If you haven’t already subscribed to Youtube Red, their new web series ‘Youth & Consequences’ might just be the reason for you to do so. Premiering on March 7th, the series stars Youtube sensation Anna Akana, who has nearly 2 million subscribers and more than 11 million views on her own channel, where she posts an array of content that includes topics such as social justice, abortion, racism, relationships and more.
Anna’s content is the very expression of using the internet as a tool for female empowerment. Anna is Japanese American, and it was extremely important to her to portray a multi-faceted, complex, non-stereotypical Asian lead in ‘Youth & Consequences’, as well as work with a cast that reflects the real world. She is an outspoken suicide prevention and awareness advocate, following a personal tragedy in her family. Her content ranges from humorous to educational to serious, and she is known for having a strong and positive perspective on self-love and acceptance.
In ‘Youth & Consequences’, Anna plays powerful teen trendsetter Farrah Cutney, the queen of Central Rochester High. But as her rivals rise, Farrah learns that the one thing harder than obtaining absolute power is keeping it. The show has been described as a “Gossip Girl-meets-Scandal” take on the modern high school experience, filled with clever, biting commentary.
Anna both stars and executive produces, along with Marcia Cross of ‘Desperate Housewives’ fame, and Kara Royster from ‘Pretty Little Liars’. The Mark Gordon Company, of such hits including ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Criminal Minds’, is the production company behind the series. Its first episode is directed by Wendy Stanzler (‘You’re The Worst’, ‘This Is Us’), which you can watch for free here. The show tackles hot-button issues such as the trans/LGBT experience, suicide, bullying, and more, within the confines of the seemingly life-or-death stakes of high school.
Tell us about the idea behind ‘Youth and Consequences’ and some of the issues it will be tackling:
I found the script a few years ago and fell in love with it. I’ve read a lot of high school pilots & films, but none of them tackled adolescence with as much sophistication and elegance as Jason Ubaldi did. The characters are smart, multi-dimensional, and are constantly keeping you guessing with their complexity. Jason and I discussed utilizing the microcosm of high school to mirror the social and political issues going on in our society today. We touch on transgender rights (specifically the controversial bathroom laws that had such a huge spotlight on them earlier last year), suicide, privacy and its relationship to social media, as well as gender inequality, power dynamics, and family dysfunction.
You have become well-known among the Youtube community as an influencer using her platform to speak about important topics. Why do you think it is important to do this?
I believe that the most important thing I have is my voice. My word. And what I stand for as not only an artist, but a person. I recall being a young adult and being so influenced by the actors and writers I looked up to. I trusted their opinions and their advice without question. I once read that when a person sees a celebrity, the area in the brain that lights up is the same area that’s activated when you see a friend. Without any real interaction at all, artists have the power to touch people emotionally. I take that responsibility seriously, and though I’m definitely not anyone’s role model, I try to use my platform to be vocal about issues that have personally affected me and that I’m passionate about.
Can you tell us about your focus on suicide prevention?
I’m vocal online about losing my younger sister in 2007 to suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens. Third. That statistic always blows my mind. But having dealt with serious clinical depression myself, I can understand how someone much younger and with less of a reference for time can feel the need to end it all. Jason and I often talk about how high school stakes feel life-or-death because it’s the first society you’re ever apart of. You have no comprehension that there’s something beyond.
When you’re only 16 years old, years seem like eons to you. You’ve only had 15 others to compare it to. It’s all new and frightening and impossible to know that life is constantly changing, that emotions do eventually pass, and that the people whose opinions you value today may not even be in your life a decade from now. I hope that I can help people through that dark phase in their life and wait it out.
You have close to 2 million subscribers and over 10 million views across your channel which is a huge audience! How do you deal with negativity and trolls?
Honesty at this point I don’t even care about them anymore. I’ve heard the worst insult you can imagine over a hundred times. Plus, I take solace knowing that no one would ever speak to me that way face-to-face. And if they did, it’d be so uncharacteristically cruel that I wouldn’t take it personally. I try to empathize that the person on the other end of a mean comment is still a person, and that their reaction has more to do with their own life than what they actually think of me.
As a Japanese-American playing the lead in the series, why was it important to reflect real-world demographics in a way that wasn’t “tokenistic”?
I love how diverse our show is. Though it was a conscious choice, it definitely doesn’t feel that way on screen. And there’s nothing I hate more than a show that feels like it tried too hard to pick one of every color. Everyone on the team agreed that we wanted this show to reflect the world around us because representation matters. Representation matters so damn much. I can’t emphasize it enough. Studies have shown that it influences your hobbies, career, even marital status! What you see on screen has real world implications.
One of my favorite aspects of the show is that the only other Asian American woman is Piper Curda, who plays the puppet I build up who eventually takes me down. Though we’re both Asian and the protagonist/antagonist, it never felt like “oh no, two Asians. This is a show about Asians.” or that it was women pitted against each other. The entire cast comes together so well and so naturally that it feels like any other show.
You are the star and executive producer of ‘Youth and Consequences’, along with some big Hollywood names such as Marcia Cross and Kara Royster. What do you think will be the wider impact of seeing more female creators across all platforms in entertainment?
I hope the impact will be to empower women. All the characters in this show are powerful. It’s a female ensemble of various types of complex people, and I hope there’s one that everyone can relate to. Even our “weakest” character, Plain, has strengths and depths in her vulnerability.
I hope we can showcase women being powerful, vulnerable, sensitive, strong, feminine, masculine, and so much more than just a love interest or the accessory to a man, that it will leave every girl watching with a feeling that they can do the same. After I watched ‘Wonder Woman’, I left the theater feeling like I could take on 1000 men with my bare hands. It was amazing. I want our show to inspire someone else to make their next project and do the same. Pass it on.
How can the internet become a tool for female empowerment and intersectionality, more-so than even traditional media?
The lack of barriers on the internet really gives any type of creator a platform. There are so many walls up in traditional media. That’s why some of the biggest Youtube stars in its early origins were Asian: Ryan Higa, Natalie Tran, Michelle Phan, HappySlip, Wong Fu. Asians who didn’t see themselves on a TV or movie screen could finally identify with people on their computer. We have LGBTQ+ creators amassing huge followings. We have females, particularly WOC like Lilly Singh and Liza Koshy, becoming huge stars.
The internet is a platform that anyone can access, and I think the stars it’s generating speak volumes to what we are lacking in traditional.
What do you hope viewers will take away from watching ‘Youth and Consequences’?
Honestly, I hope they love it so much they tell a friend. That’s when I know I truly love a movie or a TV show or a video I’m watching – when I share it with a friend, when I have that impulse to say “You HAVE to see this”, I know it’s good. So, I hope they love it so much they can’t keep it to themselves.
Watch ‘Youth & Consequences’ on Youtube Red starting March 7th. If you live outside the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia or Korea, click here for more details on availability in your country: https://goo.gl/UEojxv.