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Home > Living > People > Black and Asian: 4 emerging models on creating space for themselves in fashion and entertainment
Black and Asian: 4 emerging models on creating space for themselves in fashion and entertainment

Coming from the fields of fashion and entertainment, these four Hongkongers share what it’s like to be both Black and Asian in the fragrant harbour.

Among Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents, ethnic minorities make up about 8 percent of the population. Of that 8 percent, only around 3,144 people are categorised as being of African descent. Though Hong Kong is widely viewed as a metropolitan hub of culture and life, the city still grapples with its own issues of racial inequality. And despite an anti-racism law enacted in 2008, there have been 492 complaints of discrimination against those of African descent occurring between 2015 to 2020, according to a report by South China Morning Post

With a global focus on Black lives and the Black experience in recent years, many have pondered how racial equality and inclusion can be improved worldwide. As Black Hongkongers rarely gain the spotlight in the media, Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong has chosen to speak with four creatives of Black and Asian descent to discuss what it’s like pursuing their careers in Hong Kong’s fashion and entertainment industry.


Glory, fashion model 

What has your experience been like being a mixed-race (Black / Asian) model in Hong Kong, and also what was it like growing up multi-cultural? 

Being a Black and Asian model in Hong Kong is great, but difficult — even more so than other biracial people. I came to Hong Kong when I was 12, and spent my whole adolescence here. Growing up multicultural was great,  as I got exposed to both sides of my culture, western and Asian. It made me a person that’s both like and unlike a Chinese and African person.

Have you ever felt limited in your career due to being mixed, if so, in what ways?

Yes. It took almost a year for me to get where I am at. Hong Kong’s beauty standards are opposite to what I am. I am dark-skinned, and Hongkongers adore fair skin; I am gender-neutral and Hong Kong appreciates more femininity. There’s nothing wrong with them or me, I just wish there were a bit more broader beauty standards in Hong Kong.

How has colourism (the preference for a lighter skin tone) impacted you throughout your life? 

I would say colourism has impacted my life in a bad way. I got bullied during early secondary school because of my looks. It only got better after they knew me personally. Apart from that, I always heard people complain about how getting darker made them uglier. Although I knew they were referring to themselves,  it still made me feel less of myself as a young adolescent. Of course, now I don’t mind anymore. 

Do you believe the fashion / entertainment world in Hong Kong is becoming more accepting of diverse looks? 

Yes. Fortunately, I can see Hong Kong’s acceptance of diverse beauty slowly improving. Although there is still a lot to catch up on, it’s way better than no improvement at all.

What are your hopes for your career?

I am aiming to become a successful model worldwide. I want to be in Paris, New York and London’s fashion weeks. But first of all, I will need to work extra hard and be patient for the right times and opportunities. I still have hope for parallel careers — for example, becoming a dietician and YouTuber. I will work on those, too.


Anisha, fashion model and dancer

What has your experience been like being a mixed-race (Black / Asian) creative in Hong Kong?

I have to admit I have seen more support than negativity. Most of the people I met were really open to welcome and learn about my African background. Dance is also a way to connect more easily with people as they are sensitive to music and feel the immediate joy coming out of the dance. I have to admit Black Lives Matters also acted like a catalyst — more and more people were interested in listening about our stories and wanted to get to know more about our culture.

After winning Dance for Life, how did that feel, and what was it like being on the show and representing your African side?

Unreal, honestly. I didn’t expect people would be so receptive to it. It was a risky bet for me. I wasn’t sure about imposing my culture on such a big local and international TV channel. I have read comments and got feedback; I love how people felt the authenticity behind the dance, work and performance. Having an impact at such a big scale is definitely a milestone for me.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I didn’t feel fully accepted as an Asian, as people kept  giving the label of African, because of my look, my darker skin, et cetera. Being Black was a bit associated with the feeling of rejection here. But you know what the most important thing isn’t people knowing who you are, it is yourself who should be fully embracing your background, be proud of it and feel unapologetic about your culture. It feels liberating to be able to fully embrace my Black side and have other people celebrating it also. 

Do you believe the fashion / entertainment world in Hong Kong is becoming more accepting of diverse looks?

It is! I see a lot of changes already. The modelling agency that I am part of, Harmony HK, is making a huge impact. The only thing is brands need to stop using models to tick the “diverse ethnic background model” box in their campaigns and commercials. They should consider more about how diversity is really a big part of their core values, thus thinking about ways to incorporate it in their marketing.

What are some hopes for your future dancing / modeling career?

I want to take my career to the next level, which means more visibility across Asia and the rest of the world!

How do you hope to inspire other multicultural people in Hong Kong to follow their dreams?

