REVIEWS

“American justice has become American injustice. Superimposed on you.”

Showcased at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is a documentary directed by Steve James that encapsulates a five-year-long legal battle between the state of New York and Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

Within the first three minutes of the film, the viewer is introduced to the entire plot.

Thomas Sung founded Abacus in 1984 after realizing Chinese immigrants had no access to financial resources such as loans and credits. The family-owned community bank quickly expanded in location and provided accessible resources as it served and uplifted the Chinese community for decades in New York. Eventually, Sung’s daughters Vera and Jill joined their father in his mission to provide the Chinese community with an opportunity to attain the American Dream.

However, Abacus was not immune to greed.

The company underwent two waves of larcenous employees. The first transpired in 2003, where branch manager Carol Lim disappeared with ten million dollars. The second incident occurred in 2009 and had a less forgiving outcome. The Sung family discovered Ken Yu, a loan officer, and several other employees in the loan department had committed fraud by embezzling money from borrowers and falsifying loan documents. The Sungs responded by firing all of the responsible individuals, notifying the proper authorities and pursuing a private investigation. Shortly after their response, the New York District Attorney office involved itself in the case and charged Abacus in 2012 with 184 (later 240) counts of indictments that included mortgage fraud, grand larceny and conspiracy.

The film mastered navigating through narratives with smooth editing and transitions. The incorporation of investigative journalism that occurred during the legal battle provided an insightful and realistic element to the documentary.

The intimate familial scenes between the Sungs were well situated in the film.

The family’s Dim Sum and interview segments, for the most part, portrayed them as dedicated, genuine and humble individuals who just want to see their community succeed. These moments lighten the intense mood from the case, and for the most part, incorporated a fairly balanced perspective to juxtapose the two parties.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the prosecution lacked a definitive case.

The prosecution’s approach seemed to be executed with discrimination in mind. Their entire case was built on speculation that Abacus’ management was well aware of the corruption within their loan department, which seemed likely, but Abacus cooperated and assisted the DA when they first opened the case. However, the prosecution did not end there, for they believed that Abacus had contributed greatly to the 2008 financial crisis.

The latter is a bit far-fetched and hypocritical.  

It became obvious that justice depended on who the offender was. And Abacus was the offender targeted because of its skin color.

The government turned a blind eye on large bank companies when they engaged in fraudulent schemes that blew up and caused the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, the film shows the government bailing out the big bank companies (typically ran by white CEOs) who just had to pay the penalty fees to make the situation go away.

Abacus did not receive the same treatment.

“The DA told us, ‘You have to accept a plea of guilty for felony, plus a fine,’” said Thomas Sung.

The lack of options disregarded by the prosecution raised concerns that the DA’s targeting of Abacus was saturated with prejudice.

In response to these accusations, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, “I think the characterizations that this was somehow a cultural bias on the office’s part…entirely misplaced and entirely wrong. We devote an enormous amount of effort into protecting immigrant communities and I felt that our handling of the bank was consistent with how we would have handled the bank if we were investigating a bank that services a South American community or the Indian community. There was nothing different that we did or purposely designed to treat this bank differently.”

Vance highlights community of color banks in his statement, which seems contradictory to what he is saying because he is creating a distinction between privilege in large corporate banks and community banks.

His quick dismissal of discrimination is also inconsistent with the behaviors exercised by the DA office throughout the case.

In the film there is a scene where the convicted employees of Abacus were all handcuffed to a chain and led out of the courtroom by DA investigators. According to interviews from attorneys and investigative journalists, they recall their shock in seeing the fifteen Chinese individuals chained for the first time in their entire career.

The film highlighted more issues within the Chinese American community than just the legal battle.

The cinematography captures culture, conflict and a family’s grit faithful to reality. We see an entire community dependent on the offender–Abacus, to achieve their means of the American Dream and yet, that same community is harassed by the law.

“When we started the bank, it was our motivation to help all the people, all of the immigrants,” said Thomas Sung.

The Sung’s duty to the community never faltered and they persisted and fought for their legacy in court so that they can continue to serve the Chinese community.

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” will be in theaters May 19.

Earlier this month at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Vietnamese American actress Kelly Marie Tran was announced to play the largest new role in the upcoming film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

According to “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson at the event’s “The Last Jedi” panel, Tran’s character Rose is a maintenance worker in the Resistance.

