Asian American films at PBS and DOC NYC, November 2022

By Ravi Chandra. Posted on 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.

Charles Jung and David Chiu at a Justice for Vicha rally, photo credit PBS/CAAM

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!

Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story

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

Big Fight in Little Chinatown

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

***

Last month, I attended the renaming of Vicha Ratanapakdee Way in the Anza Vista neighborhood of San Francisco. This is apparently the first street named after a Thai American in San Francisco – not sure if there are others in the US.

I wrote this on Facebook:

“At the dedication of Vicha Ratanapakdee Way in the Anza Vista neighborhood of SF. The first street here named after a Thai American. His daughter Monthanus said “Safety is a basic right. No one deserves to live in fear.” Daniel Dae Kim spoke, adding words of mourning and solidarity. Children read a poem, and said “Today we choose hope. We ask that you join us.” Other city officials including City Attorney David Chiu and the D2 Supervisor as well as Vanita Louie of SF Parks and Rec and activist Amanda Nguyen also spoke. Some said they felt Vicha’s presence. We are only here though because he is absent.”

Below: Monthanus Ratanapakdee; Daniel Dae Kim; children reading a poem; Buddhist monks dedicating the street’s renaming, with a view of downtown SF and Salesforce tower in the background (all in all kind of a montage of America, from the presence and contribution of Asian Americans to our loss and grief, to the financial pillars that exist with ambivalent effects on us all. All photos by Ravi Chandra, October 1, 2022)

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Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist, writer and compassion educator in San Francisco, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. For fourteen years, he was lucky to have his MOSF posts published by the Center for Asian American Media, and now looks forward to broadening and building a diverse creative community and coalition through reflecting on culture and psychology for East Wind eZine. Sign up for updates here, and see all the posts here. He writes from the metaphorical intersection of The Fillmore and Japantown in San Francisco, where Black and Asian communities have mingled since the end of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He literally works there, between two Indian restaurants, go figure, though one has permanently shuttered during COVID. His debut documentary was named Best Film (Festival Director’s Award) at the 2021 Cannes Independent Film Festival. The Bandaged Place: From AIDS to COVID and Racial Justice is available on-demand, and with the discount code “Awake” you can get a 20% discount. His nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. You can find him on Psychology Today,  TwitterFacebook,  Instagram,  YouTube,  SoundCloud, or better yet, in the IRL.

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