Leadership Edge with Sukki Menon from Netflix’s Singapore Social
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with Sukki Menon. Sukki Menon aka Sukki Singapora is a global Asian with roots in Kerala, India, Singapore and the U.K. Sukki began as a burlesque performer and found success as a mainstream entertainer and activist. She is best known for being the first international burlesque performer from Singapore. For her outspoken political views on freedom of expression for women in socially restrictive countries she was recognized with a nomination for the “Asian Women of Achievement Award”. Her television debut came in 2019 with the first docu-series with an all Asian cast launching globally via Netflix, Singapore Social. In addition to this Sukki has appeared in Tatler, Forbes, BBC Worldservice and BBC Asian Network, championing feminism and female empowerment. In addition to her TV performances, she also serves as a global ambassador for The Sharan Project, a UK-based nonprofit organization that provides support and advice for South Asian women confronting health, housing, employment, education, financial, and legal issues. Sukki often posts inspirational content on her Instagram page about supporting women. Given how rampant misogyny still is in many parts of the world, having someone be so outspoken in the fight against it is really moving to see and could help encourage her 215,000 followers to follow in her footsteps.
Q&A for Sukki:
Can you tell us how you got to where you are today?
Wow where do I start! I think from a very young age I showed signs of being a performer. I was always posing or play-acting with my sisters. We used to act out pretend television stations and do impressions of the different characters and their voices. I loved the arts! Ballet, violin, singing… it was in my blood. I think it was almost inevitable that I’d find myself where I am somehow. The pull was just so strong. But to go from that to actually making it a reality, in a way, isn’t just about talent or natural affinity, it’s about being in the right place at the right time, and I actively put myself in the right place. That was the key to it all, I think. It still is!
What is your experience like on reality tv? How would you advise others to get on reality tv?
It’s always important to stay true to your individual. When you are authentic, you’ll get noticed. Everyone has different experiences in life and everyone has different stories to tell and all of those stories are valid and interesting. So, just by being yourself, you will immediately go far. I think I was very authentic to myself, and I was passionate about my career, and I just kept pushing and pushing and trying to break down barriers and create visibility–not just for myself but for all Asians in entertainment–and that kind of got some eyes on who I am.
I think that if you are a good person, and you work hard, and you treat yourself well and you fight for the causes that matter to you, people will notice. So, Netflix wasn’t really totally out of the blue. I didn’t have any plans to be on a reality TV show, but Netflix was looking for real-life characters similar to Crazy Rich Asians, and one of their producers reached out to me, and well–the rest is history. So, my advice is to stay true to yourself, work hard, be authentic, and something will stick.
What drives you?
I’m driven by an uncontrollable desire to make a difference. I think partly it’s so strong because of where I came from. I’m from a very traditional Indian Singaporean family, and my mother who’s British is also extremely conservative. Arts were never really encouraged, and so I didn’t have the luxury of being able to follow the path I wanted to at the time. I think when you go through the experience of not expressing yourself in something that’s so ingrained in who you are, once you get the chance to break free it affects you. For me, that made me want to create a world in which no child would ever feel discouraged to follow their dreams. The bigger my voice, the more amplified my ability to change things for the better. That’s what drives me every day.
What are some choices you’ve made that made you who you are?
I’ve made a lot of tough choices, I’ve overcome a lot of barriers, I’ve plowed through some really difficult times. I think the biggest choice I made was not to let those experiences harden me, or make me cold. Your time will come. The world doesn’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe the world anything. Opportunities will come and go. Life is a journey, and I think it can be so easy to slip into the habit of putting up walls to keep your heart safe, but I choose not to do that. I choose to stay hopeful, and vulnerable, and real.
What is something you believe in, but many others may not?
Falling in love with strangers. I don’t mean as in eros, I mean as in philia. I love getting to know other humans intimately, and genuinely willing them to succeed. I wish time were divisible, because I’d take the time to love every single human I ever met.
I love people, and I love your stories and I love genuinely intimately getting to know every single person I meet everyday. For example, if I’m in a taxi, I want to know the story affecting you. Or if someone messaged me or took the time to tweet me on Twitter, I will stay up until 1am to make sure that everyone knows that I see their messages and their tweets, and thank them for investing their time into me. I’d love to be able to invest in every single person that crosses my path.
What is something that you are working on that you are excited about?
Gosh, I think everything that’s happening following Netflix is getting me excited right now! When the show first came out, I was so excited because I was on a billboard in Times Square. But relatively speaking, I felt normal. Then Netflix came out with a new show called Bling Empire, and that rocketed our show. It’s opened some crazy doors that I’m excited to share in the future. We have some amazing collaborations coming up, and —hint hint– an amazing initiative in TV bookings.
I think despite these difficult times, the pandemic really allowed me to push skills within myself that I didn’t have the confidence to before.
What do you think about the current trends of showing Asians in a different light in Hollywood? How can we join in and help with the movement?
It’s a really emotional time for me. Asians went from being typecast to being celebrated but only through a narrow lens ethnically, to now having a more diverse moment. When I grew up I would have loved to have seen the different shapes, sizes and colours of our beautiful Asian heritage in a way they’re being celebrated right now. But we still have a long way to go. I think we need to be more than just a handful of movies and a couple of television shows. I think we need to really be represented across the board in more than just our own “all Asian” productions. The industry can help by not just raising the profile of Asian productions, talent, and art, but also by raising the profile of shows that hit the mark when it comes to inclusivity. What Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman, and Rod Roddenberry did for Star Trek Discovery is what we need more people to do: give all races and genders an equal moment to shine. I’d be 100% in if they ever asked me to come on board. I screamed with joy for so many reasons watching the diversity on that show, especially when Adil Hussain appeared. We need more of that!
How can others join you in breaking down the stereotype of Asians in Hollywood?
Support shows like Singapore Social, Never Have I Ever, and Bling Empire! Support shows where “the Asian character” is more than just the “geeky conservative one.” Support shows where Asians are represented in all colours, especially South Asians. When you see something that isn’t in support of diversity, or isn’t representing the world you want to live in, encourage those around you to be better and do better, because true change can only come from working together.
Thank you! Do you have any last messages for our readers?
Wow! Yes. Never give up. Always stay true to who you are. Be brave, and the greatest things in life are right around the corner.
Follow Sukki on her Instagram account Sukki Menon