MSNBC’s Katie Phang Dishes on Upcoming AAPI-Themed Special and Year 1 of Her Show

By Mark Mwachiro 

It was almost a year ago when we last spoke to MSNBC anchor Katie Phang, who at that time was excited about her soon-to-be-launched weekend morning show, The Katie Phang Show.

As that anniversary approaches, Phang is set to explore what it means to be an Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), with a focus on AAPI women, in the third installment of the ongoing four-part series The Culture Is: AAPI Women, which debuts Sunday, April 2 at 10 p.m. ET and streaming on Peacock.

The Culture Is: is MSNBC’s way of celebrating women of color with a multiplatform initiative celebrating women of color, with a series that aims to generate authentic and thought-provoking conversations across communities of women.


The first part, The Culture Is: Black Women, premiered on June 19, 2022, and was followed by The Culture Is: Latina, which aired a month and a half later. The final part, The Culture Is: Indigenous, will air this summer on MSNBC.

During this special, which focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander women who are shaping American culture, Phang sits down with comedian and LGBTQIA+ activist Margaret Cho and has a thought-provoking round-table discussion with other AAPI women, including Huma Abedin, author, former chief of staff to Hillary Rodham Clinton and MSNBC contributor; Julia Cho, playwright, screenwriter, writer of Pixar’s Turning Red; Min Jin Lee, author, Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires; Amanda Nguyen, founder & CEO, Rise; Anne Chow, lead director Franklin Covey and former president of AT&T Business; Chloe Dao, fashion designer, and entrepreneur; Mona Shaikh, stand-up comedian and producer; Chef Christine Ha, chef, restaurateur & author, and Chef Suu Khim, chef, and food blogger.

We recently spoke with Phang – who, in addition to an MSNBC host is a Miami-based attorney and founder of a minority and women-owned law firm, about the upcoming special as well as about her show, which explores the intersections of race, law, politics, culture, and more.

Why is this special worth watching?

Well, it’s the third in an incredible series that MSNBC has launched called The Culture is. The first was focused on black women, the second on Latinos, mine is obviously AAPI women, and the next is going to be focusing on Indigenous women. It’ll air later this year. I think it goes without saying that, especially when it comes to my special, the AAPI community as a whole has been underrepresented in so many different ways that AAPI women, especially, I think they’ve struggled with some type of, I’ve called them cultural inhibitions that’s kind of like our DNA. The way that some of us were raised was to not kind of have a very forward-facing profile, not to be very public about our accomplishments, but more importantly, about our journeys. It’s a very difficult thing, as a culture, to speak openly and transparently about the struggles and how it’s been to kind of integrate into what everybody calls America but still kind of carry the baggage of what our cultures have been. So, it was amazing highlighting and focusing on these women that are icons and trailblazers in the AAPI community. We all sat down and had an amazing meal cooked by two AAPI female chefs.

Please elaborate a little bit further on the struggles the AAPI community is facing.

Sure. So a lot of it comes from the idea that the AAPI community is a model minority. It’s the myth that Asian Americans are in America, the fabric of America, but we’re kind of losing our identity. But at the same time, we still come with a lot of the cultural kind of demands of, for example, always kind of being super academic and always having to be very professionally successful. And how is that defined? That’s the kind of yin and the yang, no pun intended, right, between trying to be a part of America but still paying on or in due to where our ancestors came from? Where do we fit in, especially as Asian American women? I think when viewers tune in, they’re going to hear and see these women that they’ve seen on their TVs and movies, and they’re so accomplished, but we all kind of let our hair down. And we say, Look, you know, we have these pressures growing up, having to fit in and having to look more “White” things like that, and how that worked and how we’ve dealt through all of those things.

How do you feel about what happened with the recent (AAPI) wins during the Oscars?

Well, I mean, how else could we not all be so excited? This special obviously was taped before the Oscars. But how lucky are we that there has been an uptick and almost a trend in AAPI recognition? But the concern I have that I think all the other women at the table shared is if this just a flash in the pan. Is this just something that’s temporary? Is it going to be more permanent? So, we celebrate those wins, but we want to keep them moving forward. That’s why it was such an honor to be asked to not only host this special but to actually be a part of it. I also interviewed Margaret Cho in the special, and we have a one-on-one, which was amazing that we did, and that’s going to be a part of the culture is AAPI women’s special.

This segues into my next question: How does it feel to be part of The Culture Is?

I’m one of very few Asian American women that are in this industry space, one of the few that has their own name on a show. I take that responsibility very seriously, and I will tell you NBC has been genuinely committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion at a time when DEI is under attack.

[NBCUniversal News Group chairman] Cesar Conde, he announced back, and I want to say, I think it was 2020, this 50% challenge initiative, and what’s happened is you have the NBCU Academy and other things like bigger kind of hiring moves that had been done at the network to make sure that diversity is really truly done so that when people turn on the TV, they see people that look like them. So, to be asked to host an AAPI special is truly a “see her be her” moment for me.

