Creative Spotlight: Shinho Lee

Shinho Lee is one of those dime-a-dozen, count-yourself-lucky, learn-all-you-can from him, educators and creators.

A professional with a resume most only dream of.

Born in South Korea, Lee immigrated to the United States after high school, to attend NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. He graduated with both a BFA and an MFA. 

Like so many 20-something-year-old college grads, Lee headed west after college. He moved to Los Angeles where he began chasing his career as a screenwriter.

And like so many Asian Americans, Lee was met with disappointment.

He’s talented. Charismatic. But most importantly, Lee has range.

It stands as no surprise that after being offered to write dozens of “Bruce Lee” action films, sexualized female lead stories, and geisha narratives, Lee was unsatisfied. 

The City of Angels didn’t give him the same sense of belonging and individuality that New York City did. 

So, he made his way back home — not the east coast home of NYC he had grown to love — the one on the other side of the world. 

South Korea.

There he thrived as a writer. Crafting bilingual scripts in Korean, English and Japanese.

Lee knew the Korean entertainment industry was up and coming and ready to thrill. 

It was a time of creation and professional solidification.

After having built up his credibility, Lee moved back to the states, where he continued to share stories he was passionate about. Creating stories that celebrated cultural and ethnic nuances.

Ones that rebel in the face of Hollywood’s troublesome (and boring) stereotyping.

And after being in the industry for nearly two decades, Lee has learned how to navigate the complexities that come with being an Asian American creator. And he knows how to make those complexities work in his favor. With such examples as “flexing” the right demographic card for different projects: flexing the “American card” to get work finishes faster abroad and flexing the “Korean/Asian card” to highlight the diversity he can bring to American-produced work.

In other words, Lee knows how to play the game.

His perspective of being a Korean immigrant and the later adoption of American status has afforded him views on the AAPI community that are unique.

His experience of living in a mono-cultured society in Korea and then being lumped into a narrow category of a multitude of cultures in America was odd to say the least. 

The idea of “Chinese, Japanese, are all the same” has dominated the American media for generations. The media misunderstands that the reason why the AAPI community have banned together is to end the (often nonsensical) micro and hyper aggressions all Asian-Americans face on a daily basis. They ban together because America sees them all as one, instead of the complex origin stories of multiple nations. And the hate they undergo here in America has united them against their own historical tensions. And so they fight as one unit. 

But the reason why Lee appreciates initiatives like the 24-hour-AAPI writing festival isn’t because it’s lumping a continent of people into a narrow category. It’s because it’s asking each writer to identify as an individual, by giving them the space to write from their own voice and culture. 

Lee believes that stories are how we humanize the fight and see individuals, not oversimplified issues. 

But, the fight won’t resolve overnight like the 24 hour writing contest. 

America has a lot of recognizng and healing to do.

But it will happen.

The road to redemption will be paved.

And so much of this will be achieved by sharing and highlighting intricate, personal, and varied Asian stories.

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