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Hapa Capsulizes Painful Moments from 2016 Asian America in Less than 90 Seconds

Mannequin Challenge

By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent

A popular new video out less than a week freezes in time moments in 2016 that highlight the racism and the persistent whitewashing the Asian American community faced throughout the year.

The short A-woke is from multiracial filmmaker Teja Arboleda who grew up in Japan and co-producer Michael Tow, both of whom  live near Boston.

Arboleda and Tow utilize the trendy mannequin challenge technique of employing actors who pose frozen like mennequins to depict memorable, and in this film, painful scenes from the past.

“It’s all about telling stories, particularly those which are fresh in our minds and poignant,” said Arboleda to AsAmNews. “Asians are so rarely represented in the media, and when we are, it’s far too often stereotypical. This we all know. But when you put them in the same place, freezing on the pain, using real people, it can drive the story forward and connect to the audience better than for example, a string of clips edited together. It’s the drama and the empathy that moves us, even if the mannequins are frozen.”

Among the moments in time from Asian America spotlighted in his film A-woke are Chris Rock’s opening monologue at the Oscars, the whitewashed casting of Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange, and the stereotypical portrayal of New York’s Chinatown on Fox News.

Among the actors is Arboleda’s daughter who is seen in both the beginning and the end of the short.

“The idea was that the whole sequence took place in her mind, but that she had people around her who ‘woke up’ as her advocates and protectors. That’s why the film is called, A-woke, he said.

“We hope this video will get Asians and Asian Americans to join a movement (as opposed to frozen in time) to protest against racism and the Whitewashing of actors/characters in media. For example, Scarlett Johansson played the White female lead in Lost In Translation in which she was the quintessential foreigner. Now she’s playing the lead hero in Ghost In The Shell in which she plays a Japanese. As a SAG-AFTRA (union) actor, I have no respect for producers and actors who Whitewash us like Tilda Swinton.”Teja Arboleda

As someone who is multiracial who grew up in Japan, Arboleda strongly empathizes with anyone who feels like an outsider. He is African American, Native American, Filipino-Chinese, & German-Danish. He speaks Japanese, considers Japan his home and identifies as being Japanese. While in Japan, he found himself constantly trying to prove his identity. Here in the United States, he says Japanese Americans don’t consider himself Japanese enough. On top of that, Hollywood casting directors don’t consider him Asian enough.

“As an actor I have auditioned for ‘Asian’ roles – but those roles never worked out because the casting directors typically want someone who looks like Jackie Chan.”

Family of Teja Arboleda
Teja (bottom left) with his family

Arboleda’s hope is his video will challenge popular perceptions and encourage those in the Asian American community to work actively to shape the community’s image.

“We (Asian, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans) need to stand up for our rights, need to make waves, need to create and own our own content, run our own studios and control our own distribution. We cannot expect our children to carry this burden. We’re done with the ignorance and silence.”

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