By showing them actions and my accomplishments. My dream is to build that community of strong multicultural people and make them understand that they are the principal actors of their life. Each of one of their decisions, their mindset will have an impact on their future. They can design and build their life the way they want to by having a clear understanding of who they are, what they have and how they are going to fulfill their dreams.

I usually don’t like hearing the phrase “just go follow your dreams” because not everybody has the financial freedom to do whatever they want from the start. Some people say degrees are no longer necessary; I don’t fully agree, given your background and your current constraints in life — or family to help — you need to take them into account before making decisions. I am just convinced that representation and having positive role models is the way to go.


Desmond, fashion model

What has your experience been like being a mixed race (Black / Asian) model?

It is a very interesting and new experience to me. Being a model means I will see a lot of new faces and meet a lot of new friends — I often get new angles on my identity. My ethnicity is Hong Kong and Nigerian, and Cantonese is my mother tongue. It helps me communicate with the team and make friends, and seeing all the influences and impressions I made being a model.

Seeing myself on social media and public as a mixed-race model, it is a blessing to be in the industry, with people appreciating my face and style. It boosted my confidence and self recognition; I learned a lot of new things about fashion. I had zero knowledge of modelling before I got into the industry, so things were new to me. I met a lot of cool people and wore a lot of cool clothes.  

Have you ever felt limited in your career due to being mixed, if so in what ways?

Of course, every coin has two sides. It worries me all the time. I go through self-denial and other people giving me negative feedback for being a model. I have to keep my faith and believe it in what I am doing as model, even though  sometimes the world tells me otherwise. Would I fit the audience’s taste? Will I ever be good enough to change people’s view of Blasians?

Being a mixed-race person — not just a model — you have to know yourself and not get lost in feeling of necessarily defining yourself as Black or Asian. It’s the hardest thing to do when you want to get free from race-related boundaries and show people who you really are, because I know I am not just a Black person or Asian person, I am just me.

Do you believe the fashion / entertainment world in Hong Kong is becoming more accepting of diverse  looks?

I think it is. More and more people of colour are killing the game! Even before I got into the industry, I remember checking out Black models on Instagram, and it now such a joy to be part of it. I believe, in the future, more and more people of colour with talents will get recognised.

I remember a conversation between me and one of the stylists I really liked; we were working on a multi-race theme shoot for a magazine, and he told me that if it were five years ago, this type of shoot would be impossible to happen. And in that moment, I was just so grateful to be there. Also with the pandemic going on, models from overseas can’t travel around and work, so people of colour living in Hong Kong will have more opportunities due to this.

 What are your hopes for your career?

I would say it is mainly about enjoyment. To enjoy being a model. Enjoying all the hard work behind the shooting dates. Enjoying working with brands I used to dream of working with. There was a period of time when I doubted myself as a model and wanted to quit, but I reconsidered, as I love being a model. So I bounced back. Now, I enjoy doing every shoot and working on my posing skills, facial expressions and my body.

Also, I have been influenced by music since I was child and was a beatbox performer. Now, I’m a pop / classical piano player. Listening to music of all genres like rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, classical and so on influenced me and shaped me into who I am today. So doing shoots with brands that I heard about from some of my music icons as a child is really a blessing and unbelievable experience. Currently, my favourite brand is YSL — I hope in the future I can work with them. And I haven’t tried doing a runway yet, so I hope soon I will have the opportunity to do so. Being a model overall has given me a lot of new knowledge, happiness and experiences. My hope is that I will continue to grow as a model.


Caro aka Caroline, model and performing artist 

What has your experience been like being a mixed race (Black / Asian) model?

I started modelling in 2012 when I was 19. I was caught by surprise when students from the HKDI (Hong Kong Design Institute) approached me asking if I’d model for their school project. I grew up watching America’s Next Top Model and have only fantasized about being a model ever since. But with what I have seen and experienced growing up in Hong Kong, it felt like it was almost impossible for me to make it as a career. Moreover, I didn’t think I was “pretty enough” to be a model, because I was growing up as a mixed-race individual in Hong Kong, where the dominant population is of Chinese and Asian population with lighter skin complexion. 

There’s this notion that the lighter your complexion is, the prettier you are. This was the same in Taiwan when I studied in University there. Neither the Eurocentric nor the Asian beauty standard applied to me. And back when I was growing up, not a lot of brands, especially local ones, would hire a person of colour for commercials or print ads. When I first started, I did photoshoots and runways for local aspiring fashion designers voluntarily to gain experiences. I also applied to local modeling agencies in hopes of working professionally. I never heard back from any of those agencies I applied for. That made me wonder if I was ever going to be a model because of my skin colour and my hair texture, especially in Asia. 