Johnson explains that one of the takeaways he had as a child growing up watching the “Star Wars” series was the idea of heroes like Luke Skywalker getting “pulled out of wherever” and becoming “this unlikely hero.”

The main hero of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker, was a moisture farmer on the Outer Rim planet of Tatooine who was suddenly pulled into the Rebellion with the purchase of two droids. The main hero of the prequel trilogy, Luke’s father Anakin, was born a slave.

Up until recently, this “unlikely hero” has always been a white man. The seventh film in the franchise, “The Force Awakens,” features another Skywalker, Rey, but this time a white woman. The “unlikely” hero in last year’s anthology film “Rogue One” was Jyn Erso, who was also a white woman.

Evidently, it is very likely that the main “unlikely hero” in the “Star Wars” franchise is white.

(As an aside, the idea that anyone can become a hero is at odds with Anakin’s Jesus-like backstory introduced in “The Phantom Menace,” which makes the unlikeliness of the Skywalkers’ heroism much less random and much more purposeful. But we’ll ignore that because, well, “The Phantom Menace,” am I right?)

While Tran’s role is not as the main heroine of the film, it is promising that Johnson introduces Tran’s character as “the biggest new part” of “The Last Jedi.”

He explains, “The notion that anyone out there, any of us, can step up and turn into a hero. That’s really kind of where the character Rose comes from. She’s not a soldier, she’s not looking to be a hero, and she gets pulled in a very big way into an adventure in this movie with Finn, and Kelly just embodies that for me.”

Discussion of Tran’s  character from 28:37 to 32:45.

This is the first time in which the narrative that “anyone” can become a hero has been extended to an Asian American woman in the franchise since the original release of “Star Wars” 40 years ago.

Also important is the role of an Asian American woman on the big screen as a hero of the Rebellion. With Asian women generally portrayed as submissive and conforming, the role will hopefully break stereotypes and prove that they can be rebels and kick ass too.

It will be the first time that Tran, who up until now has appeared in web series and guest starred in TV roles primarily as a comedian, will appear on the big screen. The “Star Wars” franchise has propelled many of its actors to fame over the years. It has done so for the likes of Mark Hamill, and more recently Daisy Ridley and John Boyega–and it may just do the same for Tran.

This is a timely announcement considering this year’s controversial casting of a white woman, Scarlett Johansson, as Major Motoko Kusanagi in “Ghost in the Shell,” which was just released at the end of last month.

In an interview with Vice, “Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders claimed, “The world cast Scarlett really. That’s who people want to see in this kind of film … it is ultimately an international and global film starring a global lead. You need Scarlett Johansson if you are opening a film in Russia as well as in Tokyo.”

The message that Sanders sends is that only the stories and experiences of white people are universal. The “world” does not want to see an Asian story come to life portrayed by Asians. Asians are not “global,” whatever that means.

(Of course, Sanders has only directed one other film, so take his opinions on what kinds of films the world wants to see with a grain of salt.)

Ironically, on the same date that “Ghost in the Shell” was released in U.S. theaters to flop in the box office, Marvel Vice President David Gabriel accused diversity and women as the forces behind declining sales. In a statement that has been well-criticized, Gabriel claimed, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.”

It is thus refreshing to see a well-loved franchise and cultural phenomenon like “Star Wars” continuing to follow its trend of including more and more diverse roles in space by introducing an Asian American woman in what will hopefully be a dynamic, stereotype-breaking role.

The series’ most recent film, “Rogue One,” features a diverse cast that includes three Asian men as part of the Rebellion. However, in celebrating the film’s diversity, it is also crucial to recognize that the film’s women and men of color all die in order to secure the plans for the Death Star. Though the cast introduced in “Rogue One” was never referred to in the original “Star Wars” films, it is questionable just how necessary it was to kill everyone off. It also raises the issue of whether or not the bodies of women and people of color are seen as more expendable.

Portrayals of Asians in space are a long time coming, especially as “Star Wars is a franchise that has always taken from Asian cultures without any representation of Asian characters up until recently.

(To be fair there is one Asian man (Lieutenant Telsij) in “Return of the Jedi” during the Battle of Endor, but he literally appears for less than 2 seconds. Yay representation!)

Director John Landis recalls that after a screening of the original film, he asked, “George, is everybody in outer space white?” It is high time for the series to feature Asians in space.

Whether or not these roles for people of color in space will be more dynamic is unconfirmed.

