Abbie didn't expect to be cast in the Netflix hit: "I'm not American. I'm mixed race. I don't come from a billionaire family."
VonShinan GovaniContributing Columnist
Fr., 2.3, 2023stopwatch5 minutes. to read
It's one of the most moving and unexpected scenes to ever emerge -anyScreen - at this young age.
In an episode of the just-released premiere season of Bling Empire: New York (trending globally on Netflix), he meets his mother for dim sum and gently broaches the subject of his family burdens; the weight of cultural expectations, especially when it comes to having your own child.
A Canadian who lives in Manhattan - a mixture of Chinese and Scottish and identifies as "queer" - confesses to her that he is unsure of his future. Meaning: he's not sure if he's going to end up with "a man, a woman, someone who is transgender or non-binary". And that he doesn't know when or how he will one day give birth to a baby.
Viewers brace themselves for a Joy Luck Club-style dead end or a blast of Asian chill, and instead watch as her mother mercifully reverses the script. "The baby will have eyes, a nose, a mouth... right?", she asks after a slap.
Adding that the most important thing is for a baby to be healthy, June says in her broken English, "Don't feel any pressure or stress on whoever you're dating. Everything is good. Be happy."
"It was so scary filming that," Abbie said when I called him for questioning this week. When he spoke to me on the phone as he walked the streets of New York — the Lower East Side sirens occasionally provided an auditory backdrop to our conversation — he said it was the hardest thing because "Asian families... about feelings like the ."
And although his mother, who is from Hangzhou and now lives in Vancouver, "never questioned who I love, never questioned anything," he mentioned because "I'm the oldest of my generation (of all the cousins). And I'm a boy. And I was named after my great-grandfather, who was very prominent. So there are expectations…”
However, the reaction to the moment on the show surprised even him. Flooded with texts and DMs from well-wishers, he heard even women who already have children write in saying, "This is the kind of mother I want to be."
It's all part of the emotional ecosystem of Bling Empire: New York - an L.A. spin-off. original Bling Empire - while still treating us to the pornographic lifestyle that is a hallmark of the franchise. Social commitments. The nightlife drags on. The exquisite meanness. Co-star Nam Laks, who they call "Thailand's Blair Waldorf," is so filthy rich (and wonderfully absurd) that she seems confused about how a kettle works in a scene.
Especially Blake? A self-described reality TV contender — a classical music and languages alumnus at the University of British Columbia (he majored in singing and German) — he doesn't have a stroke or thirst like many of the residents of these types of shows. Instead, he describes himself as something of a "cultural anthropologist".
"When you're around people who are — for lack of a better word — narcissists, you might find it difficult to get a word out. I definitely played more of an observer role," he told me. “I am more isolated by nature. I'm a Scorpio!"
After spending most of the pandemic in Vancouver, he got on the spin-off's radar through fashion influencer Tina Leung. They've been friends for a while and travel in the same posh circles (his main job is editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine A Magazine Curated By, although he also landed a role in the Meteor Garden series written in mainland China in 2018). Blake didn't think it was the right thing for reality television, but he went along with it because... not least because he felt he could glean a story from the experience of experiencing it. After all, "I'm not American. I'm mixed race. I don't come from a billionaire family.”
From the beginning, he was intrigued by the idea that this version of "Bling Empire" should be a little darker, a little more real. And that New York itself would be a character in this, the problem with the series is that Dorothy Wang - a well-known Beverly Hills heiress - was recently transferred to the city.
Era Blaketutgive in the show are looks. With her alpine cheekbones, Keanu vibe, and wavy, elongated hair that screams "easy, breezy," her lean, sleek style is a cross between forest nymph and Haider-Ackermann model. A signature look for him, he says, is a sweater hand-knitted by Partow (she's an Iranian-American fashion designer) paired with jeans from Maison Margiela (he wears them all the time) and a pair of Salomon running shoes ( "like a good guy from BC!"). Phillip Lim and Thom Browne are other favorites. As well as other lesser known brands like Eckhaus Latta and Lu'u Dan. Meanwhile, he wore an Ouer suit and shirt (by two Chinese-Canadian queer designers) to his Netflix debut.
His own fashion awakening, he says, came through two key Canadian influences. "I grew up watching my mother watch Jeanne Beker on TV (the feature 'Fashion Television'). And Tim Blanks (host of the 'Fashion Archive').'
“And left Toronto, so wild!” He's trying to bring that element into his own reporting today, he says, combined with an unflinching outsider perspective.
Your MO in life and reality TV. "Growing up Asian-Canadian versus growing up Asian-American are two very different things," he says, a lens he hopes to bring to the show.
When asked what he misses most about Vancouver, he mentions the level of Asian food there and also all the outdoor activities (he's a skier and hiker), but also... the ozone? "What strikes me as soon as I step off the plane to this day... The air in Vancouver is unlike any other air... I can't explain it. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can't buy this.Oit's luxury.”
It turns out that everyone's real sparkle is fresh air.
Shinan Govaniis a Toronto-based freelance culture and society columnist. Follow him on Twitter:@shinangovani
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