The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival kicked off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month last week with screenings of 118 films throughout L.A. — in downtown, Little Tokyo, the Arts District, Koreatown, Hollywood and West Hollywood. Since its founding in 1983, the festival has presented more than 4,000 films, videos and digital media works by Asian and Asian-American artists. Among the films screening this month are works by both emerging and prominent filmmakers, such as Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda and the late Vietnamese American Stephane Gauger.
Presented by Visual Communications, this year’s festival, titled “Future Forward,” offers a thoughtful ensemble of narratives from filmmakers across Asia and North America. From shorts and documentaries, to full-length feature films, LAAPFF gives an entree into the diversity of Asian and Asian-American storytelling. And we need more of it.
“We are maintaining our spirit of producing this festival through the process of creating our ideal communities,” said LAAPFF executive director Francis Cullado. “Our programmers and staff imagine our ideal communities to be inclusive while struggling towards equity and change. And with regards to the ongoing discourse about diversity, we aim to have a space that engages intra-diversity amongst AAPIs and inter-diversity with other communities.”
At the 8th annual C3: The Conference for Creative Content, held Saturday, May 5, at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, conversations about the ways in which we consume and create content were a leading topic among filmmakers and media professionals. According to a recent report from Nielsen, Asian Americans are the fastest growing multicultural consumer segment. With that buying power comes a greater demand for films that represent the diversity and nuance of its communities. In addition, “Asian Americans are 63 percent more likely to see a movie on opening weekend,” said Mariko Carpenter, vice president of strategic community alliances for Nielsen.
One of last week’s festival screenings included Crazy Rich Asians, the first mainstream, feature-length Hollywood production to feature an entirely Asian and Asian-American cast. Due for release by Warner Bros. Pictures in August, Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu, is a story about an American-born Chinese economics professor (Constance Wu) who goes to Singapore with her boyfriend (Henry Golding) for an extravagant wedding. The film is based on the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, and the film’s screenwriter, Adele Lim, went to great lengths to ensure an accurate portrayal of Asian and Asian-American cultures.
At the “Crazy Rich Asians” panel at the conference, moderated by They Call Us Bruce's podcast hosts Jeff Yang and Phil Yu and featuring the film's director, screenwriter and actors Nico Santos and Chris Pang, director Chu noted the film’s greater historical and social significance in representing Asian and Asian-American identities on screen. Lim, who was born in Malaysia, pointed out the film’s differences in accents of the various ethnicities within Malay culture, a detail too often overlooked in other Hollywood films featuring Asian actors.
The casting of the film similarly took great care in its selection, expanding its search to include actors from across the country and overseas. “We needed casting directors all over the world and more time for us to figure this out,” said Chu. “The reality is the structure isn’t set up. It cuts people out and people who should be acting aren’t acting.” Chu also noted the overwhelming pool of talented Asian actors and actresses who auditioned for the leading roles in the film. Unless more diverse roles are created, these talents will remain unknown to the public.
But diversity is a complicated matter and requires solutions that are multilayered. With “Future Forward” as this year’s conference theme, the idea of pushing boundaries naturally extends into other elements of media beyond filmmaking.
At the “Where Are Our APA Film Critics & Journalists” panel, the conversation shifted to a need for more writers and tastemakers from communities of color. Film critic Gil Robertson, founder of the African American Film Critics Association, shared his own humble beginnings when he cold-called media outlets to pitch reviews and articles, while Susan Cheng from BuzzFeed, along with Angie Han from Mashable and Dino-Ray Ramos from Deadline Hollywood, talked about their career paths while noting the degree of difficulty in which people from under-represented Asian communities often encounter trying to gain access into the journalism industry.
However arduous their journeys might have been, the panelists agreed persistence remains a key ingredient to their success. Clearly persistence is still needed in film, television and media, but with exposure at festivals like LAAPFF, we are headed in the right direction to deepen our commonalities through diverse lenses.
The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAPFF) runs through Saturday, May 12. For more information and a list of films, visit: https://festival.vconline.org.