USC drama professor and ‘Easter Sunday’ co-star talks about diversity in Hollywood

After a special screening of the recently released comedy Easter Sunday Thursday, USC School of Drama assistant professor Rodney at asked an audience of over 200 students to raise their hands if they had ever seen a Filipino family at the center of a major studio-backed feature film before.

(Image/Universal Images)

Not a single hand inside the Ray Stark Family Theater went up.

“That’s why the movie was made,” said To, who has a supporting role in the movie starring comic Jo Koy. “The reason Jo started this is because of that. He could have presented a buddy comedy, he could have presented something a little more suitable for studios. I think it was really quite heroic.

To plays Tito Arthur in the Universal Pictures Comedy organized around a dysfunctional but loving Filipino family reunion to celebrate Easter. He moderated a post-screening panel that included fellow cast members Lydia Gaston and Melody Butiu, director Jay Chandrasekhar, and writer Ken Cheng. (Koy made a brief appearance virtually when To called him on FaceTime.)

“It’s my first time playing a Filipino in a Filipino American story,” To said. “That’s what was so beautiful about working on something like that. As an actor, I played every ethnicity under the sun. I’ve played Eskimo, I’ve played Native, I’ve played everything, and I’ve even had cultural consultants tell me that’s how we eat .

A revolutionary film for diversity in Hollywood

The screening, presented by the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, featured the groundbreaking film, which opened August 5 and has grossed $5.5 million on opening weekend.

It’s such an important movie, such an important moment for the American film industry.

Emily Roxworthy,
Dean of the USC School of Drama

“This is such an important film, such an important moment for the American film industry in celebrating Filipino American history,” said school dean Emily Roxworthy in introducing the film. “And he is honored by the presence, talent and glory of our wonderful teacher Rodney To.”

For To, it was a unique occasion where his two professional worlds came together on one stage.

The Assistant Professor of Theater Practice in Interpretation juggles his teaching responsibilities with a thriving acting career, which has seen him work on the set of The Sun Brothers starring Michelle Yeoh on the day of the Easter Sundayscreening. To has an extensive list of stage and screen credits, including recurring roles on Parks and recreation and good girls and guest spots on The Conners, NCIS, The Shrink Next Door and The Goldbergs, among many other TV shows.

He said working on Easter Sunday was particularly satisfying because he was part of a main cast consisting mostly of Filipino American actors.

“For me, it was really about how accessible a family like this is to the masses,” he said in a screening interview. “I hope the uniqueness of us being Filipino brings out the universality of a family like ours – we have the same values, issues and idiosyncrasies as any American family. This is a Filipino American family, but if we walked away and everyone saw it was a Filipino family, we were wrong.

Diversity in Hollywood is a common topic for Rodney To

Whether he’s in the classroom or on set, the topic of diversity is something that comes up often for To. A strong advocate for the Asian American community, he often works with NBCUniversal’s talent infusion programs to foster diversity. emergence of diverse talents in the entertainment industry.

I can’t open my mouth and not talk about diversity. I mean, look at me.

Rodney atUSC School of Drama

“I can’t open my mouth and not talk about diversity. I mean, look at me,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud to wear this badge – especially in a place like USC. It’s known as a kind of ostensibly privileged, predominantly white university. I felt like it was a responsibility for me to to go where my skills were most needed – and my face and everything I stand for, whether it’s LGBTQIA, whether it’s diversity, or being middle-aged.

“I wish it wasn’t something I had to wear on my sleeve every day, but I do,” To added. “I take it as a big responsibility and my students respond to it. I think they know I’m not going to wash up – I’m going to rule with that.

He is happy that his students, regardless of background, do not lose interest when the subject of diversity comes up in class.

“So far, I feel like it’s embraced,” To said. “A lot of students are like, ‘OK, we got it. “”

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