My Rep and Me is a new recurring Culture Shift feature in which talent who share a unique background with their representative (be it agent, manager, lawyer or publicist) sit down to discuss the special alchemy and business advantages of that special connection, in order to underscore the importance and benefits of diverse representation.
Author Abigail Hing Wen’s 2019 best-selling YA novel Loveboat, Taipei, which was recently adapted as the Paramount+ film Love in Taipei, is inspired by her own summer experience as a college student on the Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China (colloquially known as Loveboat), a birthright-type rite of passage for many offspring of Taiwanese expats. The third book in the series, Loveboat Forever, will be published Nov. 7 via HarperCollins. In this inaugural installment of My Rep and Me, Wen and her publicist, The Lede Company’s Emmy Chang – who also attended the program – reminisce about their Loveboat days and how the trip, intended to train diaspora youth in their traditional culture, instead emboldens generations of Taiwanese Americans to pursue their dreams in nontraditional industries.
How did you come to work together?
Abigail Hing Wen: I had this movie coming out, Love in Taipei, and I knew I needed a publicist. It’s actually hard for book authors to find publicists, but I knew how valuable it would be, and this [opportunity] was a really important one. I saw The Lede Company on a list of, like, top 10 publicists, and they represent Reese Witherspoon, who I adore, and Will Smith, who I also adore, and I just cold emailed them, thinking no one’s going to respond. And then, I got a response!
Emmy Chang: I got it! I got that email! And I am very familiar with the Loveboat books. I lived Loveboat, so I said, “Oh my goodness, I have to take this meeting.” So we met and it was a total coincidence, right, Abigail? We found out we were at Loveboat the same year, same time.
Wen: Same exact summer, same everything.
Chang: But we didn’t know each other. I went home and I found the yearbook and Abigail’s photo. We were there the summer of ’96.
Wen: There were a thousand people our summer.
Chang: From all over the world. I met Chinese kids from Germany, who didn’t speak any English.
Wen: I loved it because then you had to speak Chinese; that’s the only language you had in common.
Very strategic on the part of the organizers. Abby, did you expect you would end up working with anyone who also went on Loveboat, or were you constantly explaining the experience while pitching and working on the book?
Wen: My initial tour before my book even came out were all held by Loveboat alum that reached out. I have a theory about why the Loveboat alum are amazing. One, the program is selective to begin with, and two, the fact that we got to go and have this amazing cultural experience meant we are healed in terms of our cultural identity, which I think mattered for a lot of our generation that was like me, running away from Asian culture. I felt like going on a trip like this made me a more whole person. And the third reason is actually the rebellion that the program is known for. I think that that rebellion taught us important skills to be successful in the real world, because not everything fits in a box and especially in the United States. It’s a country built on rebellion, and that didn’t always [fit] with our Asian hierarchy that we grew up with. We basically gained valuable skills of resisting the system that I think has paid off. I see a lot of leaders coming out of the Loveboat program. So when Emmy responded, I was like, “The Loveboat alum are amazing, and here is more proof.” Because I know it’s really hard to get the role that Emmy holds, and if she’s an Asian American woman and she got this role, I knew that she was exceptional. And, in fact, she is.
Emmy, just how rare was it to see Asian Americans on your side of the business?
Chang: It’s changed a lot. When I first started over 20-something years ago, there weren’t many Asian faces. They were in minor roles, not in leadership or executive type of roles, certainly very few Asian people writing and directing. The last 20 years have opened a lot of doors for Asian people to get into entertainment in front of and behind [the camera], and thus open more doors for representation as well, people like me to find those common denominators and to have a connection with the clients.
What advantages are there when a rep and client share such a unique experience? How does it make the work sing even more when you can personally relate to one another?
Chang: I think we speak the same language, right, Abby? I think we also operate at the same level.
Chang: We instantly clicked. There was maybe a little bit of small talk, but I know Abby. I see a little bit of me in her because we have very similar backgrounds, so it’s easy.
Wen: “Easy” was the first word [that comes to mind]. Yes, we’ve both worked with lots of people and had wonderful experiences. But there is something unique where I don’t have to explain a lot of things. I trust Emmy is my voice in a lot of places and is representing me to a lot of people, and I just know that she’s doing it exactly how I would want it — except better, because she’s bringing all of her professional experience to the role. I’ve had so many experiences over the years where I just get questioned all the time, like, “Why are you doing it that way?” It’s obvious to me, and then I realize, oh, I have to interpret it. And I don’t have to with Emmy, and it takes this huge tax off. We’re doing something new and different, and when we run into barriers, Emmy knows how to get through them because we’ve spent our life trying to get around these obstacles.
Emmy, how promotable now are the kinds of culturally specific stories that Abigail writes, and how do you go about it?
Chang: What resonated for me with Abigail and the story in Loveboat is that it’s okay to rebel. We as Asian kids have grown up to be, like, follow the rules, put your head down, do the work and get straight As. But you go to a program like Loveboat and it’s OK to sneak out of the dorms, to make a mistake, to mess up and learn from them. That was such an important message to the next generation, to kids these days who are finding their way and maybe living with Asian parents who still feel this way. To be able to work with Abigail on that is very rewarding.
Wen: We’re rebellious together. We’re like, no, we don’t take no for an answer!
To recommend a client-rep pairing for My Rep and Me, email [email protected].