Tested is the story of the cultural importance of education in the Asian American community and the desire of other communities to get a bigger piece of the pie. The pie in this case is Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, three nationally ranked public high schools in New York City where African Americans and Hispanics are under enrolled. The NAACP has filed a lawsuit challenging the test based admission policy of the schools. Tested is a film proposed by award winning Asian American filmmaker Curtis Chin. He’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the film off the ground. He has 7 more days to raise his $20,000 goal and remains more than $6,000 short.
Tell us about yourself. What other films or documentaries have you done?
My first film was Vincent Who?, a documentary that looks at the historic hate crime murder of Vincent Chin and the impact it’s had on an Asian American political movement. I’ve personally toured the film to almost 350 colleges throughout America and abroad. Prior to that, I worked in television as a writer and also won awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
What’s motivating you to want produce this film?
Education and hard work are values instilled in me by my parents. When I first read the reports about the NAACP legal complaint against the test-only admission policy for these specialized high schools in New York City, I felt like they weren’t fully taking into account the culture, priorities or sacrifices that these Asian American families were making to get into these schools. Given how important education is to the Asian American community, I wanted to include that perspective in this debate. At the same time, I also fervently support the goal of improving the educational experience of black and Hispanic students in particular, and the experience of all under-resourced and disadvantaged kids in general, and believe we need to ensure that every last student has access to a top-notch public education.
Why should anyone give this project money?
Documentary films are one of the few vehicles minority communities have to share our stories with a broader audience. It’s how our perspective can reach policymakers and politicians. Unfortunately, making movies is expensive, even with low-budget films like this one. The amount we are trying to raise, $20,000, is only a fraction of our $150,000 budget. But even just securing that piece of the total will make a huge difference in helping us make a better film. It will allow us to film more days with each featured family and hire editors and composers earlier. Speaking of composers, we want to have New York City high school students compose the music for our film. Finding, working with, and paying them will take time and money, and the fundraising campaign will help with that too.
Tell us about some of the families that will be in your film.
We are covering a diverse group of fourteen students from throughout the city. I can’t get into specifics, since some of the subjects may end up on the cutting room floor, but we have families who are originally from China, Puerto Rico, Russia, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic and more. We have well-to-do families and families in government housing. It’s been fascinating following all these diverse kids and parents. It’s also sad, because not all of them are going to achieve their goals of getting into the schools of their choice.
How concerned are you that your film could unintentionally promote the model minority myth?
I think the myth has been an albatross around our community’s neck and has made it harder for us to talk about the positive aspects of our community. We should be able to talk about the continuing challenges we face as well as areas where we have been successful. Maybe it’s an Asian cultural thing where we never like to take a complement — like that scene in The Joy Luck Club where Auntie Lindo says her food is too salty — but I’d like to push our community to find ways to also feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. The challenge is how to talk about these really positive things without sounding like a braggart.
What do you want your audience to get out of this film?
I want viewers to see that all students face challenges to success and that as a society, we should be supporting all kids and giving them opportunities to succeed. The NAACP LDF wants that especially for the kids they are fighting for; I want that for the families in our film as well. I want to improve the situation of every kid who could use an educational boost. In so doing, I want to be sure we don’t shortchange or scapegoat poor Asian immigrant families who themselves struggle and scrape to secure the best possible future for their kids.