Forgot to make a November update. I was caught up being back in my hometown. The year is starting to wrap up. It was a bit slow in the latter half. I did get asked to put a few of my shorts on Chopso, which is a Netflix like service for Asian American content. They interviewed me as well and I was pretty happy with out it came out. Here is an excerpt below, but if you want to check the rest of it out click this link.
C: Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I was originally a computer engineering major. My freshman year of
college was at Louisiana State University in 2005, the year of Hurricane
Katrina. School was cancelled for two weeks, a tree landed on my car,
and I had some time for self-reflection. I had just had a terrible first
semester and I remember sitting in my Physics 101 class and wanting to
just gouge my eyes out, thinking about hanging out with the same people
from high school, playing more World of Warcraft, and taking 3.5 more
years of classes I didn’t enjoy. It was that moment when I realized that
I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t have a childhood dream of
making movies, but I knew I enjoyed storytelling, so I decided to
switch my major to film and attend University of New Orleans, the only
film school in the state. My parents weren’t super happy with it.
I was also asked to submit another article on the story time zine. This issue focused on self discovery so I wrote about my thoughts on how people perceived the roles that I had gotten since getting into the acting biz. Here it is below.
I was at the Q&A for the Asian American International Film Festival in New York for my feature film Steve Chong finds out that Suicide is a Bad Idea. I was one of the leads in the movie and had written the story with some friends from film school. It was a sold out screening and the audience reception was amazing. I was riding high, answering questions and getting praise from the audience. Then one Asian guy raised his hand and said, “you know, throughout this week I’ve seen movies with a broad range of Asian characters that defy stereotypes. Do you find it problematic that you played the awkward, shy Asian nerd who never gets laid, which is basically reinforcing a negative stereotype?” I was caught by surprise. Here I was thinking that I was taking a positive step forward by making a movie with an Asian character as a lead, only to be told that I was bringing us back a few steps. I hadn’t even thought of my character in that context. This was the first time I learned about the torch I had to bear as an Asian person working in the film industry.
I would say that with almost every major role that I’ve played I’ve had someone say, either to me or about me online, that they felt that by me taking the role I was doing “our people” some kind of injustice. For 21 Jump Street I played a character named Roman, who was part of a group of nerds who liked science and technology and were kind of dorky. I’m good at science and technology and am kind of dorky so I didn’t think much of it when I was cast for the role. It turned out that the role was originally even written for a black guy, and I was the only Asian who went in for the callback audition. I had a lot of fun on that set and the experience was the launching point for my acting career. After the movie came out,some people called my character a walking stereotype. One of my cousins approached me at a wedding to tell me that I should be more cognizant of the roles that I take on in the future. On the other hand, I remember talking to one of the directors of the movie and he told me that he cast me because I was the only one who came into the audition who played a “nerdy” character with confidence. Everyone else played it like a stereotypically meek version. It’s still a role I’m proud of.
For The Big Short, I play a character from China who acts like he doesn’t know English, but then breaks the fourth wall to let the audience know, in a perfect American accent, that not knowing English is a facade to make his math skills more credible. To me, the rolet was interesting and kind of ironic because I personally don’t even know how to speak any form of Chinese language fluently, so it was cool to kind of play into the stereotype, but then turn it on its head. Recently, someone on Twitter told me that they stopped watching the movie right after seeing my part. Another person I talked to at a film festival party told me that seeing that portion of the film made them uncomfortable. That I was the butt of a racist joke and that people were meant to laugh at me than with me.
It’s a unique perspective I am forced to confront every time I audition for a role. Apparently the characters that I’m most right for are the ones that people consider negative stereotypes. It’s not that I’m blind to the fact that there are problematic aspects to the way I’m being portrayed in mainstream media, but I feel like I’m able to improve on those written roles by making them more real. I have had to accept the fact that there will be people who will still only concentrate on the negative.
Going back to the Q&A for Steve Chong, I responded to the question by saying, “we didn’t make this movie with race in mind at all. I was literally just playing myself on screen. So if what you saw was a negative stereotype, then I guess I’m a negative stereotype.” He sat back down seemingly dissatisfied with the answer. After the screening, he came up apologized and said that he now felt like it was problematic that he even asked the question in the first place. If the character of Steve Chong needed to be a shy, awkward dude who doesn’t get laid because Stanley is also a shy, awkward dude who doesn’t get laid then that’s cool. I figure if that guy can accept for me who I am, then I sure as hell should too. But ultimately, I hope that it doesn’t ever have to be asked in the first place.