I Am Not Your Negro

Damnit, there is literally so much about this documentary that was beautiful. I admit that I have never read any James Baldwin, but he speaks to my very heart.
It is disheartening that in the 60s there were such powerful and resounding voices demanding equality. Loud enough to scare to US government. It is disheartening that in the 60’s there was the Watts Riots, and 30 years later there was the L.A. Riots, and 30 years later George Floyd was killed. It is disheartening that James Baldwin wrote this memoir in 1987, about the civil rights movement in the 60’s, and yet he could have been writing about the world today.
I wish that there were such voices that could speak for Asian-American equality, such voices that could speak for Native American equality, such voices that could speak for Muslim-American equality. And if there are, it is unfortunate that I have not heard them, because I am sure that alot of other Americans haven’t either.

Malcolm X

I wanted to get alot more out of this than I feel I did. After 3 hours and 20 minutes, I have to remind myself that this isn’t a documentary. This was simply a rendition of his life. The mystery of his death still open. Likely suspect, the Nation of Islam. But also suspected, and hinted at here, the American government, scared that one man had so much influence and power.
The truth is, he was kind of a lost soul. Not even 100% black himself. His father was murdered, and his mother couldn’t care for him. He was given an education, but told he’d never get to use it. He dreamed of being a lawyer, but turned to crime. He went to jail. He found religion, and through that a father figure, who nurtured and encouraged him. He clung to that, perhaps believing what he preached, or just repeating, to keep his father figure happy. Until he began believing in more. Malcolm X was too brilliant for his own good. In his younger years, he did one better on his criminal mentor, and eventually, he exceeded his mentor, Elijah Muhammad. He was cast out, and like a child angry at their parent, he fought back. He reverted back to his impulsive nature. He attempted to drag Elijah Muhammad’s name through the dirt, revealing him as a fraud. Like all fundamentalist religions, the Nation of Islam believed their leader to be infallable. And like all fundamentalist religions, there are extremists. But, while it is entirely possible that the Nation of Islam was responsible for his murder, it is also not unlikely that it could have been the FBI. Angry at a black man for using his voice, and ready to do whatever necessary to staunch riot mentality. Not unheard of for them to use embedded black informants. He stated that the white superiority had traded in their sheets and hoods in for police uniforms.
This movie came out 5 months after the ’92 L.A. Riots.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

I admit an embarassing amount of ignorance. I admit to knowing very little of Muhammad Ali. (Case and point, that his real name was actually Cassius Clay.)
While I find organized religions to be… a bit frightening, Muhammad, while always a strong man, seemed to gain even more strength through his belief in the ideas of The Nation of Islam.
I also had no idea that The Nation of Islam was so… extreme in its beliefs in its infancy. While all religions must start somewhere, The Nation of Islam was fully against integration of blacks and whites in America. They were fighting for white suppression and black superiority.
Like Billie Holiday, Muhammad Ali had found a way into the world of white people. He had the unique opportunity, as an African American, to use his voice.
And like Billie Holiday, when he began to use his voice to stand up for what he believed in, people were not happy.
After refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War, for religious, and honestly, personal reasons, the government was not happy. He faced a huge fine and possible jail time, as well as being stripped of his heavyweight champion title and boxing license. An attempt to pull him out of the public eye. Just as had been done when they refused to give Billie her cabaret license back.
I find this fascinating. And embarassing, as an American. All I had known of Ali was that he was a world class boxer, and, randomly, that he had saved someone from jumping out a window once. I had known that he was an upstanding human and a hero. Now I know that he was also extremely brave, and bold, and a strong voice for black rights in America.

