"Representation is everything. Inclusivity is everything."
The Hallmark Channel is making progress in its efforts toward having more diversity and representation in its content -- and Janel Parrish says she's thrilled to be "a part of the change."
In an interview with TooFab, the actress opened up about starring in the first Hallmark film with two Asian American leads, the network's latest TV movie, "Right in Front of Me."
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"It's pretty amazing. [Co-star Marco Grazzini] and I are both not new to the Hallmark family, which is great," began Parrish, 32. "This is my second Hallmark movie, but it's the first time in history that Hallmark has had two Asian American leads and to me, that means the world because growing up I did not see a lot of films with Asian American representation, let alone one Asian American lead, let alone two! So, it's pretty great."
"We feel so happy and excited to be a part of the change," she added. "And representation is everything. Inclusivity is everything. So we're just so proud and we're so grateful to Hallmark to give us a platform to raise our voices and tell these stories."
Parrish -- who previously starred in the 2020 Hallmark Christmas TV movie "Holly and Ivy" -- continued to praise the network for making projects in which "everybody has a right to be heard."
"They tell such beautiful, heartwarming stories," she told TooFab. "They're being so wonderful with representation and diversity and inclusivity. The stories they're telling -- everybody has a right to be heard and I feel like they're really giving the microphone to all different types of voices and faces and I'm really proud to be a part of that."
While there may not have been much representation in film and television when Parrish was growing up, the "Pretty Little Liars" star said she still had several women she looked up to in the industry, including Nancy Kwan, Lea Salonga and Lucy Liu.
"I'm a huge musical theater lover," Parrish explained. "So I watched 'Flower Drum Song' a million times, and Nancy Kwan was one of the first Asian American actresses where I was like, 'She's doing it! I could do it too!' Lea Salonga -- again, sorry, musical theater nerd -- but seeing her on stage just dominating in these powerful female leads. I was like, 'Well then I could do it too.' Of course, Lucy Liu, who's just groundbreaking. I mean I remember watching her in the '90s and 'Ally McBeal' and just being like, 'Wow, a super-strong, badass, powerful Asian American woman with a big personality just coming in and dominating.' I loved it."
Parrish also gave a shoutout to her "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" costar Lana Condor, saying the actress is "paving the way for all of those beautiful little Asian American girls looking up to her."
When asked how she feels to also be that representation for young girls herself, Parrish said she was "grateful. Really, really grateful." She added, "I'm so glad to be a part of it and the fact that we are heading in that direction and to be a part of it is great. It makes me feel very proud."
"Right In Front of Me," follows a bridal stylist, Carly (Parrish), who gets a second shot with her college crush while on a weekend getaway. Unsure how to impress her crush, Carly gets advice from a new male friend, a chef named Nick (Marco Grazzini).
In the film, Parrish's character eats a lot of incredible food, much of which featured South Asian cuisine. "Literally, dream role," Parrish said of getting to enjoy the delicious bites while filming. "I eat so much food and it was all so good."
She recalled, "I remember the director even coming over and being like, 'Janel are you okay to take a few more bites? Do you want us to bring you a spit bucket?' I was like, 'No! This is my dream.' So good! I got to eat so many amazing Filipino fusion dishes. So good."
One word she'd use to describe the film: Yummy.
"You get all the yummy, fun, flirty things that are happening," Parrish explained, "but also you just watch this movie full of amazing looking food."
Check out the videos above to see more from Parrish -- including her thoughts on possibly recording an album or performing in a musical someday.
"Right In Front of Me" premieres Saturday, April 17 on the Hallmark Channel.