Women Creatives Who Dared: Janet Yang, Lisa Lu, and Yue-Sai Kan

Skip to main content

East West Lifestyle

Women Creatives Who Dared: Janet Yang, Lisa Lu, and Yue-Sai Kan

March 29, 2024
Janet Yang (left), Lisa Lu (center), Yue-Sai Kan (right)

Women and people of color have faced obstacles in every industry. But the progress made by women of color is thanks to those who dared to push boundaries, overcame obstacles, and succeeded in their own way.

Janet Yang, Lisa Lu, and Yue-Sai Kan are three entertainment-industry icons who have all dared to do things their own way. These women pioneers have spent decades blending dedication, determination, perseverance, and creativity to break down barriers, ignite change, and clear paths to empower themselves and a new era of Asian American women to reach further.

East West Bank Chairman and CEO Dominic Ng pictured with Lisa Lu, Janet Yang, and Yue-Sai Kan

East West Bank recently joined the China Institute and the Yue-Sai Kan One World Foundation in honoring these women at the “Outstanding Women Who Dared” 2024 event. We’re highlighting these trailblazers who have raised the bar for their peers and paved the way for the next generation of Asian American women to thrive. 

The Diversity Challenge

The entertainment industry has not been kind to women. While the industry is more diverse and inclusive than when Yang, Lu, and Kan began their journeys, current data reveal a stubborn and exclusionary pattern that continues to plague the global entertainment community, even for industry standouts.

In 2024, just one in six films will be directed by women. Only five of the top 200 films were directed by women of color, and only three female-directed films had budgets of $200 million or more, compared to 25 male-directed films at that budget level. In 2022, diversity in several key roles returned to 2019 levels. In theatrical releases, people of color accounted for 22 percent of lead actors, 17 percent of directors and 12 percent of writers. Women were 39 percent of lead actors and 15 percent of directors.

This is largely because the decision makers—the studio heads and senior executives—remain overwhelmingly white.

“We don't yet exist in top leadership positions, so if we're pitching stories with Asian content, we're still pitching to, essentially, mostly white guys,” said Janet Yang, Emmy Award-winning producer and co-founder of Gold House. “There are very few women—and especially Asian women or women of color—who are in top positions. So, there's always this feeling that you're hitting a ceiling.”

Janet Yang

Janet Yang

No one knows this better than Yang, who is the first person of Asian descent to become the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Yang was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood” by the Hollywood Reporter. In 2018, she co-founded Gold House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and investing in equity and authentic representation of Asians and Pacific Islanders across all cultural mediums.

Yang has helped pave the way for greater Asian American representation in entertainment and beyond—not because she is particularly daring, but because she didn’t have the usual restrictions in her mindset about what a woman could do.

“My mother was a role model for me because she dared without thinking about daring,” Yang said. “She dared to come to America on her own. She dared to marry my father and leave behind her family that she missed so terribly. And she dared to become a commuter to New York City and have a very intense job and life raising children. She dared to do a lot of things. I grew up with her having a very rich, multifaceted life.”

Actress Lisa Lu in 1960

Lisa Lu

Lisa Lu dared to chase her dreams as an actress in a time when Hollywood was still casting white actors to play Asian characters and then making them up to look Asian. Despite that, Lu forged on, establishing her talent internationally and starring in numerous television and film roles domestically and in Asia.

She was driven by her desire to succeed—despite the odds—and to overcome any fears of failure and prejudice. In Hollywood, Lu’s mentor was the silent film star Mary Pickford, who was a cofounder of the United Artists Corporation, allowing actors to control their own interests. To Lu, being a woman who dared means to “take action with strength, intelligence, and determination, and to show kindness to others.”

Lu is rightfully hailed as a “living legend” in China. She is a three-time Golden Horse Award winner, the highest film honor in China, whose captivating portrayal of the grand matriarch in “Crazy Rich Asians,” commanding presence as the Empress Dowager in “The Last Emperor,” and heartfelt performance in “The Joy Luck Club” are indelibly etched into the lore of cinematic history.

Her advice to other women who dare? “Never let any negativity stop you from doing what you love. Keep pushing forward and working hard. There will be joy from accomplishing your dream,” said Lu.

Yue-Sai Kan

Yue-Sai Kan

Yue-Sai Kan is a multi-hyphenate: She is a celebrated entrepreneur, producer, author, and philanthropist renowned for her work in bridging the gap between China and the United States.

When Kan moved to New York City in the ‘70s, she decided to take matters into her own hands and start her own production company, Yue-Sai Kan Productions, despite having no experience in the field. According to Kan, it was challenging. Few were willing to help her, but nevertheless, she felt that it was what she had to do.

Her first major weekly TV program, "Looking East", was the first of its kind and introduced Asian cultures and customs to Americans, at a time when China was just opening up to the West. The show received critical acclaim and remained on the air for 12 years. For many viewers at that time, it was their first exposure to Eastern cultures.

“My television shows introduced my audiences to interesting people they had never met, gave them stories they had never heard, showed them sights and sounds they had never seen,” said Kan. “In doing that, I felt I played a role in bringing humanity closer together and people closer to understanding each other.”

Because of her television work, she has been nicknamed "The Oprah of China," and ABC News called her "the most famous woman in China." She is president of the Yue-Sai Kan One World Foundation, a global organization that celebrates diversity by inspiring curiosity and revealing our shared humanity.

Kan’s contributions to bridging the gap between East and West were all because she dared to carve out her own path. “I did not like working for people—that’s the reason why I started my own business,” she said. “I had to do it all on my own, which is very hard, but it was worth it at the end.”

Daring to Dream

There is power in seeing other people dare to do things because they didn’t have a restricted mindset, they overcame fears of failure and prejudice, or they chose to carve their own path.

“Now there are many role models,” said Yang. “And, therefore, there are many people who can dare to dream because it's not uncharted territory anymore.”