“Thanks to HFPA’s support of CAPE New Writers Fellowship, our alumni have been staffed on over 50 shows” – Michelle Sugihara

From the upcoming comedy Easter Sunday to various TV series including Pachinko, Fargo, Grey’s Anatomy, and Billions, these productions share something in common – some of their creatives are alumni of the New Writers Fellowship of CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) of which the HFPA is one of the major supporters.

“Together we have launched so many careers and I hope you all are as proud as I am,” said Michelle Sugihara, CAPE’s executive director.

Founded in 1991, CAPE began in response to the need to increase and advance representation for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) creatives in Hollywood. “There were more space aliens on TV than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” said Sugihara.

Starting with “a small gathering in the back of a Chinese restaurant,” CAPE has become a champion for diversity by helping improve and empower APIs in the entertainment industry. Working towards that goal, the New Writers Fellowship has become, in the words of Sugihara, “one of the most, if not the most, successful non-studio talent development programs in Hollywood.”

CAPE describes the New Writers Fellowship: “Over several weeks, CAPE brings in top television and film writers, producers, agents, managers, and executives for a series of intimate panels, workshops, and discussions. The Fellowship also features a Writing Lab where each Fellow is matched with a high-level industry mentor to help them revise their original script into professional-level writing samples to get them noticed and land that all-important first staff job.”

The New Writers Fellowship graduation, usually held each May, is a collegial, joyful affair, suffused with a nurturing and inspiring spirit, especially as the Fellows are awarded their certificates.

Leading the non-profit organization and steering its programs is Sugihara who is a fourth-generation Japanese American born and raised in Hawaii. An honors graduate of Claremont McKenna College with a dual major in Economics and Psychology and a minor in Asian American Studies, she went on to earn a law degree from UCLA.

Before taking on the leadership at CAPE, Sugihara worked as an entertainment attorney, film producer, and adjunct professor for the Claremont Colleges’ Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies. Sugihara actively speaks across the country on Asian representation in media and other topics.

Sugihara’s honors include KTLA 5’s AAPI Visionaries Award and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Best Lawyers Under 40 Award.

The following are excerpts of our interview via email.

How have HFPA’s grants to CAPE’s New Writers Fellowship helped this program to discover and nurture emerging writers in television and film over the years?

The CAPE New Writers Fellowship is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It started as the CAPE New Writers Awards program, which identified talented writers, produced a staged reading, and provided the winners with prize money.

Over time, the program co-founders and co-chairs Steve Tao (SVP, Current Programming, The CW) and Leo Chu (showrunner/executive producer, Ultra Violet & Black Scorpion, Afro Samurai) realized more training on the business side of Hollywood was needed and the awards program was elevated to a full-fledged fellowship.

The HFPA supported both the awards program and the fellowship for the past 12 years and has helped the program grow into what it is today. It is the only program run by both a showrunner and an executive and is one of the most, if not the most, successful non-studio talent development programs in Hollywood.


Can you share some of the success stories from the alumni of this writers’ fellowship?

Thanks to the HFPA’s long-standing support of the CAPE New Writers Fellowship, our alumni have been staffed on over 50 shows across every major network, cable channel, and streamer. One alum has an overall deal with HBO and another has an overall deal with FX.

Of particular pride, many of our alumni have climbed the ranks and are now reaching back to hire other alumni.

In a time when it is unfortunately still rare to have more than one AAPI writer in any given writers’ room, at least eight shows have had two of our alumni in the same writers’ room.

It has been three decades since publicist Fritz Friedman, TV producer, creative executive Wenda Fong, and film producer Chris Lee founded CAPE when they saw a need for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to connect and support each other. How has CAPE evolved and grown through the years?

In our 31-year history, we have evolved and grown in many ways. When CAPE was founded in 1991, there were more space aliens on TV than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. CAPE launched with a small gathering in the back of a Chinese restaurant and was initially a volunteer-run organization.

CAPE hired Jennifer Sanderson as its first staff member in 2009 and she ultimately became its first Executive Director who served through 2014.

In 2014, CAPE transitioned from a membership-based organization to a mission-based organization. Accordingly, we no longer have membership dues and everybody who supports our mission is welcome.

I became Executive Director in 2015.

Today, CAPE is the premier non-profit organization creating opportunities and driving change for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) success in Hollywood. We work to shift culture through storytelling to create a better world.

For the past 31 years, we have fought for API representation in film and television because what we watch on our screens should reflect the world in which we live and project a better one.

CAPE advances representation for APIs in Hollywood through three main verticals: (1) nurturing and engaging creative talent and executive leadership; (2) providing cultural script consulting and talent referrals; and (3) championing projects for critical box office and streaming success.

Can you describe CAPE’s programs aside from the New Writers Fellowship?

In addition to the CAPE New Writers Fellowship, we have several other programs, including many in incubation.

We started with writers because representation starts on the page. Five years ago, we added the CAPE Leaders Fellowship, which focuses on the other end of the spectrum – the creative executives (specifically those in development, current, and production) who greenlight and shepherd the stories.

In 2021, we launched the inaugural CAPE Animation Directors Accelerator with Sony Pictures Animation. As with all of our programs, we focus on the pressure points in the industry; the voids where we can make the fastest and most impact.

There are a lot of Asians (and to a lesser extent, Pacific Islanders) working in animation but only a handful in the director’s chair and that is something this Accelerator seeks to change.

Also in 2021, we launched the Julia S. Gouw Short Film Challenge with Janet Yang Productions. Janet brought the opportunity to us. The Challenge awards four $15,000 production grants to Asian American and Pacific Islander Women and Non-Binary filmmakers.

Additionally, the CAPE List, which we do in partnership with The Black List, provides a curated list of feature scripts centered on diverse Asian Pacific characters and experiences from writers of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

As CAPE’s executive director since 2015, what are the challenges in improving Asian American and Pacific Islander representation in media and entertainment?

I took the reins in early 2015, one month after Fresh Off the Boat premiered so that’s a very clear demarcation line for me. At the time, it was the first network prime-time television show in two decades to feature an Asian American cast (since All-American Girl in 1994).

Since then, there have been many films and television shows that have continued to move the needle. There continue to be many “firsts” – on the various platforms as well as on the awards circuits.

It has been interesting to see the conversation evolve, which has been supercharged by the ever-growing rise and influence of social media. For example, discussions are becoming more nuanced and addressing deeper issues such as colorism, intersectionality, body type, and size, among others.

I would like to see more Pacific Islander representation, as their voices and stories are often further marginalized and erased.

As a follow-up to that question, how does CAPE help studios in their efforts to commit to diversity, equality, and inclusion?

CAPE partners with all of the major studios and provides a range of support, from talent referrals, and script consulting to project promotion, and everything in between.

Because of where we sit in the industry, we touch every aspect from above and below-the-line talent, executives, managers, agents, etc. As such, the CAPE Database is the world’s largest database of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander talent working in Hollywood. It is currently internal but thanks to the generosity of The Walt Disney Company and our other partners, we are working on releasing a public-facing version very soon.

CAPE also has a robust script and cultural consulting practice. We have consulted on over 100 projects from PSAs to $200 million feature films, and everything in between.


We have also consulted on internal corporate inclusion policies and to date, we have trained over 500 studio executives and key creatives. In collaboration with the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity and Storyline Partners, we produced fact sheets/media guides for the industry: East Asians, Southeast Asians, South Asians, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

We also consult on internal studio research and surveys. Additionally, we have worked on external research projects and think tanks with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers.


New Writers Fellowship success stories (list provided by CAPE) include:

●      Lauren Moon (executive producer, Silk)

●      Leonard Chang (executive producer, Snowfall)

●      April Shih (co-executive producer, Fargo)

●      Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt (co-executive producer, Sweet Tooth)

●      Oanh Ly (co-executive producer, Sweet Tooth, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)

●      Julie Wong (supervising producer, Grey’s Anatomy)

●      Tania Lotia (supervising producer, The Witcher: Blood Origin)

●      Tonya Kong (supervising producer, 9-1-1: Lone Star)

●      Aaron Ho (producer, Fresh Off the Boat)

●      Eileen Shim (producer, House of the Dragon)

●      Helen Shang (producer, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power)

●      Kevin Lau (producer, House of the Dragon)

●      Marisa Tam (producer, CSI: Vegas)

●      Nikhil S. Jayaram (producer, The Henna Artist)

●      Teresa Huang (producer, Tom Swift)

●      Thomas Wong (producer, Power Book II: Ghost)

●      Chris Wu (co-producer, Bosch: Legacy)

●      Lisa Bao (co-producer, Nancy Drew)

●      Brian Shin (executive story editor, Good Trouble)

●      D. Dona Le (executive story editor, FBI: Most Wanted)

●      Franklin jin Rho (executive story editor, Pachinko)

●      Gabriel Ho (executive story editor, Great Game, Rabbit Hole)

●      Tiffany Shaw Ho (executive story editor, The Night Agent)

●      Andrew N. Wong (story editor, Superman & Lois)

●      Mitali Jahagirdar (story editor, The Henna ArtistWhich Witch?)

●      Peter Limm (story editor, The Loud House)

●      Allyssa Lee (staff writer, Charmed)

●      Bryson Chun (staff writer, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.)

●      Eugene Ramos (staff writer, The Dragon Prince)

●      Frederick Kim* (staff writer, Complications)

●      Jeremy Hsu (staff writer, Jimmy Kimmel Live!)

●      Joanne Lee (staff writer, Disenchantment)

●      Ken Kobayashi (staff writer, Hit-Monkey)

●      Kimberly-Rose Ka’iulani Wolter (staff writer, NCIS)

●      Paul Chang (staff writer, The Ghost and Molly McGee)

●      Ryan Lee (staff writer, CSI: Vegas)

●      Tristan Thai (story editor, The Good Doctor)

●      Vidhya Iyer (staff writer, Solar Opposites)

●      Young Il Kim (writer, Billions)

●      Nathan Ramos-Park (music/creative producer, Club Mickey Mouse)

●      Alice Wu (screenwriter, The Half of It, Saving Face)

●      Iram Parveen Bilal (screenwriter, I’ll Meet You There)

●      Ken Cheng (screenwriter, Easter Sunday)

●      Ravi Kapoor (screenwriter, Four Samosas)

●      Darek Cioch (showrunners assistant, Interior Chinatown)

●      Janalyn Steele (writers assistant, Good Trouble)

●      Nic Sridej (showrunners assistant, Avatar: The Last Airbender)