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How This Gala Became an Authentic Spotlight for the Asian and Pacific Islander Community

Character Media's Unforgettable Gala honored API talent in the entertainment industry—and featured a long list of API-led vendors behind the scenes.

Event producer Tina Li sees an event like the Unforgettable Gala as a chance to spotlight and boost API-owned vendors and enterprises. “Events like this let us promote and support our community not just on camera or onstage, but also behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s truly an event uplifting APIs—where the actual heavy lifting is also done by APIs.”
Event producer Tina Li sees an event like the Unforgettable Gala as a chance to spotlight and boost API-owned vendors and enterprises. “Events like this let us promote and support our community not just on camera or onstage, but also behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s truly an event uplifting APIs—where the actual heavy lifting is also done by APIs.”
Photo: BYC Photography

LOS ANGELES—The Unforgettable Gala, fondly known as UNFO, honors the year’s top Asian and Pacific Islander talents in entertainment, arts, and culture. Hosted by Character Media and held annually at The Beverly Hilton, the black-tie gala and award show is typically attended by more than 1,000 guests, including some of Hollywood’s biggest leaders, entertainers, businesses, and brands.

The most recent edition took place Dec. 16, 2023, and honored the likes of Charles Melton, Steven Yeun, and the casts of Beef and Never Have I Ever. The show was hosted by Barbie actor Simu Liu, with honorary event chairs Lisa Ling and Destin Daniel Cretton.

Production was led by Tina Li, principal of THL Productions and the gala’s event director. “The Unforgettable Gala is the longest-running API awards ceremony, starting more than 20 years ago in a producer's backyard,” Li explained. “We take pride in the progress that we and APIs in entertainment have made since then. Each year, we recognize the biggest names who’ve made an impact in Hollywood, and it’s thrilling to see how our awards at the end of the year actually predict many honorees of the upcoming award season.” 'Hanging oversize banners inside the International Ballroom's west wall was an idea by Character Media's founder and event host back in 2021,' said Li. 'It’s become our signature look, and we change the displayed images each year to feature current honorees.'"Hanging oversize banners inside the International Ballroom's west wall was an idea by Character Media's founder and event host back in 2021," said Li. "It’s become our signature look, and we change the displayed images each year to feature current honorees."Photo: BYC Photography

The unofficial theme of last month’s event was “making waves,” added Li, “representing changes in Hollywood for the API community, from small ripples to big impacts. We slipped in subtle references to waves in the overall event design for UNFO.” 

“Some mentioned the color scheme was reminiscent of Crazy Rich Asians, which I thought was a fitting coincidence,' said Li. 'That film made huge strides for Asian Pacific Islander representation in Hollywood, leading to more API projects being greenlit in the last five years.”“Some mentioned the color scheme was reminiscent of Crazy Rich Asians, which I thought was a fitting coincidence," said Li. "That film made huge strides for Asian Pacific Islander representation in Hollywood, leading to more API projects being greenlit in the last five years.”Photo: BYC PhotographyThe step-and-repeat incorporated the origami crane, the official UNFO emblem.The step-and-repeat incorporated the origami crane, the official UNFO emblem.Photo: BYC Photography
The design took on a rich teal color palette with classic gold accents and jewel-toned florals. “The featured step-and-repeat backdrop on the red carpet incorporated gold waves and fresh florals," Li noted. “The designs included the origami crane, the official UNFO emblem.” 

“Some of my favorite details were in the tablescapes: green linen, gold fanfare chairs, gold-rimmed charger plates, and elegant floral arrangements," she continued. "Along with the sponsored wines and cognac, we placed the annual Character Media magazine on each table. We put great care into the full guest experience, from cocktails to cuisine to entertainment."

Beyond the design, creating an authentic event for the diverse API community required some careful consideration behind the scenes. “A number of the vendors I collaborated with for this event were API-owned businesses, and Character Media is also an all-API editorial and production team,” noted Li. “Having API leadership, expertise, and participation was meaningful for a unique awards gala like this.” 

