Actor/filmmaker Judy Jean Kwon’s new comedy series MILFriend may have a highly provocative title (for the record, it means “mother I’d like to friend”), but the meaning of the show’s name is greater than what the average viewer may think it to be on its surface.

Created by and starring Kwon, MILFriend (streaming on Kwon’s YouTube channel yoMamaRice, which is also the name of Kwon’s stand-up comedy persona) explores two of modern society’s most challenging trends – gentrification arising in otherwise diverse neighborhoods and young women encountering the responsibilities of motherhood – in an unabashedly funny yet authentic way.

Experiencing both of those aforementioned struggles in MILFriend is its lead character, Pepper (played by Kwon), an arrogant millennial whose dislike of moms and their kids soon becomes a trait she must quickly abandon when she suddenly discovers that her last one night stand has resulted in a pregnancy she never could have foreseen.

In MILFriend (created by and starring Judy Jean Kwon), Kwon plays Pepper, a brash young woman forced to grow up faster than she ever anticipated when she discovers she's about to be a mom.

In MILFriend (created by and starring Judy Jean Kwon), Kwon plays Pepper, a brash young woman forced to grow up faster than she ever anticipated when she discovers she’s about to be a mom.

As Pepper deals with both the repercussions of her unexpected leap into motherhood and the changing cultural makeup of her hometown of Venice Beach, California, she also has to learn the ropes of being a parent to her soon-to-be born child from the upper middle class White mothers who’ve planted their roots in Pepper’s neighborhood. Of course, she’ll also have to spend time with their obnoxious little boys and girls.

Though the idea for MILFriend was richly based on Kwon’s personal experiences with both motherhood and gentrification, the early development of what became her adulthood career in filmmaking began when she spent a good part of her childhood at her parents’ video store. “Watching content that (was) vastly different in story-telling style and culture made me both understand POV (point-of-view) and question whose POV a story line originates from,” Kwon remembers.

At that store, Kwon learned storytelling by observing the famous works of cinema giants like Steven Spielberg and Sergio Leone, while also studying Korean filmmakers and the ways they used written and visual techniques to amplify their dramatic perspectives. Yet as Kwon matured, she began a critical analysis of both the film industry and the craft of moviemaking: “I question everything that comes out of the media, starting with who is the gatekeeper (not writer) and why do they want this story told? Basically, who is pulling the strings?”

Now as an independent filmmaker, Kwon sees MILFriend as the opportunity for her to tell funny yet realistic stories based on the experiences she’s shared with her peers. By making and starring in MILFriend, Kwon also overcame the need to satisfy viewers who wouldn’t understand the character she plays, the community she resides in or the life she leads. “When I first started writing MILFriend, I found myself writing to some imaginary white audience and having to explain (things). I checked myself and decided that I would write what I want to see.”

As Kwon assumed the multiple jobs of acting, writing, producing and directing MILFriend, her initial worries about the complexities of wearing many hats on the show’s set would soon evaporate. “Just with anything, the more you are given the chance to do, the better you will get – whatever that is,” Kwon remarks. “As a performer, it gave me more confidence, and as a writer, it helped me edit out unnecessary words and moments. Also as a writer, it gave me joy to see something that was an idea come alive on screen.”

L-R: Judy Jean Kwon (Pepper) gets an uncomfortable look at her future - a baby - from her neighbor Fernanda (Yelyna De Leon).

L-R: Judy Jean Kwon (Pepper) gets an uncomfortable look at her future – a baby – from her neighbor Fernanda (Yelyna De Leon). In the background (center) is Cuete Yeska (in the role of Jesus).

MILFriend‘s humor and characters aside, the series’ title is also meant to defy audience’s expectations of who and what women are in today’s world.

“I’m always trying to take power back, just like yoMamaRice (Kwon’s stand-up comedy stage name). There are acronyms that are somewhat derogatory towards women and I like to flip it,” adds Kwon. “So I thought it would be funny when a guy is up late at night, types in ‘MILF’ in Google search and gets my comedy series to pop up. I think they would enjoy the humor.”

Elevated by a multi-cultural ensemble cast, MILFriend‘s comedy is described by Kwon as “Family Guy/Absolutely Fabulous meets I Love Lucy” on a stylistic level. However, Kwon explains, MILFriend doesn’t need to go for easy laughs by turning its female characters into the stereotypical sex hunters imagined by and targeted to adult men.

