“I am proud to be Asian, but I am tired of feeling angry and sad.”
It is with those words that Toronto Film School’s Stellina Mun expresses the overwhelming sentiment weighing down many Asian Canadians as the number of hate crimes and incidents of harassment leveled against those in their community have continued to rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was constantly hearing news stories about the surge in hate crimes going up. It felt like every day there was something new. I tried to be as vocal as I could about it on social media, sharing stories and spreading awareness, but I still felt helpless,” said Mun, an Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre student.
“I wanted to do something, to make something – not only for myself but to inspire others and to help the community. In all this stark news, I just wanted to spread some light out there.”
The end result of that desire was Proud to be Asian. Proud to be Me. – an inspirational two-minute video Mun created and posted to YouTube in hopes of sowing some love and respect in place of the hate and contempt she was witnessing on the news every night.
“I wanted this video to be more about positivity, about what it means to be Asian, rather than focusing on the darkness,” she said of the project, which has garnered much praise and nearly 200 views on YouTube.
“I was so glad to hear that people were inspired by it. In my mind, it was more of a personal project – it was just my self-expression of what I needed to say in this moment. But for people to say it was really powerful for them and that they were proud of me, it just felt really humbling to be able to help in my little way.”
Born in South Korea and raised in Richmond Hill, Mun grew up thinking an acting career was beyond her grasp, despite marvelling at seeing fellow South Koreans such as Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh and LOST’s Daniel Dae Kim living out her dream on the television screen.
“I remember watching those shows and thinking, ‘Oh, here’s someone that looks like me that’s on the screen, so maybe it is possible,’” she recalled.
“Seeing those different faces and seeing amazing people of colour on screen and getting that recognition, it was so amazing for me.”
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until after she’d gone to university for nursing and started her career at Toronto Rehab that she was able to muster the courage to pursue her true passion.
“I’ve been working as a nurse ever since I graduated, but always in the back of my mind, I knew in my heart that I wanted to do this – I knew I wanted to go into acting and pursue it as my career,” she said.
“So, after working for a few years and saving up money, I decided to finally take the leap and go to school this time for something that I really wanted to do with my life.”
Now due to enter into her fourth term of the Acting program at Toronto Film School this July, Mun said her acting ambitions have only been bolstered by seeing more and more Asian artists being recognized for their accomplishments on the world stage.
Most notably, Mun pointed to the success of South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, whose black comedy thriller Parasite won big at the 2019 Academy Awards, taking home the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.
“I’ve been following his films for years now and am just so happy with the recognition that his work has been getting,” she said.
“There was just a huge sense of pride seeing him and the cast on that stage that I believe was such a monumental move forward in appreciating and acknowledging the amazing work of Asian filmmakers and artists.”
Mun is now looking forward to a future in which she has the opportunity to likewise be a role model for the next generation of aspiring young Asian artists and actors coming up behind her.
“My hopes and dreams, in the long run, are just to continue to be happy with what I’m doing. As long as I’m doing this for myself, then I’m happy with it,” she said.
“But at the same time, if I can help others with what I do, and maybe inspire people, too, then that would be enough to push me forward.”