Minari

While watching this, I desperately wanted to join the outrage over it being categorized a “foreign film.” I wanted to curse the old white guys who see a primarily coloured cast and a subtitle and make the easy decision.
But the truth is, this is a foreign film. Yes, it takes place in America, but it is completely Korean. It is not a white perspective of Koreans, it is a Korean’s perspective of whites. The Koreans aren’t stereotyped and over the top Asian. It is the “hillbilly,” Christian, white people that are over the top.
It is completely a Korean story. It is the stubborn, duty bound father, and the suppressed but loyal mother, the halmoni (grandmother) who plays cards and swears, and the children, who, while stradling two worlds are both defiant, and respectful of their elders.
The film, while possibly underwhelming, is beautiful in that it is a story America never hears. It is a culture that America rarely really sees. This is the story of a Korean family who chase the American Dream. Immigrants who come to America for a better future. And the very real struggles that come with it.
And while its easy to watch the credits roll and remember that this is just a movie, this story was loosly based of the director’s own childhood.
This film might get pushed into the shadows, but for what it is, and what it means to Asian Americans, it will remain timeless.

One Night in Miami…

This film, based on a stage play, was the first feature film directed by Regina King. About a meeting of 4 friends in Miami, in 1964. Boxer Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), NFL star Jim Brown, Singer Sam Cooke, and Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X.
While simply, it is about them discussing their respective roles and influence in the civil rights movement. It strikes deeper into a conversation/debate/argument about black equality and the idea of staying true to oneself.
Though stated to be “based off true events,” while the meeting in Miami did happen, what happened in the motel room is mostly unknown. They did eat icecream.
In the film, Malcolm pushes all of them to stand up and fight for black equality, that they are the ones the world is watching. Muhammad, Jim, and Sam had all found success in a white world. He pushes the loose and joking Sam the most. Telling him that his voice has the power to move mountains. He prods at him, almost mockingly, that Bob Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind, speaks more to the struggles of African Americans than anything Sam has ever written, causing tempers to flair. Later, Sam concedes that he had always been jealous of the song, wondering why he hadn’t been the one who had written it. It is that song that spurs him to finally write something more than pop songs for white people. His song, A Change is Gonna Come, became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Whenever I’ve had a hard day, or need to find a way to take some time to shut the world out, I always seem to put on Billie Holiday. Her music is deep, and soulful, and haunting.
And then I watched this film,
and WTF.
I had no idea, whatsoever, how horrible her life was. She was so broken and alone. She turned to singing and self medication. And the actual government dogged her every step until the day she died. And I wish I could say I was being dramatic, but they were there at bedside as she was dying.
Starting from her powerful song Strange Fruit. Admittedly, one I had never heard. A song about the lynching of African Americans. A thing the government wanted people to just quietly, not think about.
I remember at the beginning of the film thinking how up beat her music sounded. Not like the Billie Holiday songs I am used to listening to. By the end of the film, her music sounded much more slow and soulful. The more you get to know her, the deeper her music becomes. I think the film informs the music I had always felt in my heart.
While this film set itself up to be a powerful film about this famous artist’s stand for African American rights in the 40’s-50’s, it didn’t really end up being that in my eyes. True, it was her success and inspiration from performing the song Strange Fruit that brought her to the attention of the government. This film felt more of a look into the life and struggles of a strong, beautiful, black woman of her time.

Joyeux Noel

Everybody has their Christmas movies. White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Die Hard… And while I don’t watch this every Christmas, I still love this story best.
Not-so-secret secret confession: I love War movies. I don’t know why, but I always have. And while this one is entirely opposite of what one would envision a war movie to be about, I still love it just as much.
I had read about how war strips a man of their humanity. Their compassion and empathy. They are treated as robots in a machine, and are rewired to be as such. Kill the enemy, Win the War.
The beginning of this movie shows children from Germany, France, and Scotland, all reciting mantras teaching them who the “enemy” was, who must be killed. The movie goes on to show the three sides fighting against each other, as you would expect of a war movie.
But Christmas of 1914 was different. The three sides declaired a cease fire and spent Christmas together. Sharing drinks, singing songs, showing pictures, exchanging addresses and promises to keep in touch.
The War, the World, looms just outside their trenches, but for a short time, they all laid down their guns and became men again. And it is a story that warms my heart every time. Men who can open their eyes and see each other as equal, as real, flesh, blood, and heart.
And as of late, it is the sort of story we need. A reminder of what it really means to be human. Not the hatred, and anger, and violence. But the openness, and compassion, and caring. And Soccer.
This is my Christmas story of choice.
Joyeux Noel.

