Hollywood is a white boy’s club, says one report. Here’s an antidote.

Meena Ramamurthy is a filmmaker and storyteller. A colleague, another writer of color, once told her: “Don’t write a pilot with two people of color.”

“It doesn’t come from a bad place,” Ramamurthy says. “It just comes from experience.”

If you’ve watched “Master of None” (the “Indians on Television” episode), this probably sounds familiar. Studios, investors, networks — they have not caught up to the changing demographics of their audience. And in the meantime, they’re having a hard time bridging the gap between a new generation of storytellers and their old formulas for what works.

So stories with two lead characters who are Indian? They get left behind.

An annual report from USC, Ramamurthy’s alma mater, quantifies the issue. The study, by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, drilled down into the content of 10 major media companies. The results may not be wholly surprising. This year, they found that, “The film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club.”

More at PRI.

Publication Day for Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters Book Launch at USC on Sept. 27, 2012

Today is publication day for Chinese Characters! The first shipments via Amazon have reached readers and the book is now easily available to anyone.

We’ve got a lot going on, including East (New York City) and West (Los Angeles) Coast book launches and talks and seminars in China, Boston, Philadelphia and around Southern California. Please do RSVP to our hosts if you are interested in attending any of the events near you!

We’ve also been running a one-sometimes-two-a-day Tumblr of readings on China and book updates. You can also connect with us on Facebook and find most of the contributors on Twitter. We can’t wait to hear readers’ feedback in all these venues and on Amazon.

Global and Underground

Here’s how classes work: Holakou Rahmanian turns on his computer early in the morning or late at night. He goes to a website whose address is known only to students, faculty and administrators of his university. Sometimes he’s in his pajamas when he logs in. Sometimes, he guesses, his professors are also in their pajamas. In his four years of classes, he has only seen his online teachers’ faces once or twice. The bandwidth is saved for their voices and online whiteboards.

Rahmanian, 23, completed a degree in computer science last fall and is close to finishing his second major in mathematics. He is one of about 50,000 students who have studied in unconventional ways at the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education since it was founded in 1987 to subvert official discrimination by the Iranian government.

Continue reading at Pacific Standard

Haute Hijabis

Trimmings in downtown Los Angeles' fashion districtMarwa Atik needs five pieces of trim, the kind embellished with pearls and black jewels. At a store in downtown L.A.’s Fashion District, boxes of trimmings line the walls from floor to ceiling, but Atik scans quickly and zeroes in on what she wants. At her direction, a clerk climbs a tall, wooden ladder and pulls down one of the cardboard boxes. He counts out five pieces and, after 30 seconds of bargaining, Atik makes her purchase.

For the next five days, the designer will create elaborate hijabs, which are head-scarves for Muslim women, to display at an upcoming Irvine fashion show. Atik’s company, Vela, specializes in unique designs of an item known more often for its conservative connotations than its stylistic value.

Read on in the LA Weekly.

Ai-jen Poo: The Rock Star of Community Organizing

At a conference about social movements in Los Angeles last month, all it took was the mention of her name and the crowd erupted in applause. In the world of community organizing, Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is a rock star.

As the crowd sat, though, Poo asked the women to stand up again and give themselves a round of applause. “Women are the heart of social organizing,” she said. “And you should be recognized.”

Rock star she may be, but Poo always puts the movement first. When she was voted onto Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World this year – hailed by no less than Gloria Steinem – she attributed it to her cause.  “It’s a testament to the power of women’s organizing,” she said over tea. “And particularly to the movement that I’m a part of.”

Read on to the Q&A at DAME Magazine.

Bollywood in L.A.

Growing up in Kashmir, Raj Singh loved going to the theater. “In Kashmir, I was watching two movies in a day,” Singh recalls. “Here, I have no time to see movies.”

Movies, instead, are Singh’s job. As general manager of the Naz 8 cinema in Artesia, which is northeast of Long Beach, he runs an operation that screens Bollywood movies — as many as 12 shows a day, seven days a week.

Read on in the LA Weekly

Tina’s Mouth: A Graphic Novel That Gives Indian-American Stereotypes the Finger

Tina's Mouth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
"I'm an alien (but my parents are Indian.)" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Tina Malhotra’s journey through a high school existential crisis was difficult. Bringing her world to life was just as wrenching.

Author Keshni Kashyap and illustrator Mari Araki spent four years working on the graphic novel Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Diary, which was published in January. Kashyap was trained as a filmmaker and Araki is a surrealist painter. The pair had to teach themselves the comic form while melding the book’s substantial text with some 1,000 drawings.

“I’d rather kill myself than do another graphic novel,” Kashyap says flatly. “It was so hard to do.” Besides, “The world is such a rough place right now. I don’t really want to write about privileged teenagers anymore.”

Read more at the LA Weekly

A man of faith

The offices of L.A. Voice, where Umar Hakim is in residency, are on the third floor of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles. So when it comes time for Hakim to offer his daily prayers, he finds a quiet room, faces Mecca and turns his thoughts to God.

“Most people don’t object to prayer,” he says. “They just object to control.”

Hakim, 41, says that as his faith deepens, so too does his desire to “be disruptive.” Muslims are present in Los Angeles’ civic life, he explains, they’re just not organized.

Read on at the LA Weekly.

Health care reform, diabesity and the language of health journalism

Since Sunday evening this week, I’ve been spending time with National Health Journalism Fellows in downtown Los Angeles. We’ve visited slum housing, debated the terminology used in news reports about domestic violence, spent an evening at the ER, and dissected the legislative debates surrounding health care reform. You can read my live-blogging from the seminar on at ReportingonHealth.org and keep up with later posts, written by other people, on The Fellowships Blog or with @ReportingHealth on Twitter.

But for now, here is a post about one of the panels which I thought merited some discussion, even beyond the health journalism sphere. The speaker gave some specific admonitions about language in news. You can comment here or at the orignal Reporting on Health post.

Live Blogging about Health

This weekend, I’m live blogging the first seminar for California Broadcast Fellows at the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships program at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications.

That’s a lot of names, isn’t it?

It’s actually fitting; one of the biggest challenges of broadcast journalism is to take complex topics and tell compelling and often very short stories about them. You can read my posts on The Fellowship Blog at Reporting on Health, and see my tweets at @ReportingHealth. Here’s the first post:

Examining the Craft: Seminar on Broadcast Health Reporting Begins Today

In a world of sound bites, 140-character reports and information overdose on the Internet, news about health often doesn’t get all the airtime it deserves. The first session of a seminar for broadcast journalists will look at ways television, radio and multimedia journalists can boost coverage and depth in their reports.

Tonight’s keynote speech by NBC’s Robert Bazell asks the question, “Is it Possible to Cover Complex Medical Topics in Two Minutes or Less?” Through the weekend, California Broadcast Fellows will examine social media and digital resources, health reform and the black market, and what it takes to get depth of coverage in a media marketplace that demands that writers be editors and producers all at once.

Michelle Levander, director of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, says that the pressures of being in a newsroom and on deadline make it difficult for journalists to feel that they are doing their best work. Specialty topics like health often take a hit when time and resources are short. The broadcast track of the fellowship program began last year to address the particular issues of working with sound and images on tight deadlines. Broadcast journalists have to tell compelling stories and need simple ways to cover complex topics, explains Levander. It’s a tough job, especially now that the business of journalism is in such dire straits.

“In a time of cutbacks and uncertainties, one of the things that helps journalists not become demoralized is a sense of community,” Levander says. “You can’t underestimate the value of exchanges that happen in seminars like this.”

You can join the conversation online throughout the weekend by commenting on posts. I’ll be twittering at ReportingHealth; reply or tweet using the hashtag #cabroadcasthealth. You can also email your comments to me at angshah@gmail.com and I’ll include them in my live blog throughout the weekend.