Hopefully the casting of Tran will lead the way for not only the casting of more and more Asian American actors and actresses, but for stories of them in more compelling roles.

Lastly, it is important to note that, despite her so-called huge role in the film, there is not a single snippet of Tran in the 2 minute and 12 second trailer for “The Last Jedi.”

The fact that Rose is a new character is irrelevant to the fact that she is excluded from the trailer, as the trailer for “The Force Awakens introduced multiple new characters. There are only 2 possible rational explanations for Tran’s character not appearing in the trailer. Either Rose is not relevant enough to the overall movie so she does not warrant time in the trailer, or Rose is relevant but the image of her is not important enough to include in the trailer. Unfortunately, neither of these two options are without flaw, and it is impossible to tell which is the better of the two, if there even is a better option. Implications of these options may mean that the Asian American community is celebrating the film for doing the bare minimum, pandering to our community, or, like Sanders’s claim referred to above, that the image of an Asian American woman will not sell and/or does not belong.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is scheduled to release in U.S. theaters on December 15, 2017.

 

When it comes to Marvel, I have a soft spot. My brothers and I, of different ages and interests, never spent time doing something together unless it was “Brother-Brother-Sister Movie Night.” Over the past several years, it had always centered around a Marvel production, but now we’ve found ourselves skipping over it in favor of another film. 

It began with “Doctor Strange,” in which the role of the Ancient One, the mentor of Dr. Strange, shifted from a Tibetan man to a Celtic woman. If Marvel really wanted to avoid racial stereotypes as they’ve claimed in regards to this casting, wouldn’t it make sense then to take away other indicators of Asian culture such as location, dress, and arts?  

When it came to casting a white woman in the role of an Asian man, Marvel claimed this break in source material to be a defiance of racial stereotypes present in the comic; however, when it came to the development of Iron Fist, this did not hold true. 

Picture by Marc Faletti via Flickr Creative Commons.

Created in the 1970s, Iron Fist is about a young billionaire who, after losing his parents, becomes an expert in martial arts and the Iron Fist, which gave him mystical powers when he harnesses his chi. Rooted in this storyline are the controversies of the white savior complex and Orientalist thinking, which resulted in petitions calling for the production company to cast an Asian American actor.  

By casting an Asian American actor in the role, Marvel could have given a chance for diversity and representation by retelling what was an outdated, racist story. Marvel, however, decided to stay true to its source material by casting actor Finn Jones, who pleaded through his Twitter for audiences to give the show a chance before judging it when faced with backlash of diversity.  

So here we are, a month after “Iron Fist” was released on Netflix. Since this release, I have withheld any judgment until I had watched all thirteen episodes of the show.

And painstaking, it was.

For starters, let’s begin with the title of each episode:

     Episode 1- “Snow Gives Way”

     Episode 2- “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight”

     Episode 3- “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch”

     Episode 4- “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”

     Episode 5- “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus”

     Episode 6- “Immortal Emerges from Cave”

     Episode 7- “Felling Tree with Roots”

     Episode 8- “The Blessing of Many Fractures”

     Episode 9- “The Mistress of All Agonies”

     Episode 10- “Black Tiger Steals Heart”

     Episode 11- “Lead Horse Back to Stable”

     Episode 12- “Bar the Big Boss”

     Episode 13- “Dragon Plays with Fire”

Most of these titles are the names of moves or sequences in Shaolin kung-fu. Never mind that they contributed little to no significance to the plotlines, but hey, let’s just throw them in there because it contributes to the mystic, exoticness of Asian cultures. The rest are phrases associated with Asian stereotypes in speaking in short, ambiguous phrases or proverbs that don’t directly answer the prompt. An example, in particular, is Episode 9, “The Mistress of All Agonies,” which centers on the capture of Madame Gao, a drug lord associated with the Hand, an evil organization. When Colleen addresses Gao’s capture, saying “I don’t understand why we had to bring her here,” Danny replies, “Never let the enemy choose the battlefield. Always work from a position of strength.” Sage advice indeed, Danny.  

But I continued to watch until the last scene of the last episode faded into black, and what I have gathered from the series is that it was laughably bad, cringeworthy, and sad.

