To her 2 million YouTube subscribers, Anna Akana is an ultimate role model, comedian, and probably your dream best friend. But as icy, power-hungry Farah Cutney on Youth & Consequences, out on YouTube Red on March 7, Akana takes on a new role altogether.
“[Farah] believes in power, and she believes in having this front,” Akana tells BUST. “I really love the juxtaposition of being sort of ruthless, but deep down, your intentions are actually good—and you don’t let anyone know that.”
The eight-episode show, produced by Mark Gordon of Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy, tackles issues related to gender, sexuality, and race with a Mean Girls-style perspective on popularity, social media, and the politics of high school. In the show’s pilot, Akana’s character is at the top. Smart, tough, and merciless, Farah is the queen bee who can spin any story and fix — or create — any kind of conflict. Youth & Consequences zeroes in on what happens when the girl in control suddenly finds herself out of control, centered in a maelstrom of rumors, deceit, and secrets.
Akana doesn’t only star in the show, though: She can also claim writing and executive production credits. “It irks me when scripts treat adolescents and their problems as not important, or just dramatic for the sake of being dramatic,” Akana says, adding that Youth & Consequences was the first teen drama project she’d encountered that “really treats the characters like they’re full-formed adults.”
Another trademark of the show is its diversity, which Akana is eager to exalt. Piper Curda (Teen Beach 2, I Didn’t Do It) costars as Farah’s adversary, Grace Ho. “It never once feels like two Asian women are pitted against each other, or this is a show about Asians, or anything like that at all,” Akana says. “I was so ecstatic, looking at the screen and seeing so many different women of color on it, and for it to just feel real.”
Just as Akana is excited to point out shows that offer dynamic, realistic depictions of Asian characters — she also lauds ABC’s The Good Place — the actress is quick to call out any stereotypes and bullshit. “A lot of representation of Asian women is that you’re the super-nerdy girl who hates getting a B, or you’re hyper-sexualized, or you’re a massage therapist,” she explains. She then recounts a conversation with her friend and Teen Wolf star Arden Cho about The Boys, an upcoming action series produced by Seth Rogen.
“It’s based on a graphic novel, and there’s this one Asian-American superhero. They decided to make her mute, and we were both beyond frustrated,” Akana explains. “She’s not mute in the comic book, so what purpose does that serve? You finally have an Asian-American woman on TV, she’s supposed to play this badass superhero, and she’s not going to talk the entire season? Why?”
Akana has also been outspoken about the #MeToo movement, and was one of many women featured in a recent BuzzFeed report on the relationship between the lack of Asian-American representation in Hollywood and the pressure to remain silent. “2017 felt like we were just taking out the trash,” Akana tells BUST. “A lot of my male friends will say, ‘Come on, not everyone can be this shitty.’ And it’s like, ‘well, you don’t see it, because guys don’t do that in front of other guys.’ I am all for clearing the way for more women to come into power, for better men to come into power, and to not be able to abuse that anymore, because we won’t tolerate it.”
It’s loud, clear-cut opinions like these merged with the confessional, friendly sense of humor Akana pours into her videos that make her work equal parts informative and entertaining. After losing her sister to suicide in 2007, Akana turned to comedy as a means of healing and advocating for mental health awareness. “I’ve always really believed in comedy with a message,” Akana says of her videos and stand-up routines. “I think comedy is a great way to get people to think about things without necessarily being preachy or hitting anyone over the head with what you want your message to be.”
In her videos, Akana holds nothing back. She shares anecdotes and advice about everything: getting over breakups, getting through panic attacks, and getting out of bed in the morning. “Writing has always been my therapy after I lost my sister, and it helps me clarify things. So when it comes time to sit down and write a video, I often look through my journal,” she says. “I have an ongoing list of things that I think would be interesting to talk about, or things that I’m passionate about, anything that is emotionally resonant. Then I know, okay, this would be a good topic, because I feel something about this.”
Her most widely-circulated video, titled “please don’t kill yourself,” has over 2.5 million views. Even in her lighter videos, though, Akana will casually mention her therapist, her antidepressants, and her experiences living with mental illness. “Today, kids can go online and search what it’s like to have depersonalization or derealization, and there are a plethora of YouTubers who now talk about that. Some of these things that we think are just normal reality are actually disorders that have a name, and have treatment available,” Akana tells BUST. “Asian women are the least likely to reach out for mental health resources, and the second-highest at risk for suicide. Since I’m an Asian woman, I try to show what helps me, and try to encourage other young women to go out and seek those resources.”
Youth & Consequences premieres today, March 7 on YouTube Red at 12 P.M. Eastern Time.
Top photo via YouTube Red / Youth & Consequences
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Lydia Wang is a writer, a Pisces, and one of BUST's digital editors. Find her on Twitter or say hi: firstname.lastname@example.org.