Mulan

Ohmygosh! I adored this! I have already always loved the Disney version of Mulan, but this more dramatic live-action version was lovely.
I am sad that filming in certain locations despite the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs, raised such controversy for the film. It was the locations that really created the film for me. I don’t want that to take away from how important this film is. It casts an American spotlight on the Asian population and culture. And, while initially based off a very short poem, the story shows just how highly the Chinese, and most Asian cultures, held ideas such as Honour, Respect, and Duty. These are ideas that many Americans hold loosely in their hands. But the Chinese gripped onto them so tightly. To the point that dishonouring your family was equal to exile.
But to me, the thing that I have always loved about this story, was the strength it gave its main character. Mulan, a woman whos only job in life is to be lady-like, find a good match, and maintain family honour by being obedient. That is not the way for Mulan. She rises up, despite EVERYTHING stacked against her, and proves she is just as strong, if not stronger, than any man.
(Trying very hard not to think too much about the Chinese Opera version of The Ballad of Mulan I saw long ago, in which, Mulan’s love interest perishes, and she decides to weep at his grave for the rest of her days…)
This is not “the Disney version of Mulan.” This is a Chinese movie, about a woman named Mulan. Don’t expect a sing-a-long.

One-Child Nation

Anyone living in America will probably agree that our nation kind of sucks. But the truth is, Americans have no idea what it’s like to live in a truly terrible country.
Until recently, many Asian countries really suffered. China began suffering over-population and risked the depletion of all their resources. In the early 80’s, the Chinese government enacted the One-Child Policy, stating that it was against the law to have more than one child.
The extremity to which this policy was enforced was barbaric. Women were abducted and forced to be sterilized. Midwives and doctors performed thousands of abortions. And, as Asians valued male heirs over females, often baby girls were placed in baskets and abandoned on the sides of the streets or in market places.
In America, the idea of selling another human is considered inhumane and referred to as “human trafficking.” In China, these people were referred to as, “matchmakers,” for helping abandoned babies find homes, by selling them to orphanages. Their goal was not to make money, but rather to save lives. These people were arrested and sent to jail.
A decade after the enactment of the One-Child Policy, Chinese orphanages opened up to international adoptions, which assisted in saving the lives of thousands more babies.
Because of the nature of these adoptions, the chances of ever being reunited are near zero. And as an adoptee, this movie, this look into another side of adoption startled me. I have always operated under the belief that parents put their children up for adoption so that they can have a better future. And while I know that that is not always true, I had never once entertained the idea that parents might be forced by their government, to the extent of having their children taken away, to be adopted just to survive. My own cousins, adopted from China during this policy, both happy, healthy, beautiful girls. I can’t help wondering if this policy played a part in their being adopted…
In 2015, China realized that with so few children there would be too few to take care of the elderly, a custom in many Asian countries. They declaired that at the beginning of 2016, families would be allowed, and encouraged, to have two children.

Mad World

Just watched this movie, Mad World, and it was really good.
Working where I do, mental health isn’t a mystery to me. I understand it, but for a lot of people, it is the invisible illness. People would rather not acknowledge it. And sometimes, entire countries fall into that category.
This movie, about a Chinese man with Bipolar Disorder, shows how other countries views on mental health can be extremely different from ours. After being discharged from a mental health facility, he is unable to reintegrate into society. He is seen no better than a murderer released from jail.
But, first and foremost, this movie is about a man’s struggles with Bipolar Disorder. Having been discharged from the facility, he moves in with his estranged father. The tension between them is obvious. The father, while wanting to make ammends for his absence, does not know how to care for and understand his son. We see the, “just take your medications,” and the, “why can’t you just TRY to be happy,”s that are the textbook responses of someone who truly doesn’t understand mental illness.
Through out the film we are peppered with the young man’s memories of taking care of his ailing mother. Abandoned by his brother and father, he alone was left to do it. And it is extrordinarily difficult for him. Perhaps burdened by the tradition of respecting and taking care of elders, he refused to place her in a home. Just as the father is burdened with the choice of sending him back to the facility, and risk their relationship forever, or continuing to try and care for him himself.
This film opens one’s eyes a little bit into the world of mental health. How it’s not easy, how disruptive it can be to one’s life. And how important it is to have love and support for those who suffer from mental illness.

