By Ravi Chandra
October 23, 2022
Two documentaries of note are currently streaming on PBS, and there are several intriguing and important films coming up at DOC NYC, available to stream November 11-27, just in time for holiday family viewing. Scroll down to see my take on the dedication of Vicha Ratanapakdee Way in San Francisco on October 1, 2022. Solidarity and Safety everyone!
I loved AN ACT OF WORSHIP by Pakistani American Nausheen Dadabhoy. It’s a must-see film that highlights difficult history of being Muslim American, Brown and Black over last 45 yrs, and the necessary work of democracy forged in participation and inclusion. (About 90 minutes on POV). I’ve written before that “I’m not one for the Oppression Olympics, but I think there is something to say about Challenging Identity Experiences, and surely Black people and Muslim Americans vie for the leaderboard in this country.”
Gina Kim and Titi Yu’s RISING AGAINST ASIAN HATE: ONE DAY IN MARCH chronicles the aftermath of the Atlanta Spa Massacre on March 16, 2021 – in community and political organization. Also featured is the backdrop of the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents, particularly the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco in January, 2021. This film is so important for many reasons – these last three years have been a galvanizing and sobering time for us as Asian Americans, and the importance of community building and allyship cannot be underestimated for mental health, physical safety, and social well-being. This doc features the biracial son of Yong Ae Yue, Robert Peterson – just one example of the connection of Asian and Black narratives and the need for solidarity.
Our stories are critical in truing America to the values we cherish. The dominant culture has always been fueled by paranoia and contempt of “the other,” those falling outside its narrow AIR (Acceptable Identity Range), EAR (Emotionally Acceptable Range), and CAR (Conceptually Acceptable Range). Rendering others unacceptable is a tool of abusive power, and a callous disregard of empathy and vulnerability. It’s hard to make sense of the dominant culture’s paranoia. Somehow, the push for a diverse, inclusive, just, and equitable democracy is equated with fascism/communism/socialism/you name it. This bizarre, maddening, ignorant, and at the same time, willful, misreading of our humanity challenges us all to be more inclusive and outspoken. I’m glad that there is ample room for growth of community and the insights of interdependence in our virtual worlds. I’m very grateful for the Center for Asian American Media for supporting the above films. The more we watch them, the more we can make the case that our stories are in fact foundational to the story of America, and that we can best tell them. The real world faces a big test on November 8th. I find myself deeply frustrated with the shallow journalistic coverage of horse races, instead of the very real psychological warfare that is being advanced by the GOP, ranging from scapegoating of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ peoples, to the use of buzzwords like “crime” and “economy” without serious consideration of these issues in ways that make sense.
Argh. I keep telling myself that I value a cool head and a good heart, but it’s all in tension, isn’t it? It all comes down to empathy, reason, compassion, and caring for vulnerability. I mean – that’s where strength comes from, right? In addition to being reality. I’ll have more to say on that in future MOSF posts. (Of course! :))
The Asian American films of interest at DOC NYC include the following, all available to stream November 11-27. I’ve already got my tickets and a front row seat for my holiday home-viewing experience with my mom!
WORLD PREMIERE Using his camera as a “weapon against injustice,” Chinese-American photographer Corky Lee brought art and politics together through his decades-long documentation of the Asian American experience. The Queens, NY native captured all aspects of the AAPI experience, from Lunar New Year to street protests, from Pakistani Independence Day to Diwali and more, uplifting his audience with striking images and empowering generations cultural pride. Armed with 20+ years of footage of Corky in action, director Jennifer Takaki honors this unsung hometown hero in this beautiful tribute. – Karen McMullen
Wisdom Gone Wild — Directed by master Japanese American filmmaker Rea Tajiri-
NYC PREMIERE A meticulous documenting of the filmmaker’s mother as she gradually slips into the grip of dementia. Rea Tajiri is both a witness and a participant in a process of remembrance and archiving; throughout this moving collaboration, the mother and daughter switch roles between daughter, mother, survivor, and documentarian. Without falling into the trappings of nostalgia, the film meditates on life, time, and love, while confronting a monumental loss. – Bedatri Choudhury
WORLD PREMIERE With the devastating economic impact of the pandemic and city redevelopment, Chinatowns in New York, Montreal and Vancouver search for innovative ways and resistance to keep their communities thriving. With lush verité footage of bustling Lunar New Year celebrations and warm social gatherings, filmmaker Karen Cho celebrates the vibrance of Chinatown communities. – Kim Garcia
Jeanette Lee Vs. (Dir. Ursula Liang, this will be on ESPN’s 30 for 30 sports doc series)
NYC PREMIERE Jeanette Lee, aka Black Widow, dominated pool halls and competitions in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The Asian American icon brought style, power and brazen ego to the billiards scene. With her recent cancer diagnosis, Lee recounts growing up in NYC, her storied career and the hidden challenges she faced. Filmmaker Ursula Liang (9-Man and Down a Dark Stairwell) peers beneath the persona of Black Widow, and into the soul and strength of Jeanette Lee. – Kim Garcia