You’re also performing artist who we saw perform at the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. How was that experience and how do you hope to bring better representations of mixed-race people in Hong Kong’s performing arts scene?

The experience performing at the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre was unique on its own, and as amazing as every other experience I have had being on stage. It is precious beyond words because I can always find a sense of self and it grounds me amidst the uncertainties that life brings. If you look at the local theatre scene, there are very little to no representation of multi-ethnic / cultural background individuals. Mixed-raced individuals like myself are often categorized as “ethnic minorities”. However, considering the various cultural and ethnic origins and roots we inherit and represent, as a multi-ethnic/cultural person, we should perhaps be considered the majority in society. We are a blend of different worlds, we represent a combination of cultures, traditions, languages and philosophies.

To be inclusive of individuals like myself in stories that are told on stage facilitates and provides multi-dimensional angles. It allows audiences to experience different perceptions and perspectives. Theatre is perhaps one of the most ancient performing art forms, inheriting humanity, history, culture and life itself. We should be telling stories of interracial marriages and migrant families. Most importantly, we should be addressing the truth, and I think the truth is, no matter who we are, we go through difficulties and sufferings in life. It is important for us to listen to one another because it creates better understanding and a more unified community.

Have you ever felt limited in your career due to being mixed, if so in what ways?

Frankly, I’d like to think that every individual, from all walks of life, would encounter certain limitations bound by social and cultural norms, and perhaps arguably by religion. Although I am biracial, I often feel like I would never be enough for either culture. To be more specific, I am neither Chinese enough or Nigerian enough for people to identify me as either. So being me is like being in between worlds, and using the word “limitation” does not apply and sometimes it does.

How do I know when “limitations” apply or not? Well, I try by pushing boundaries in places that are seemingly not made for me. I may or may not fail, then I learn and adapt, and readjust my mentality to exceed those limitations. I refuse to let myself believe there are limitations just because of labels that society prescribes to me, or to allow myself to be put in a box. If I do find myself in front of a “limit” or “obstacle”, I always endeavour to surpass them and knock them over in hopes of paving a greater path and higher standards for the future generations that will come after me. By far the biggest setback is that there aren’t enough stories like mine. I want my story to be one of the few that will allow more stories like mine to shine through and be heard.

Do you believe the fashion / entertainment world in Hong Kong is becoming more accepting of diverse looks?

When I came back to Hong Kong in 2019 from studying in Taipei, I remained a freelancer working with a couple of agencies, production companies, directors and clients on commercials, print ads and even music videos. The BLM movement in 2020 really pushed the modeling scene all over the world, including Hong Kong. At the same time, I want to give credits to those who have been working hard to bring diversity, inclusiveness for individuals with different body types, cultural backgrounds and genders.

I did a campaign with ELLE Hong Kong on “Body Diversity” directed by the editor Hoi Yin Wong aiming to break stereotypes, shedding light onto how we can better perceive each other beyond our skins with an artistic, stylish and fashionable approach. I believe the fashion scene in Hong Kong has taken a step forward when it comes to embracing diversity, re-defining the definition of beauty.

As for the world of entertainment, there is an increase in YouTubers, KOLs, even dancers with different backgrounds who are shaking up the industry. As for the local scenes such as local movies and TV shows, there are yet to be more representation, especially from those who are people of colour that also speak fluent Cantonese like myself. We can add more value to the local culture. I reckon we still have a long way to go when it comes to bringing people in unity, eliminating racism and accepting individuality.

What are your hopes for your career?

 My vision is to use theatre as a platform to build a more dynamic, inclusive community for individuals like myself who struggle with self-identification and positioning themselves in society. I hope to break the ceiling for people of colour in Asia with hidden talents due to lack of exposure, representation, confidence and even social setbacks. I aspire to break stereotypes and to expand the possibilities of characters and stories that are told by other people who are considered the majority. I want to open up more doors and create more cross-disciplinary collaborations. I also hope to work with my fellow locals (as part Hong Kong Chinese myself), and extend myself to other ethnic communities in Hong Kong.

Ultimately, I envision myself bringing my two roots together to create greater performances for the Hong Kong theatre and entertainment industry. I hope that one day, the local Hong Kong population could see us for more than what they think we are.


(All images provided by interviewees)

Jada Jackson

Jada is a freelance journalist focused on writing on topics ranging from fashion, beauty, identity, and culture. She is passionate about covering stories that showcase Black creatives and the Black experience through a global lens. Her work can be found in outlets such as Vogue Business, Allure, Teen Vogue, South China Morning Post, and more.

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