Let’s rewind all the way to the first episode, which introduced us to Daniel “Danny” Rand, the Iron Fist, when he returns to New York and runs into Colleen Wing, a martial arts instructor teaching in a dojo. His first interaction with her included him mansplaining to her about her teaching, culture, and martial arts skills. But that doesn’t even take the cake; what takes the cake is his assumption of her identity by speaking to her in Mandarin, to which she tells him to speak English or Japanese, not having spoken Mandarin since she was a child.  

Damn, Daniel (Rand), back at it again with the white guy assuming what kind of Asian you are.  

That’s not even the worst of it; while watching Iron Fist, which Jones lauded for its progressiveness in the diversity of its casting, I realized one big, overarching theme: The Asian characters are overwhelmingly evil.  

Don’t take my word for it; here’s a list of the major Asian characters in Iron Fist and their associations:

     Colleen Wing – evil turned good

     Madame Gao- evil

     Bakuto- evil

     Davos- good turned evil

Not to mention minor characters such as Zhou Cheng, Gao’s henchman, whose actor, Lewis Tan, originally read for the role of Danny Rand.

And that’s the sad thing. In a story heavily influenced by Eastern culture, it’s still not an Asian or Asian American story. Instead, it is a story about orientalizing the East in which the Western male must save the world. While this may have been normalized throughout history in the forms of the Fu Manchu or Dragon Lady trope, it is now the 21st century, where our world has progressed from creating stereotypes to breaking them. Instead, Iron Fist has further perpetuated these stereotypes. What’s sad is that Marvel will most likely blame the poor ratings on the lack of interest in the concept of Iron Fist rather than the poor writing that fetishizes the East.

Marvel, you’ve always prided yourself on the progressive storylines you’ve created, but Iron Fist has failed because of your refusal to do so. And that’s the thing: what you’ve prided yourself in doing was only when it was convenient for you. While casting an Asian American in the role of Danny Rand would have been progressive of you, it was not convenient for you. You almost did, but in the end, you went with what you thought would pull in more viewers.

I have no doubt that you eventually will– when the time is right, when others have stepped to the plate and set a precedent when you have not.  

So while I love Marvel productions, I will not be sitting down for future seasons of Iron Fist; it’s just too infuriating and sad.  

 

Netflix released a trailer and a sneak peek for its upcoming “Iron Fist” series last week, sending Marvel fans into a frenzy. While the trailer introduced viewers to the show’s plot and characters, the sneak peek focused on Colleen Wing.

Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, is a gifted martial artist who appears to work with Danny Rand, played by Finn Jones.

Of the three notable Asian characters in the show, Wing is the only one so far who seems to not be evil. Lewis Tan’s Zhou Cheng and Wai Ching Ho’s Gao seem to be villains. In a show that uses Asian cultures as its starting point, this is especially frustrating. Marvel has not only ignored calls for Danny Rand to be Asian American but also purposefully placed Asian actors in villainous roles – in November, Tan revealed that he “almost” played the main hero, but was instead made into one of the bad guys.

“Iron Fist” perpetuates a narrative that Asian peoples do not own our own cultures; rather, our cultures are backdrops to make white characters more interesting, relatable, or “exotic.” This narrative is not only Orientalist but also racist and harmful, even if it seems harmless.

Journalist Hoai-Tran Bui explained the harm in an article for USA Today last year: “Insert a white male protagonist in a foreign story to make his journey more relatable, while appropriating the more attractive parts of their culture … it’s also a way of taking away Asians’ place in pop culture, by emasculating them and replacing them with a whiter, more capable face.”

The suggestion that white people are more “capable” or “better” than people of color is a facet of white supremacy. In this way, one could argue that “Iron Fist” perpetuates racism.

At the same time, “Iron Fist” has given jobs to Asian actors – so how do we move forward? Should we boycott the series, as activists pushed for regarding “Dr. Strange”? Or do we support three Asian actors and try to ignore the harmful and Orientalist narrative that “Iron Fist” perpetuates?

One potential middle ground between boycotting the series and ignoring its negative impact is media literacy. Media literacy emphasizes thinking analytically about and evaluating the media that we consume. Through media literacy, we can also examine shows like “Iron Fist” with a critical lens that takes into account race, class, gender, ability, and other markers of marginalization.

But while we watch and think analytically about shows like “Iron Fist,” we still contribute to the coffers of people who refused to change the show’s Orientalist origin story. Does the economic impact of deciding to watch the show negate our critical thinking?

