaspora. Our experiences are not all the same and the Tremendous team is very thoughtful in its approach,” he added.
As an AAPI agency for huge Hollywood studios, Tremendous makes sure to do their best in guiding their clients throughout every step of a film’s release.
“They trust us to make proper connections, suggest changes in things like the script or marketing materials, and make them aware of any red flags in a project. During production, we can make suggestions on how to best depict an AAPI character or if something might not sit right.”
“There have been a few times where studios have changed movie trailers or whole campaigns because of our knowledge and insight. I’m very proud of the trust we’ve built. If our clients can’t count on us to guide them properly, and if our community can’t trust us to represent them in the best way possible, then there’s no point in all of it,” he said.
The Tremendous team has already worked on groundbreaking films and franchises such as Fast and Furious 9, Blue Bayou, Clifford the Big Red Dog, The 355, Moonfall, and several AAPI Hate campaigns. And they’re excited to do more.
“Hollywood is starting to shift, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Jeremiah said. “We’re seeing AAPI actors in incredible roles that we could have never envisioned before with stories that make us feel seen…and yet we’re still seeing stereotypes and microaggressions that have run persistent in its history.”
While changes are obvious onscreen, Jeremiah emphasized that it’s also important for the industry to make changes off-camera: “Hollywood can improve by the people it hires. We need more AAPI creatives behind the camera, in the casting offices, the writers rooms, at all levels of the studio in order to enable this change to continue. I would like to see more AAPI producers and executives who greenlight projects, more folks below the line, and more allies to help get us there.”
He said, “Representation across all aspects of production with investment from the studio level is most critical to our representation on screen.” – Rappler.com