4 picks from The Seattle Asian American Film Festival

SAAFF PosterI’m pretty used to complaining. And as a professor of Asian American media, believe me, I’ve got lots to complain about.

From the underrepresentation of Asian Americans on film and television to the appalling stereotypes that often typify the rare times we do appear (see Two Broke Girls) to the persistence of yellowface as an “artistic choice,” the media landscape for Asian Americans remains an ever-renewing source for griping.

What is much more difficult is doing something about it.

Two of my current Asian American media heroes are not Mindy Kaling or George Takei but two Seattle locals, Vanessa Au and Kevin Bang. They pulled together a small group of volunteers–full disclosure: I’m one of them–to help put on the Seattle Asian American Film Festival for the first time in five years.

Working full time jobs and volunteering after hours, Vanessa and Kevin put in an incredible amount of work to make this happen, and it was worth it.

The festival which runs from the Friday through Sunday (Jan. 25-27th) is a great opportunity to get to see a whole array of Asian Americans across different ethnicities, generations, economic classes, and sexual orientations.

But the films are only part of experience. I vividly remember the first time I attended an Asian American film festival when I was in my 20’s and living in San Francisco. To sit in a full theater with an audience waiting to see Asian Americans as multi-dimensional people living complicated textured lives made for such a memorable moment; it was a feeling of community made visible.

I wish I could see all of the films, but family and work force me to pick only four.

  • A Lot Like You is a documentary by Eliaichi Kimaro, a filmmaker of Asian American and African American descent, and follows her attempts to understand what it means to be multiracial. My own research is about representations of multiracial Asian Americans so this one was an obvious choice. Besides, I’m also speaking on a panel after the showing. Unfortunately, it’s also already sold out so make sure you buy your tickets soon if you spot a film you know you want to see.
  • A still from Hibakusha, an animated film set during the atomic bombing of Japan.

    A still from Hibakusha, an animated film set during the atomic bombing of Japan.

    On Saturday, I’m seeing Hibakusha mostly because I’m a huge fan of animation, and the imagery from the trailer promises a beautiful and original contribution to the form. The filmmakers are going to be there for a Q&A. It’s recounts the events surrounding the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and I’m going to see the movie with two friends from Japan. I have a feeling we’ll have a lot to talk about.

  • Later on Saturday, I head back to the Wing Luke which is where all the films are showing to see The Crumbles, also followed by a filmmaker Q&A. I’m probably the most exited for this one. It’s about indie female musicians. The soundtrack is great, and it looks like a movie filled with Asian Americans similar to the ones actually I know – an all-too-rare event.
  • On Sunday, I’m taking my kids to see Jake Shimabukuro: Life in Four Strings since I thought it would be kid-friendly. The filmmaker will be there for this one, too. Shimabukuro’s music is astonishing, like nothing you’ve ever heard played on a ukulele (I’m looking at you, Eddie Vedder fans). We’ll check out the rest of the Wing Luke museum and go to one of the many excellent restaurants in the area afterwards for the full I-District experience.

I hope to see you all there.

LeiLani Nishime is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Washington. She was born in Los Angeles where she first began her long-term, love/hate, relationship with popular culture. She writes about multiracial Asian Americans, science fiction, and comics and is the co-editor of East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture. You can find more of her academic writing here

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