Even while we cheer on the three Asian actors in “Iron Fist,” we can look at the need for representation as a marker of racism: that even having three Asian actors is seen as an impressive feat and that there is a need to support these actors. Until Asian and Asian American representation is commonplace, this demand for support will continue. Until Asians and Asian Americans are seen as universally human, we will feel like we have to support one another.

This is not to say that all our decisions reinforce white supremacy. However, it is important to consider the limitations of consumer activism. Putting our money where our mouth is only goes so far.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive “right” or “wrong” answer to how to move forward with “Iron Fist.” Oppression is complex and multifaceted, and our responses to oppression might be, too. If anything, the way “Iron Fist” places Asians and Asian Americans between a rock and a hard place has demonstrated just how complex our responses can be.

The past two months have been a great time for movies. With all of the winter blockbusters and the Sundance Film Festival wrapping up this past weekend, I thought I’d compile a short list of movies with positive APIDA representation that I either enjoyed or am looking forward to.

 

A film that’s a joy to watch: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a refreshingly diverse prequel-extension of the eminent space series that delivers not only action and thrills, but great representation for APIDA community.

As members of our staff gleefully noted, “There are three Asian characters in this film! Three!” Not to mention, they are all prominent characters in the ensemble cast, each with thoroughly developed motivations and personalities. But these torchbearers are not exactly new Asian American talents.

Jiang Wen, who plays Rebel warrior Baze Malbus in the film, is already internationally-known as a Chinese actor and filmmaker. Some of his most critically acclaimed works are “Devils on the Doorstep” and “Let the Bullets Fly.”

Donnie Yen, playing warrior-monk Chirrut Îmwe, has enjoyed global renown as a Hong Kong actor and martial artist for over 20 years. Some of his work includes Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade II” and the extremely successful “Ip Man” series, in which he has the titular role.

Finally, British actor Riz Ahmed, who plays fan-favorite pilot defector Bodhi Rook, got his big break and plenty of nominations from “Nightcrawler.” Since then, he’s starred in the gritty HBO miniseries “The Night Of and the fifth installment of the popular “Jason Bourne” series.

In short, these actors have no problem selling seats. But a little extra(terrestrial) buzz never hurt.

 

A film that inspires me: “Moana”

“Moana” started with a pitch for a movie about the Polynesian demigod, Maui. John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation, demanded that the creators start researching.

This began a five-year long journey that resulted in the creation of both this film and the Oceanic Trust, an interdisciplinary collection of experts who are consulted on almost everything in the movie, from the designs of Maui’s character to the usage of coconuts. Even aspects that may have gone completely unnoticed by the casual, non-PI viewer were scrutinized.

An example that the creators cite is the wayfinding scene: they imagined Moana’s ancestors wearing traditional Papua New Guinean clothing, accessories, and face paint while navigating the seas, and the Trust strictly vetoed the idea as illogical as wearing “a tuxedo in the middle of the ocean.”

Despite all the effort that went into making the film culturally accurate, it’s been criticized for an over-simplified representation of Pacific Islanders, among other issues.

Still, knowing that Pacific Islanders were heavily consulted for their knowledge – on top of the color scheme, animation, and storyline – is hopefully a sign that filmmakers will become more considerate of APIDAs in their work.

The story feels like myth, in that forces of nature seem to be conspiring to help Moana achieve her goal of saving her island, but also emphasizes very human qualities, like agency, resourcefulness, persistence, and teamwork.

To me, “Moana” is a reminder that we have to choose to go for what we really want, but not making the choice that we thought we wanted, choosing to go in another direction instead? That’s okay too.

 

A film that I hope gets made: “Dana Dana”

This could be the most important film on this list, given the ban that was initiated in the U.S. this past week on Muslim refugees from seven countries, Iraq among them.

“Dana Dana” tells the story of a young Iraqi musician named Mohamed who is forced to flee from his home country and ends up seeking asylum in Great Britain.

Mohamed faces a great deal of pressure and hardship, between worries for his family’s safety, adjusting to his new life, and attempting to attain refugee status.

Eventually, he turns to a life of busking, but his new life in music is challenged when the meeting that could secure his future as a refugee conflicts with his shot at British radio.

The movie is still in progress, but it was advertised at the 2016 Asian American International Film Festival, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.

Content warning for issues of depression and suicide.

 

A film that I want to watch that critics at Sundance seemed to love: “Band Aid”

This movie might be cheating a little bit because it centers on a non-Asian couple; however, there are four Asian cast members (out of fifteen), it has a fairly female-heavy cast, and it carries the distinction of an entirely female crew, so I think it deserves a mention.