“Women also drink, cuss and do ‘not the traditional’ Martha Stewart things. Most importantly, women don’t have to always flaunt their sexuality or talk about sex to get noticed or (to) have a story. I was raised by my Grandma who comes from a century-old tradition of women’s modesty and I don’t like to explore sexuality in my works. I find many other films already do that, and (they’re) mostly for a male audience.”

Kwon co-produced and co-directed season 1 of MILFriend with her real life husband Richard Henkels (through their production company Commonwealth Creative), and their combined experience in the film industry saw them through the usual day-to-day challenges of keeping their shoot on steady footing.

“Richard and I are production people with decades of experience, so (the) actual production and filming was the easy part,” recalls Kwon, who comments that the cold hard realities of an art form that weighs success and failure in cold hard cash were – and are – an even bigger impediment to their goal of successfully telling the stories of underrepresented communities through shows like MILFriend.

Marcy McCusker plays Tilly, one of the many moms Pepper (Judy Jean Kwon) will have to acquaint herself with in season 1 of MILFriend.

Marcy McCusker plays Tilly, one of the many moms Pepper (Judy Jean Kwon) will have to acquaint herself with in season 1 of MILFriend.

“The hardest part is the ‘business’ part after everything is in the can. Just getting ‘in’ to get meetings is the most difficult thing ever. The industry says that ‘they want diversity’ but the culture of Hollywood does not allow for it.”

While MILFriend‘s production met its goal of combining a diverse cast and crew on the set, Kwon feels that her series’ blending of multiple racial, sexual and ethnic groups on camera is perhaps the truest definition of diversity; a buzzword that traditional Hollywood industry insiders aww consider to mean casting single classes of actors (Black, Asian, Hispanic) alongside their White counterparts.

“Diversity is not having a show with (an) all Chicano or Asian cast, which is not diversity but just another mono-racial show that might represent the underrepresented,” says Kwon, noting that MILFriend‘s cast features talent representing the Asian-American, Hispanic and Caucasian communities. “Diversity is having variety, (and) not just one race, class or sexual orientation.”

No matter their cultural or social backgrounds, though, moms of all kinds will find some common traits with Kwon’s protagonist in MILFriend, the unenviable yet far too real struggles she deals with while preparing to become a first-time parent, and the gradual yet noticeable changes that gentrification makes to America’s quiet suburbs and hectic metropolitan areas.

“I think any mom in the modern world can relate to the experience of motherhood and gentrification in MILFriend,” explains Kwon. “(The series explores) how (the) gentry of gentrification is to be and do things as the ‘gentlemen’ class and it automatically becomes the standard and dominant culture wherever gentrification happens. With the cultural diversity of today and knowledge available at our fingertips, I think it’s only right that those gentry cultures are questioned and to have an exploration from the outside perspective.”

While Kwon is continuing to smooth out the rough parts of being a mom in a gentrified community, her series helps women – including herself – to cope with parenthood’s many peaks and valleys with love and giggles. “MILFriend explores relationships between women,” Kwon notes. “When you have a child, you have to deal with other women and moms. Women’s relationships are more nuanced and still a puzzle for me. There are many grays and a lot of trivial things that get blown out of proportion, which I think makes for a good comedy.”

Screenshot_2020-11-03 MILFriend (2019)As MILFriend‘s first season concludes, both Kwon and Henkels are determined to take their series to an even larger group of audiences that range from moms and moms-in-waiting to fans of true-to-life comedy from all communities.

“My goal now is to get it in front of as many eyeballs as we can, then we go from there,” says Kwon. “We all know there is a need for diversity in Hollywood and (that) the audience wants it, but it’s up to the gatekeepers to step aside to let it happen.”

Although MILFriend may not currently be on Hollywood’s radar, a strong audience following and word of mouth (or tweet, or Facebook post) is sure to get the series a look beyond the big studio gatekeepers. “This (show) would have had a hard time getting green-lit with funding in Hollywood. Now with social media and the world becoming smaller, there are other venues and new ways of watching content that (are) constantly changing,” Kwon replies. “We are open to exploring the international market and we remain flexible to go in any direction.”

Watch MILFriend on the show’s official website:

And on YoMamaRice’s official page: