By Rachel Chou
When there are as many panel members as attendees, a press conference can resemble opening night of a middle school musical: mid performance, a child’s realization the reserved seat in the front row is still empty.
The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) press conference panel in New York City, consisting of: Peter Lee (Happy Cleaners, closing night August 3), Cecilia Meija (Yellow Rose, opening night July 25), Doris Yeung (The Ugly Model, July 26), David Chai (Alternate Ego), Candace Lang (Alternate Ego), Serena Kuo (End of Summer), Nicole Maxali (Good Vibes), and Veronica Dang (Extinct) was a call for representation and support from the Asian American community.
Crazy Rich Asians from Director Jon M. Chu was a turning point for Asian representation in the media in 2018. In 2019, it feels like momentum has burgeoned, with Ali Wong’s Always Be My Maybe, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, and Marvels upcoming superhero movie with the first Asian superhero, Shang Chi. The looming question, as often thought in times of change, what will keep the momentum?
Nicole Maxali (Good Vibes) says twenty years ago her college professor dissuaded her from writing her final paper on Asian American artists, writers, and directors because “there weren’t enough”. Today the 42nd year of AAIFF is an accomplishment in itself, exemplary of endurance and hope. But Candace Lang (Alternate Ego) says although Crazy Rich Asians has received attention and critical acclaim today, she thinks the storyline is still very cliche. “What’s really missing in any minority community is the true representation of who we are as human beings. Not being stereotypical about immigration or a particular family issue of the Asian culture. We need representation that speaks to all cultures just like any western, American, or European family. We need something to speak broadly to the world.”, Lang says.
Serena Kuo’s film is an example of that notion, End of Summer about a teenagers tragic experience with loss. Kuo says she wanted to create a story with a protagonist who just happens to be queer. “It’s not a story that has to focus on coming out or Chinese tradition. She just happens to inherit this large rich spectrum of different kinds of identities. That for me is also a form of representation. The fact that we can be these complex normalized characters existing of wide array of narratives and we can own up to all these different qualities but our stories don’t have to be centered around those.” Kuo said.
Most of the films represented on panel were stories that help round out the complexity and diversity of Asian American experiences. Happy Cleaners is about a Korean American working class family in Queens, New York. Yellow Rose is a story about an undocumented Filipino girl trying to achieve her dreams of being a musician as she faces deportation. Cecilia Meija, producer of Yellow Rose, says “We’re a small underrepresented sector within the community and I think that’s where we need to support because we need to show up for each other. We have to support everybody.”, she says.