She continued, “There are still prevalent stereotypes of APIs having careers in medicine, tech, and finance. But there is incredible API talent in the arts and entertainment as well—not just on screen, but behind the scenes too. This includes producers, writers, costume designers, graphic artists, hairstylists, makeup pros, cinematographers, and more. The same diversity exists in the event world, with many API-led companies ranging from event planners to florists to fabrication shops to AV production houses.” “We worked under tight time constraints, needing meticulous scheduling for vendor load-in and load-out,” said Li. “This year was our first broadcast production as well, which required extra management, staffing, and coordination. It takes a seasoned team to produce an event of this caliber. Each segment and section required dedicated managers and team members, and I was fortunate to have the support of my amazing event producer colleagues.”“We worked under tight time constraints, needing meticulous scheduling for vendor load-in and load-out,” said Li. “This year was our first broadcast production as well, which required extra management, staffing, and coordination. It takes a seasoned team to produce an event of this caliber. Each segment and section required dedicated managers and team members, and I was fortunate to have the support of my amazing event producer colleagues.”Photo: BYC Photography

In addition to refining the gala dinner menu with The Beverly Hilton’s executive chef, the team collaborated with API celebrity chef Johneric Concordia of The Park’s Finest on a special beef entree. There were also Asian-inspired signature cocktails like lychee martinis and yuzu mojitos. 

The gala also celebrated the API community via live entertainment. “We featured popular API artists onstage, such as Common Kings; Iam Tongi; and Broadway veterans Jennifer Paz, Deedee Magno Hall, Joan Almedilla, and Troy Laureta to honor API Tony award winners,” said Li. The after-party featured a second set of live performances by up-and-coming API artists. The after-party lounge featured chandeliers, cabanas, and mini lounges for VIPs and top sponsors.The after-party lounge featured chandeliers, cabanas, and mini lounges for VIPs and top sponsors.Photo: BYC Photography

For other event professionals aiming to create an authentic experience for the API community, Li’s advice is to first understand and carefully craft a meaningful narrative behind the event. “I highly recommend working with other API consultants, producers, creatives, and vendors,” she added. “We not only bring quality, seasoned expertise, but also an invaluable cultural and community perspective.”

Li also advised avoiding cliches, and cautioned planners not to overemphasize Asian stereotypes in entertainment such as K-pop, anime, and martial arts—unless your event is specifically about those aspects of the culture, of course. “And reserve usage of any API symbols and characters unless you know it truly fits the context,” she added. “Authenticity comes through in your event’s story—but also in the smallest details.” “Wrangling the massive guest list is challenging, for multiple reasons, especially dealing with VIP talent needs, security, publicists, etc.,” explained Li. “But we had a dedicated public relations and talent relations team managing the more than 1,000 guests who attended, and we also implemented an event management platform to streamline RSVPs, seating assignments, and the check-in process. We're constantly refining the tool with our app partner to add features that will benefit other event planners as well.”“Wrangling the massive guest list is challenging, for multiple reasons, especially dealing with VIP talent needs, security, publicists, etc.,” explained Li. “But we had a dedicated public relations and talent relations team managing the more than 1,000 guests who attended, and we also implemented an event management platform to streamline RSVPs, seating assignments, and the check-in process. We're constantly refining the tool with our app partner to add features that will benefit other event planners as well.”Photo: BYC Photography

Floral design company LA Premier was one of many API-owned vendors Li collaborated with for the 2023 gala.Floral design company LA Premier was one of many API-owned vendors Li collaborated with for the 2023 gala.Photo: BYC PhotographyVENDORS:
Event Host: Character Media
Event Producer: THL Productions
Venue: The Beverly Hilton
Communications & PR: 10storyhouse
Event Management Teams: The Blushing Details, Dee Lee Designs, Master Plans Events and Designs, SixteenFourteen Events
Event Support: Liz Chan, Vivian Ha, Ngoc Nguyen, Karla Solorzano
Fabrics & Drapes: Dazian Fabrics
Floral Design: LA Premier
Guest List Management: VOW App
Lighting: Premier Lighting
Linens, Chairs, & Chargers: Bright Event Rentals
Lounge Furniture: FormDecor
Motion Graphics: MikeyCFilm
Photo Booth: 8Bit Photobooth
Photography: BYC Photography
Print Design: La Design Boutique
Red Carpet: Event Carpet Pros
Security: JRM
Step-and-Repeat Backdrops: Preferred Projects
Tech After-Party Audio: AVL Production
Tech Stage Audio & Lighting: Encore Global
Tech Stage Scenic & LED: TSV Sound & Vision
Tent & Party Rentals: Town & Country Event Rentals
Trophies: Society Awards
Videography: Ning Wong Studios
Web Design: Wknd Builds 

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