The Katie Phang Show debuted nearly a year ago (April 9, 2022). How’s it going so far?

Yes, it’ll be one year on April 9, which happens to be Easter, by the way. There have been so many milestones for me personally along the way. I tell people I wasn’t raised in the broadcast journalism space. I was a full-time trial lawyer before I became a TV host and anchor. I was doing legal contributor and analysis work for the network (MSNBC). I still do it, by the way, for the network, but to be able to say that I’m going to hit the one-year mark on April 9 is so humbling.

We have devoted viewers, really great fans of the show. I’m tickled because even when I do a legal analysis hit for another show for a colleague, it’s just a cool way to continue to contribute to the network.

Having my own show has really given me this chance to not only highlight the kind of in-your-face, kind of legal and political issues of the day but the things that mean a lot to me as a mom, as a wife, as a daughter, as a member of not only the AAPI community but my community where I live, which is Florida, which is kind of crazy these days. I have this amazing platform, and as I said a few minutes ago, I take it really seriously, but we also have fun at the same time.

Is there any one memorable story you’ve highlighted on that program that is relevant to the AAPI community?

I’m very proud of the issues and the stories that we cover. Even if they are focusing on a particular community, they are still relevant to all. For example, relevant to what you asked me about the Oscars, I got the opportunity to interview James Hong, who was a part of the cast of Everything Everywhere All at Once that won multiple Oscars. James is 94 years old and has more TV and film credits than anyone in history. We talked about how when he first started out in Hollywood 70 years ago, he could only be available for stereotypes for Asians; those were the only rules for him. Then he talked about how non-Asian men were doing things like having their eyes taped up to have slanted eyes so that they could depict Asians in TV and movies when you had a very qualified, talented Asian actor standing right there who could have done the job. But those roles weren’t available to people like him. So, we would kind of extrapolate to today, where it’s like AAPI representation is just underrepresented; the community is underrepresented. That’s why it’s so great to do segments that may talk about something that is specific to our community but as applicable to many communities.

We have some readers who are network executives. What advice can you provide them concerning improving their coverage of AAPI issues?

Don’t forget about us. What I mean by that is I mean, I’m not trying to sound glib, of course, but I’ll give you a really good example: the Atlanta Spa Shootings plastered all over the news, right? It was a part of the news cycle, and it was tragic and sad. But, I bet you if you ask somebody today, just kind of like a man on the street interview, “What happened to the shooter?” I bet you maybe one, maybe two people out of 10 would know what happened to him. It’s because I think sadly, number one, this news cycle has been crazy with tragedy and all sorts of alarming events. Two, I think, unless the Asian American community keeps on pushing forward and highlighting anti-AAPI hate that was exacerbated by the pandemic, that’s been exacerbated by xenophobia and other types of racist ideas unless we keep on pushing it forward. But, the burden is not just on the reporters, the hosts, the anchors, and the writers. It’s really incumbent on network executives to not forget about us as well because we also have and deserve a seat at the table.

When it comes to news coverage, should AAPI issues stand alone, or should they also march in tandem with issues affecting Black people and or the LGBTQIA+ community?

You’re going to laugh because my answer is going to be, “Yes!” Meaning sometimes there are issues that are just so uniquely specific to the challenges of a particular community they should have a standalone kind of recognition. But at the same time, I think if journalism is thoughtfully done, I think that other communities can not only relate and identify with those segments that are done on the news, or the, you know, the highlighting and kind of like the profiles that are done. But I think that honest conversations need to be had, and that is why The Culture Is AAPI was so important, because I had to tell these women that sat down, I’m like, you have to be honest, we have to be honest about our struggles because other people are gonna watch that are not AAPI. They’re gonna say, “Wait, I’ve been through that too.” I think when people see each other, and have relatability in terms of their lives, that’s when we have healing of risks. That is when we have one big, positive movement together.

How do you get other communities to watch this particular edition of The Culture Is? What would you tell them is important for them to watch it?

I think people should tune in because I think there should be not only a natural curiosity about what are people that are from my community are willing to say, especially (what) women are willing to say about their struggles and their journeys and how they got to be where they are. Putting me out of the equation, these women are incredibly successful in so many different walks of life, and so many of them are recognizable immediately to the viewers. I think you should tune in just out of natural curiosity to learn more about them. But I also think that viewers should make it a point, a standing date, to make sure that they watch this on April 2 at 10 pm on MSNBC because it is part of an ongoing conversation that, again, started with, we call it, TCI, The Culture Is Black women then Latinas. Now, AAPI, and then next Indigenous women, I think it fits perfectly in that kind of fabric of what NBC has been trying to do. I will tell you this; I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for MSNBC President Rashida Jones. She’s the reason why I have my own show. She’s the reason why you see an Asian American woman with her own name on a TV show on cable news. That is what I think is what people should understand as well, that TCI AAPI is part of a serious commitment, and I think that’s what’s going to make viewers feel good as well. They’re tuning in, and they’re learning something, and they’re realizing it’s not just lip service, that we really are focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at NBC.