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【側記/Sidenote】Creating Emancipatory Futures: Filmmaking and Activism


Creating Emancipatory Futures: Filmmaking and Activism


Time:  March 11, 2024   1000-1300

Venue: 陽明交通大學新竹光復校區人社二館106室 R106, HA Building 2, NYCU


Speaker: Valerie Soe, Professor, Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, USA


Discussant: Dean Brink, Professor, Foreign Language and Literature Department, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University


Moderator:Joyce C.H. Liu, Director, International Center for Cultural Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University



*written by Sergey Zanchevskiy (Graduate Student of IACS,NYCU)


On March 11, 2024, Valerie Soe, a professor in the Asian American Studies Department at the San Francisco State University (USA), film director, and writer, gave a lecture dedicated to the phenomenon of Asian American activist filmmaking. In her presentation, Soe outlined the main milestones in the history of Asian American activist filmmaking and then presented a selection of her own film works, including the developments of her current project – We Go Down Sewing: The Auntie Sewing Squad


To begin with, Soe first introduced the problem of representation of Asian Americans, a category of Americans that accounts for more than 6 percent of the total US population, in social media and cinema. This problem lies, according to the professor, in the stereotypical portrayal of people of Asian descent, which is caused by the development of certain film genres (martial arts films, for example) or armed conflicts in which the US and Asian countries were involved, including the World War II (the Japanese), the Korean War (the Koreans), and the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese). 


In order to challenge these stereotypical representations and gain their own voices, young Asian Americans in the 1960s started to actively create their own independent media. As Robyn Magalit Rodriguez and Diane C. Fujino, experts on this movement, say: “Both study and struggle are necessary and intertwined components in our collective work toward creating emancipatory futures”, thus manifesting the essence of the Asian American activist movement. 


To illustrate, Soe mentioned three examples of Asian American activist films. The first example, The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983, dir. Curtis Choy), is a documentary that chronicles the fight against the demolishing of the International Hotel (so-called “I-Hotel”) in San Francisco, which was a home for many Asian Americans. Another film highlighted by the professor was an investigation of the murder of Vincent Chin, an American Chinese, which happened during the rise of anti-Asian sentiments in the US (Who Killed Vincent Chin?, 1987, dir. Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña). Finally, Soe also referenced the story of the love and hardships of immigrant workers in Taiwan, depicted in Susan Chen’s Lesbian Factory (2010). 


Further, Soe presented some of her own projects to the audience. More specifically, she screened one of her first movies filmed as an undergraduate student, All Orientals Look the Same (1986), featuring successive images of young people of Asian descent, each identified through a national/ethnic identity articulated by the voiceover (Valerie Soe). This demonstration of the diversity of Asian cultures counters the monotonous repetition of the phrase "all Orientals look the same" in another voiceover, which works here as a metaphor for racism in the United States.


Then, she shared another project – The Chinese Gardens (2012). The Chinese Gardens investigates the emergence and disappearance of a Chinese community in Port Townsend, Washington. Starting from the late 1860-s, the Chinese began to arrive to this town, but the immigration significantly decreased after the introduction of multiple discriminatory laws, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Moreover, in 1900, there was a fire that swept out most of Chinatown – the firefighters refused to save the Asian population, and since then, the Chinese gradually started to leave the place. In her film, Soe revisited this tragic history through interviews and alienating images of an “empty” city.


Furthermore, the project Soe is working on right now focuses on the Auntie Sewing Squad, a group of predominantly Asian women who volunteered to sew masks for farmworkers, asylum seekers, and other people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. This movement was organized as a response to the ineffectiveness of the US government in this matter, as well as in the context of racism against the Asian population that emerged in the wake of the pandemic. Valerie Soe, who is a member of this squad, presented her short experimental video on the subject (Radical Care: The Auntie Sewing Squad, 2020), as well as some rough cuts from her future feature film about Kristina Wong, the founder of the movement, and explores the struggles of the Aunties for help and justice. 


After the screening, there was also a Q&A session, at the end of which Soe encouraged students not to be afraid of non-conventional approaches in research and wished everyone good luck in their endeavors. 


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