Anna and Ben, played by Zoe Lister-Jones (writer and director) and Adam Pally, respectively, are a married couple with issues. The dryly hilarious clip above is 90 seconds of them trying to list their Top 12 Worst Fights, resulting in them just tossing gripes back and forth dispassionately. To help resolve these issues, they form a rock band, featuring original songs by the cast based on all of the fights they’ve had.

The film is packed with TV stars of color, including Jesse Williams of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Jamie Chung of “The Real World” and “Once Upon a Time,” Hannah Simone of “New Girl,” and Retta of “Parks and Rec.” The film also stars three Jewish actors, including the director. There was a lot of discussion about movie musicals after the critically acclaimed “La La Land” debuted this winter, and I hope that this movie is able to affirm that yes, movie musicals can be good, and yes, they can also be diverse.

Content warning: Possible mention of/reference to miscarriage.

 

A short-form episodic series: Strangers

Trailer: http://www.tracking-board.com/strangers-trailer-meredith-hagner-zoe-chao/

If you’re like me, possibly the first (and only) thing that comes to mind when you think of queerness and Asian women is “The Legend of Korra.” I love animated TV, but sometimes I’m looking for a little less “intensity” and “world-saving” and a little more “’Girls-with-at-least-one-non-White-character.”

“Strangers,” a passion project helmed by Mia Lidofsky and starring Zoe Chao, tells the story of Isobel, a woman in her late twenties/early thirties who rents her apartment out through Airbnb.

With the help of her best friend and the various strangers who end up being her roommates, Isobel navigates her way through a series of ongoing professional, sexuality, and post-breakup crises.

The film/series takes inspiration from director Lidofsky’s own life and experiences renting out her NYC studio apartment to strangers on Airbnb, and promises to be a celebration of “life and love and the intricacies of human connection”. It also promises to have at least one, probably two, queer women who are main characters.

The first three episodes of this project aired at the Sundance film festival this past week, so here’s hoping it will soon premiere to the general public.         

 

Bad Rap, a documentary about four Asian-American rap artists’ aspirations to make it in the American music industry, held its West Coast premiere last Wednesday on April 27th at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown for the 32nd Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.  All four artists featured, Awkwafina, Dumbfoundead, Lyricks, and Rekstizzy, were in attendance, along with the documentary’s director, Bruin alumna Salima Koroma and co-producer Jaeki Cho as well as some music pioneers, including Far East Movement.

Before revealing her documentary, Koroma and those involved with the film found success in their event, with many people lined up outside for standby tickets. Prior to the screening, the four hip-hop artists took pictures together and mingled with the crowd.

When it was time to delve into the film, the four rappers sat eagerly, calling out to acquaintances and loved ones who were piling in.  Watching these interactions made me realize how close-knit and small the Asian American community is in the entertainment industry.  With the exception of Dumbfoundead, all of the rappers hailed from the East Coast, yet they were familiar with many of the heavyweights based in Los Angeles.  To be in their presence was not just awe-inspiring, but humbling as there were so many pioneers who have paved the path for Asian Americans.  However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

And that’s what our artists faced in the documentary and continue to face beyond the documentary.  The film follows their plight for over three years as they struggle with their identities as Asian Americans.

In one scene, Koroma asked a music record label representative to name an Asian-American artist, to which he confidently replies “Keith Ape”.  Upon being corrected that Keith Ape is an Asian artist and not Asian American, he questions the difference before becoming stumped.

While Asian artists such as Keith Ape, Psy, and groups such as Big Bang and Girls’ Generation find worldwide success, this assumption doesn’t necessarily apply to Asian-American artists. While Asian artists often appeal to a large audience in Asia, Asian-American artists struggle with finding an audience in a music industry in which they are a minority.

After following the rappers on their day-to-day activities and their struggles of succeeding, the film jumps to three years later, showing a comparison of artists then and now, such as Awkwafina, who became involved with television, and Dumbfoundead, who returned to the rap battle scene with his performance in last year’s Blackout V.

At the film’s conclusion, the cast and crew headed up to the front of the theater for a brief Q&A session.  When asked for advice for young Asian Americans trying to break it into the entertainment industry, the cast replied, “We are the trend now. If you want to do something, then do it because people are opening up to us.”

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