Did racism, homophobia, and misidentification play a part in this gay model of color being dropped by his agency?
Chufue Yang is a former model living in the Chicago area. He shared through Instagram last week that he had been fired by his agency.
“Recently, I was dropped by my agency @fordmodels.” He shared before later adding, “Being 5 foot 10, Hmong American (my ethnicity for those of you that don’t know) and gay already challenges the industry in itself and for a while I thought I wasn’t getting booked because of those reasons, when in reality.. that’s exactly why.”
In order to elaborate more on the situation, Yang recently spoke to Dazed Magazine.
The start of the problem happened in 2017 when Chufue Yang signed on with Ford Models and almost simultaneously was featured in Models.com.
While initially excited, his feelings became conflicted after reading the line “from Minnesota via Mongolia.” This upset Yang as he’s Hmong-American (an American descendant of the Hmong ethnic group which originates from China) and not Mongolian.
To rectify this, Yang released a post on Instagram expressing the clarification.
“The title to my feature was ‘Minnesota via Mongolia’. Although it could’ve been a simple mistake, being misidentified ethnically is something that not only me, but a lot of Asian Americans experience daily. I made an Instagram post expressing those feelings and when my agent saw it, they wanted me to take it down because they didn’t want to ruin the relationship they had with models.com.”
Unfortunately, his agency wasn’t appreciative of the post. They told him to delete the post as they didn’t want to strain their relationship with Models.com.
Clearly, Yang ignored that request. Instead, he demanded that the article be edited and corrected. He then later found out that it was his agent that misidentified his ethnicity in the first place.
Sadly, Yang then started to notice a decline in his work. Afterwards, job requests for Yang started to drop more and more. Eventually, this led to his being fired.
When asked by Dazed why he thinks he was fired, Chufue Yang says it’s because the industry doesn’t appreciate or protect queer models of color.
“After the whole models.com incident, things started to get rocky. They would send me to a few castings here and there, but Chicago clients just aren’t looking for people that look like me,” he told Dazed Magazine. “It seems as though my height, mono-lids, and black hair didn’t make the cut, because the emails about jobs started to decrease throughout my time being signed. Not getting booked for things definitely started to take a toll on how I viewed my self-worth. This was a very hard time for me mentally and emotionally.”
“I deactivated all my social media and needed to disassociate myself from modelling because I felt as if I didn’t have control over my body anymore. It got to the point where I just shaved my head and dyed it a different colour without telling my agents. I think my agents probably felt that I wasn’t committed to my career anymore which wasn’t the case at all.”
It seems that the relationship between Yang and his agency grew worse as time went by. He says that the agency never marketed him as a queer model of color in the few months that they worked together. Instead, he says they tried to force him to conform.
“I never expressed these feelings to my previous agency because I don’t think they would’ve fully grasped my point of view. I’m the first QPOC that they’ve ever signed onto their men’s board and instead of marketing me for me, I felt like they wanted me to fit me into a mould. Ultimately, the blame isn’t on my previous agents or my previous agency, but on the industry and myself for not having a stronger stance on my values, voice, and identity. We all learn from our mistakes though.”
But is that the whole of the story? Was there more going on between Yang and the agency?
It would make sense that a growing rift in the relationship between Yang and his agency (and Models.com) also led to his departure. After all, the fashion industry is a very social business. If Yang caused problems just a month or two into his relationship with the agency, that could easily have resulted in a strained work environment.
Don't misunderstand, the racial misidentification and mishandling of Chufue Yang are 100% true, but we're lacking the industry's perspective on the story.
No matter what, Chufue Yang is trying to make peace with his departure. Yang now says that he’s learned from the experience.
“What I’ve learned is to not lose your voice in an industry where your physical features are placed above everything else, especially your identity.”
He also added in his talk to Dazed that he urges other models not to lose themselves in the job.
“Don’t let yourself feel like you’re just another model,” he said. “Everyone has so much potential, but the cool thing is, that greatness is different for everyone. Find that and apply it to your career.”
Meanwhile, Yang has decided to take a break from modeling and is pursuing other things with the hope to return to modeling later.
“My focus has shifted to my education full time, but I hope to model again in the future. Being a model, for me, is just a stepping stone to a bigger platform. At the end of the day, I want to travel the world, educate, inform and connect.”
h/t: Dazed Magazine
This article was created by one of our Contributing Writers and does not reflect the opinion of Instinct Magazine or the other Contributing Writers.