nycc 2015

Elementary’s Lucy Liu Tackles Diversity at NYCC Panel: A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed

HBO's Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Post Award Reception - Arrivals
Lucy Liu. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/2014 Getty Images

The fan questions during the Elementary/Limitless CBS panel at New York Comic Con were top-notch — more so than most questions posed by the moderator or journalists like myself. But that’s the way it should be, right? During the Elementary portion, Lucy Liu was asked how Asian-American representation could be increased in media without “perpetuating really harmful stereotypes.” The fan’s question struck a chord with the way Liu works on the series and seemed to be a pleasant surprise for the actress. Liu replied that the best conduit for change is to simply ask questions and instill the idea of more diversity in the right people. “The idea of doing, and action, is the most important thing,” Liu said. “You talk to people. I’ll speak to Rob [Doherty], and I’ll say, ‘Hey, is it cool if we’re gonna have a boyfriend, can we make him Asian?’ And he’s like, ‘Sure! Let’s put Raza Jaffrey in.’ You know what I mean? You actually have to ask the question.”

Liu continued by underlining the importance of putting yourself out there, even if the answer is more than likely not going to be the most progressive. “The one thing I’ve learned, and I think everyone can take this away with them, is that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” Liu added. “So open your mouth. If somebody says no to you, that’s fine. You’re going to hear no a lot in your life, and that’s just what it is. And somebody’s gonna say yes sometime. So you always have to ask the question.”

For her part, Liu revealed she’s asked the diversity question more often than the Elementary producers and writers would like to hear it. “I’ll ask Rob all the time, ‘Can we make him Asian? Can we make him Asian?’ He’s probably like, Oh, it’s the Asian call again. Or, can we make this person ethnic? It’s not always Asian, it’s just diverse or real or New York, you know? And he’ll say yes or no and that’s just the way it is. He’s never said no across the board.”

Of course Doherty isn’t the end-all-be-all arbiter on choices as complicated and important as diversity, but to be fair to those in charge at the top, the series has embraced diversity more often than not, giving it a more realistic appearance of New York life than other series. “I’m not saying it falls only on Rob; it’s a complicated group because you’ve got people above you and above you and above you and above you. But it starts, as Rob said earlier, as a kernel. And that’s what we have to be: We have to be a participant, and we have to open our mouths.”

Liu on Diversity: A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed