Jennifer Betit Yen is an actor, writer and “recovering” attorney.
A native of New York City, she was raised “all over the place” before studying Government and Theatre Arts at Cornell University, where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree.
She founded the children’s book publisher MyJennyBook.com and is President of the Asian American Film Lab, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion and support of gender and ethnic diversity in film and television.
Jen launched the Film Lab’s newest production arm, AAFL TV, in the summer of 2013 and will portray the granddaughter of pioneering Asian Aviatrix Katherine Sui Fun Cheung in “Aviatrix,” an upcoming documentary web series project.
ASIANCE: What inspired you to pursue a career in acting?
Jennifer: When I was a young child, I loved reading books. The next logical step after reading the story 100 times to me seemed to be acting out favorite scenes from those books, for which I recruited my (unwilling) brothers and (very willing) friends and (sometimes willing, sometimes not so much) neighbors and classmates. When I hit college, I studied Government and Acting (excellent prep to be a waitress in D.C.) and was advised that I would never make it as an actress because I was “too ethnic” and asked whether I seriously wanted to spend the rest of my life doing Miss Saigon? I figured being an attorney was the next best thing to being an actress and went to law school, which I loved, and then began practice, which I had a love-hate relationship with. I loved motion and trial practice but didn’t care too much for the commoditization of the profession, especially at the big firm level. I continued to act on the side, primarily in independent film, industrial and voiceover. A feature I had a lead in did well on the festival circuit and I got an offer for representation in LA, contingent upon me moving to LA. I immediately experienced a quarter life crisis, left my job and went to LA with a one-way ticket, three suitcases, and a backpack.
Aviatrix is the story of Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, who defied racial prejudice and gender bias to become a daredevil stunt pilot during the Golden Age of Aviation in the 1930s when less than one percent of all pilots were women.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your company MyJennyBook.
Jennifer: Children love books about themselves and a MyJennyBook® (or “JennyBook”) is exactly that! MyJennyBooks are stories personalized for a particular child. There’s a trend in books for children towards diversity because children want to see stories and faces like their own reflected in their books (http://www.policymic.com/articles/88811/there-s-been-a-stunning-trend-in-children-s-books-over-the-last-12-years?utm_source=policymicTBLR&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social) and MyJennyBook really addresses that by creating stories any child regardless of race, shape, gender, etc., can see her or himself in.?The child is the hero of the story and the story’s theme is one chosen for or by the child. MyJennyBooks are unique, individualized gifts used to incentivize reluctant readers and give a treat to children who already love reading. Every paper MyJennyBook contains additional “Kid Creation” pages on which the child can write his or her own story and draw his or her own artwork, at the end of each story, inspiring creativity and literacy skills. The themes of a MyJennyBook can range from something as fantastical as a mermaid to something more specific, such as dealing with a child’s fear about the first day at a new school. A MyJennyBook can include family members or pets and can showcase a photo of the child on the front cover.
MyJennyBooks appeal to today’s tech-savvy kids with ebooks and to parents who want to sit down for storytime with traditional paper books. MyJennyBooks also come in first person (and, on the Concierge Level, both first and third person) audio books to provide you with a personal storyteller. When your child asks you to read her MyJennyBook aloud again for the 100th time or when a long car, plane or train ride is coming up, you can have our MyJennyBook audio book storytellers take over for a little while and entertain your child. Children love to touch, see, read, and listen to their own personal book–whether eBook, paper or audio book–about themselves. As parents know, the benefits of books for children cannot be overstated. Reading helps children develop language skills, increasing their chances for academic success and general lifelong success.
MyJennyBooks help children with language development, listening skills and reading comprehension. They enhance attention span, encourage creativity, confidence, and self-expression. MyJennyBooks foster imagination, teach and comfort. I created the first MyJennyBook many, many years ago for my little cousins out of stapled together pieces of construction paper. The stories were written by hand in crayon and the audiobook components were on cassette tapes. ?
ASIANCE: Tell us about your role as President of Asian American Film Lab.
Jennifer: I was elected President to the Film Lab in 2012. I oversee day-to-day operation and work with an amazing staff and Board to run monthly programs to support gender and ethnic diversity in film and television with a focus on Asian Americans. 2014 will be the 10th year we run the annual 72 Hour Shootout filmmaking competition, which has attracted past celebrity judges like Russell Simmons and David Henry Hwang. Less than a year ago, I also launched a new production arm to help produce, promote and disseminate mainstream American content starring and written by people of color, again, with a focus on Asian Americans.?
ASIANCE: Tell us about AAFL TV.
Jennifer: We launched AAFL TV in August 2013, initially solely as an online platform, to address an explosion of interest in diverse, original creative content along with a corresponding rising level of dissatisfaction with mainstream programming for a lack of diversity and/or perpetuation of racial stereotypes. AAFL TV’s mission is to provide innovative, contemporary, original content by, for and about diverse Americans – content that accurately reflects our heterogeneous country both in front of and behind the camera. One of the ideas behind inviting submissions from all over the globe is to empower creatives by providing a platform for diverse filmmakers to present unique and independent content and to be part of something bigger, showing the world that diverse talent is not only present, but powerful, with a voice and a stage on which to see and hear it. In March 2014, we also began airing a television series, Film Lab Presents, on NYCLife, geared towards providing innovative, bold and deliciously diverse entertainment to appeal to ALL people, no matter what their race/gender/background. More is available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/media/html/tv/nyctv_life_aafl.shtml
ASIANCE: What projects are you currently working on with AAFL TV?
Jennifer: I am extremely excited that Film Lab Presents has been renewed for a second season and we are working on putting that together. I have to give a special shout out to Justin C. Lee, Ryan Hayward, Shannon Ko, and William Alexander Runnels, who have been so helpful and generous with their time and (considerable) talent. We’re honored to have been granted licensing rights to our first full-length film, Aviatrix, by journalist Ed Moy. Aviatrix is the story of Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, who defied racial prejudice and gender bias to become a daredevil stunt pilot during the Golden Age of Aviation in the 1930s when less than one percent of all pilots were women. She flew into American history as one of the first Asian women on record to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. Yet, today, little girls don’t know her story. We have so few role models to look up to, to show us what we can be and how far we can go, and it’s not for lack of existence. It’s for lack of exposure in the mainstream media. When Ed Moy told me about the Aviatrix film, I thought it was the perfect film. Not only is it educational and inspiring to anyone, but it is of particular import for our daughters – so that they will know the story of a great Asian American woman and they will see just how high a woman can rise – literally and figuratively. We talk a lot about certain races not being represented or being stereotypically represented in mainstream media, but the same is true of representations of women and it’s important to me and to AAFL TV to put forward inspiring and strong female stories. Why? Because perception is important. Perception can become reality. When mainstream media consistently portrays women of Asian descent as being Dragon Ladies or Geisha Girls, it creates a widespread perception that, at some level, those characterizations are true…are actually real. That makes it critical to create positive perceptions and to break stereotypes in the mainstream.
ASIANCE: Tell us more about the Aviatrix documentary web series project.
Jennifer: Aviatrix will premiere as a web series on Asian American Film Lab’s AAFL TV with a documentary feature version to be submitted for film festival screenings and television broadcast, along with the release of a Limited Edition Special Collectors DVD with bonus material as a reward perk for the Indiegogo donors.? Ed also plans to create a museum exhibition focusing on Katherine Sui Fun Cheung’s life, featuring donated family memorabilia, old news clippings, photographs, audio and video recordings, plus a timeline of her accomplishments.?For more info visit the project website: Aviatrix: The Katherine Sui Fun Cheung Story