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Bling Empire star Kelly Mi Li wants to keep telling stories and continue talking about what's important

At 10 years old, Kelly Mi Li moved with her mother from Kunming, China to the US for better opportunit­ies. Without a set goal for her new life, she knew that following her intuition would lead her to fulfillmen­t. As one of the producers and cast members of Netflix’s Bling Empire, she shares how the show was conceptual­ized as well as the importance of the Stop Asian Hate movement and her advocacy on mental health. “Start conversati­ons withthepeo­ple aroundyou aboutAsian hatecrimes, racism,and discrimina­tion”

CONNECTING WITH AUDIENCES

Kelly Mi Li was reading Kevin Kwan’s Crazy

Rich Asians when she recognized the book’s fictional characters were similar to her actual friends. This moment provided the spark for Bling Empire, which was developed together with Keeping Up With The Kardashian­s producer Jeff Jenkins. It was picked up by Netflix instantly, and when it premiered in January this year, it brought the first Asian-American cast to a reality television format.

The show revolves around the lives of the affluent Asians of Los Angeles. Most of its cast were born into wealth, and even a descendant of the imperial Song dynasty was in the ensemble.

In contrast, Mi Li is a self-made entreprene­ur who is in the film, technology, and finance industries. “When it comes to work, I’m always open to different opportunit­ies and challenges. I believe that sometimes you have to go through a lot of different paths to find your true passion,” she shares. Willingnes­s to diversify undertakin­gs led the film producer to be in front of cameras instead of her usual role behind the scenes.

“I decided not to be involved in the creatives, and I wasn’t in the editing room either. I saw the show the first time like everyone else when it premiered,” Mi Li says. “One of the best takeaways from Bling Empire is the fan response and being able to connect with audiences globally. I think being vulnerable and very open with myself on screen resonated with viewers.”

BREAKING STEREOTYPE­S

Mi Li says that she didn’t have many Asian-Americans to look up to growing up as a young immigrant.

“It’s important to show younger generation­s that there are role models and public figures out there that look like them,” she says. “With more representa­tion and diversity in media, we can show that anything is possible regardless of your race or ethnicity.” She believes there is still a long way to go in terms of how Asians are portrayed in the entertainm­ent platforms, but every step counts.

With that, she wants to challenge pre-conceived notions that others may have of Asian-Americans.

“Asian culture is often reserved and more conservati­ve. Bling Empire shows that this conception of Asians isn’t always the case,” she says. “It breaks down a lot of barriers and shows that regardless of your culture or background, it’s completely acceptable to speak out.”

BATTLING HATE

Over the pandemic, a surge of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). In 2020, hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment rose a whopping 1,900 percent in New York.

In response, the Stop Asian Hate movement was born. Anti-Asian hate protests were organized throughout the US by activists and allies for the movement. Hundreds gathered with signs and chanted phrases such as “stop killing Asians” and “hate is a virus.”

During such a turbulent time in the community, Mi Li encourages Asians everywhere to spread awareness. “Start conversati­ons with the people around you about Asian hate crimes, racism, and discrimina­tion,” she says.

The 35-year-old says using social media to share articles and infographi­cs of these occurrence­s is a practical way to show rapport toward the cause.

“I think being vulnerable and very open with myself on screen resonated with viewers”

“The more noise and attention we bring to this situation, the stronger the movement will be,” she shares. “There are also many organizati­ons and funds out there that are dedicated to AAPI resources.”

Mi Li utilized Instagram and called on her 300,000 followers to donate to Hate is a Virus, a non-profit for dismantlin­g racism and systemic issues. Last February, she matched the first $25,000 donated to the organizati­on.

At present, the non-profit has raised $350,000 of donations used for fighting on the grounds of racial justice, supporting AAPI mental health programs, and protecting the elderly of the community.

MOVING FORWARD

As the entreprene­ur actively advocates for mental health, she wants to amplify the message that it’s okay not to be okay. She advises those going through mental struggles to acknowledg­e their trials and then seek help, whether from a profession­al or a trusted loved one.

“I plan to continue challengin­g and educating myself more every single day”

Mi Li plans to continue working on projects she’s passionate about, especially bringing more Asian representa­tion on-screen. “I love true stories and narratives that have been lost or unheard of, so I want to continue working on projects that resonate with this,” she says.

She will continue to approach life as her 10-year-old self did when she first arrived in the states.

“I knew my end goal was to follow my heart and be happy. It was a very simple goal that I have always kept in mind as I got older,” she shares. “I plan to continue challengin­g and educating myself more every single day.”

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