Lucy Liu, Olympians, Oscar Winners and Hello Kitty

Gold Gala is the type of weekend where you can share an intimate booth at L.A. culinary hotspot Yangban with a Pulitzer winner (journalist Jose Antonio Vargas) and a top festival exec (TIFF chief programming officer Anita Lee) on Friday night and then mimosas and a sound bath at the Four Seasons the next morning with an Olympic figure skater and a former Miss Universe (Madison Chock and R’Bonney Gabriel, respectively) – all as part of mere pre-gaming to the titular main event, which took place at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night.

Ostensibly a cultural celebration and awards dinner from Asian Pacific power broker network Gold House, the third annual Gold Gala was simultaneously an haute couture showcase and a family reunion, with 600 API talent and leaders from across multiple industries turning out in their finest “heritage black tie,” per the dress code. As usual, Gold House CEO Bing Chen set the tone by getting on the mic to personally and punningly scold any guest (even and especially the VIPs) who ignored the ushers’ entreaties to find their seats so the lengthy show could begin: “[Netflix film chief] Dan Lin, you need to ride yourself back to your seat and SIT DOWN!”

Continuing to meld the elite with the familial, Gold Legend honoree and gala culinary director Padma Lakshmi took the stage early with restaurateur Roni Mazumdar of Michelin-starred Semma in New York City to introduce the inspiration behind the evening’s menu, from Semma executive chef Vijay Kumar: “A love letter to South India, where we’re both from – and all the curry leaves are from my dad’s farm.”

The diverse program, which featured honorees and presenters from across the aggregated API diaspora, included HYBE chair and BTS impresario Bang Si-Hyuk, who flew in from Korea to accept his Gold Legend award in person; Saweetie, the first-ever Billboard Gold Music recipient; Beef creator Lee Sung Jin and his cast, taking the Gold Icon after sweeping nearly every limited series race last awards season; the Maui wildfire first responders, praised for their social impact; and Hello Kitty, who looked fresh-faced as ever onstage despite being 50 years old (she received the Gold Generation honor).

In addition, Gold Gala convened nine all-star U.S. Olympians and Paralympians – including Chloe Kim, Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Anton Ohno and Nathan Chen – onstage to recognize both the 2022 U.S. figure skating team’s upgrade to gold two years after the competition ended and to salute the AAPI athletic excellence heading to the Paris Games this summer.

The magnitude and visibility of API talent gathered across the plaza made an impression on Lucy Liu, who received her Gold Legend honor from Regina King. “I feel like it’s been very lonely,” said the 30-year industry veteran in a halting and heartfelt speech that was delivered without notes or a teleprompter. “There are a lot of decisions that one makes because of the limitations. And I love that we are all here tonight because there is no ceiling, and I’ve never seen that for myself. I want us to all collectively understand how special this moment is, that we are together as a community.”

Echoing that message of solidarity was Gold Ally honoree Cynthia Erivo, who attended the gala with Lena Waithe and was introduced by her Wicked director Jon M. Chu and costar Michelle Yeoh. After Chu screened an exclusive making-of featurette of his latest movie musical spectacular that he asked the attendees not to record, Erivo accepted her honor with a speech that noted the fruitful history of Black and Asian partnership, from Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama in the civil rights arena to Ryan Coogler and producer Nina Yang Bongiovi on Fruitvale Station. “And I have to say this: Can we please work together more?” she added, departing from her prepared remarks. “Because I love the work that we put into the world, but we almost always do it separately, and quite frankly, we’re so much more flavorful when we do it together. So more for us: more for every single one of you in this room, and I hope that I get to see many of your names in lights, and I get to do it with you.”

Cynthia Erivo accepts an award from Jon M. Chu and Michelle Yeoh on stage during Gold Gala 2024 at The Music Center on May 11, 2024 in Los Angeles.

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Gold House

In the spirit of Blasian collaboration, Saweetie returned to the stage to close out the official program with a multi-song set that included her first live performance of “Nani,” which she excitedly dedicated to Maitreyi Ramakrishnan after spotting her in the crowd. “Is that the girl from Never Have I Ever?! Oof, girl, I binge watched your Netflix series!”

Saweetie performs on stage during Gold Gala 2024 at The Music Center on May 11, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images for Gold House

The three-hour gala was followed by an afterparty – the Gold House x Billboard Founders Party – that was even longer and was kicked off by a performance from reigning RuPaul’s Drag Race champion Nymphia Wind. While Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Daniel Kwan and Harry Shum Jr. tore up the dance floor, presided over by Steve Aoki, the Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was transformed into the world’s classiest karaoke lounge (presented by Rakuten Viki). It was here that journalist Jen Yamato’s perfectly pitched cover of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” inspired actor and idol Taecyeon (Vincenzo, 2PM) to bestow upon her a “Lead Vocalist” sash and Auli’i Cravalho’s soulful rendition of Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” was essentially a free intimate concert with a celebrated pro.

With all the considerable API giftings and power collectively on display, Gold House’s Chen issued a call to pay it forward as the official portion of the evening concluded, stressing that the organization operates not from a place of focusing on representational deficits but from emphasizing its extant strengths. “We have an intrinsic power, therefore we have a responsibility and privilege of giving,” he said, after noting API success across film and television (EEAAO, Squid Game, Beef) as well as business (43 percent of companies that have gone public in the past two years are API-founded).

“When DEI priorities D-I-E, it is on our community to ensure that we continue to hire inclusively and to promote equitably. It is on our community to ensure that our boards are 50 percent women, hiring from Latino and Black and Indigenous communities. When members of our community are silenced, particularly for their stance on what is happening in Gaza, it is our responsibility to make space that is safe for them and for everyone at the table. It is our community’s responsibility, because we are the global majority, to know that giving to others means you lose nothing. Because when you die, you take nothing when you go.

“And it is our community that needs to remember that instead of begging for a seat at someone else’s table, we now have the power across the arts and business to build our own fucking houses, period.”


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