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Anna Akana

…because vloggers can do more than talk about themselves on camera. Multi-talented Anna Akana earned a name through her vlog and comedy sketches, but has also worked as a stand-up comic, musician, actor, writer and director on short films, web series, TV and films – including a part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her short films and web series have explored different genres including sci-fi and thrillers, and often contain a social message about issues like rape, bullying and female beauty standards. In fact, Akana began creating content for YouTube not as a path to fame and fortune, but as an authentic coping mechanism after her sister’s suicide.



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At the very least, new media has brought us faces that look different from the promo stills for the average CBS sitcom. Not only is Akana one of the most visible Asian-American female stars in new media, but also, if we’re being honest, in all of media proper. And Akana would likely be the first to point out how FUBAR this status quo is. However, she has used her creativity to highlight the implicit racism against Asian-Americans, especially women, in American culture. Her well-received vlog about men with so-called “yellow fever” cleverly went beyond the standard rant into a nuanced criticism of how this is just another demeaning form of racism for girls with Asian ancestry, using cinematic cuts, costume changes and characterizations to construct a narrative argument. While this video may have stemmed from a personal experience, Akana cleverly managed to turn it into a broader cultural observation. Akana has also been a vocal opponent of the whitewashing of Asian characters in films like "Aloha" or the upcoming "Ghost in the Shell" featuring Scarlett Johansson. Whether or not traditional media will ever listen in expanding roles for Asian-Americans specifically or people of color at large, creative and talented individuals like Akana at least show how the web can be a valuable platform as well as a soapbox.

While many vloggers who have found success eventually branch out into some minor acting work, Akana has basically planted a whole forest with her projects. She has written, directed and starred in short films such as "Afflicted, Inc.," a dark fantasy about the female beauty industry, and "Pregnapocalypse," a comedy about four pregnant women. And on top of this, she has also written and starred in two web series, the time travel drama "Riley Rewind" and the sci-fi beauty pageant comedy "Miss 2059." In case you’re not really paying attention, these are all very different projects in terms of genre, tone and style. And on top of all this, she only started creating content for YouTube back in 2011, which believe it or not is relatively late in the game. In the same time stretch, she’s also appeared in TV shows such as "Awkward" and the Marvel super-hero blockbuster "Ant-Man," as well as other web series and projects. And she keeps a relatively active vlog presence with videos that garner millions of views, including some powerful PSA videos about bullying and suicide. While a lot of people could look at her hyperactive presence online with a cynical eye, she comes about her energy and enthusiasm for new media content authentically. Indeed, she has also created tutorials and blogs for other aspiring content producers. Oh yeah, somehow she also found the time to write a book. If traditional media has gone too far in terms of specializing in one specific thing, Akana shows how new media can provide a creative outlet to explore a more eclectic set of talents.

Then again, there’s also the flip side to this argument. Akana has done so much and been involved with so many different projects as a writer, director or performer that one wonders what her actual voice might be outside of her vlogger persona (which, yes, compared to so many others, is actually authentic). It’s great that technology has made shooting and editing videos relatively fast and easy, meaning there’s time to experiment with a lot of side projects, one-offs and random ideas – if you’ve read anything else on Watch Meet Make, you know we’re pretty big proponents of the whole “try something new” approach to storytelling. And one of the nicer aspects of new media is that there’s a real community of people who make these projects, leading to a lot of diverse forms of collaborations and quid pro quo roles. Akana is young and even relatively new to new media, so it does make sense that she might be dabbling in so many different areas as a way to discover her real artistic identity and creative vision. However, she’s also received a lot of acclaim for her work to this point, which could remove any real incentive to find a new approach or focus more on creating a magnum opus of sorts. Even if her identity is as the person who produces short films and web series in so many different genres, that’s great…so long as there’s a real sense of vision in doing these projects.

Resources

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Podcasts

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