The Farewell

Last night I went and saw The Farewell. Pre show, the woman working at the theater told us how difficult it was for Lulu Wang to get people to produce her film. But it was a story she desperately wanted to tell. When she finally did find producers, she wanted people to understand that The Farewell isn’t a “Chinese movie,” but it also isn’t an “American movie.” At first, it’s hard to imagine what exactly that means, but after watching this film, I get it.
Yes, there are subtitles. And majority of the movie takes place in China. But it truly was not a “Chinese movie.”
We follow a woman, Billi, who is based off the director. She is a Chinese-American who has grown up in New York since she was 6. When her beloved Grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she goes back to China.
To me, it didn’t so much as feel like a story about a dying Grandmother, as a story about an American woman trying to understand Chinese culture.
The main conflict of the story is in the very long standing tradition of family members not telling their elders that they are dying. In essence, to allow them to die in peace, and for the family to bear the emotional burden. Billi struggles to understand this concept.
The film takes us through various other customs and traditions of Chinese people. While disappointing to hear some of my fellow viewers laugh at the ridiculousness of some of these traditions, for instance a scene in which the whole family goes to Grandpas grave to pay their respects. If you don’t know the process, it is vastly different than how most Americans pay respect at graves..
It is a movie about Chinese customs and life, seen through the eyes of an American. Billi encounters various locals who excitedly ask her about America, if it’s as amazing as they’d always heard. As an American, it is interesting to see how other countries still see America as being such a land of opportunity and freedom.
In a time when Asians are finally starting to get their time in the light, I think this movie was perfect. It wasn’t a “Chinese movie,” but it also wasn’t an “American movie.”
And I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand some of the longer standing customs and traditions of another culture.

On the Basis of Sex

So amazing. The sheer adversity, this tiny, vicious tiger of a woman, climbed mountains for her cause. And honestly, she had the most wonderful and supportive husband. She supported him, and herself both thru law school when he was diagnosed with cancer. And he supported and whole heartedly believed in her thru her career. And given a 5% chance of survival, he fought. He lived on for decades to support her, and was able to finally see her be appointed a Supreme Court Justice.
I fully admit, I have a hard time following politics, but i know human rights. And in this time, when it feels like our nation is falling apart, how can it not bring feelings of hope to know there are people in it like Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Where being Female, and being Asian feel more like a status than a truth, she fought for a change in the precident. And won.
Her life is too extraordinary. This film was just a snapshot. The beginning. Like the prequel to a most relevant and real Superhero.
(…and I teared up a little at the end…)

Three Identical Strangers

What an absolutely, absolutely facinating movie! What a roller coaster ride. The story of triplets, separated at birth, and adopted to 3 different families. And how they found eachother, almost fantastically.
But more than that, it is a movie that delves deep into the psychological aspects of adoption. The age old question of Nature vs. Nurture. And even the aspects of psychological disorder among adoptees. Separation issues, depression, etc.
But the deepest issue of all, how morally and ethically wrong, and Effed up psychology studies were half a century ago. The lengths we would go to just to better understand ourselves.

This might be boring for some, but this documentary was my cup of tea, and a biscuit on the side. Psychology, and Adoption, and the Psychology of Adoption..

Leave no Trace

Finally watched this one.
A father and daughter living in Forest Park, near Portland, Oregon. Filmed in various locations around Oregon itself.
Based on a book. The author admits to basing it on a real story. He’d read a newspaper article about a father and daughter found living in Forest Park. Another article came out saying they had been relocated to a farm, the father had work, and the daughter was to start middle school. Happy ending. But then a third article came out about how they had vanished. He never heard anything more. And out of his own need to find this story’s resolution, he wrote My Abandonment, which was then made into the movie Leave No Trace..
But isnt that the most glorious motivation of a true writer? To seek out endings…