8Books Review: The Golden Screen: The Movies that Made Asian America

images from movies that influenced Asian AmericaThe many awards won by the Everything Everywhere all at Once, including Golden Globes and five Academy Awards, are a triumph of filmmaking and also a triumph for Asian American representation. The road to reach this milestone was not a short one, and there were many films along the away that were critical to this journey, including films that set up barriers with stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans and other that broke through those barriers.  Jeff Yang explores these films in his book, The Golden Screen: The Movies that Made Made Asian America.

Yang goes through 136 films in his book. For each, he includes commentary from Asian American writers (including former 8asians writer Dino-Ray Ramos) and actors on how those movies affected them. The movies are are grouped into chapters not by time period, but thematically. Each chapter contains some introductory dialog. The Golden Screen has much similarity to Yang’s previous book, Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now. While Rise covers some of these movies,  The Golden Screen is far more comprehensive.

I was initially surprised that there many non-American Asian movies that made into to the list, but that makes sense given that Yang wanted to include movies that influenced Asian Americans and how others look at Asian Americans. These include some of the best films ever made, such as The Seven Samurai and In the Mood for Love.  Yang also included some infamously movies with horrendous portrayals of Asians, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I think his approach is very effective, and I appreciated the amount of research he did into the work. I thought I had good knowledge about Asian American culture and history, but I only have seen 49 movies in his list, and there were a number of movies that I had never heard of. I appreciated learning about those, and I look forward to going to see them.

The only issue I have with the The Golden Screen is its index. I wanted to found out about Anna May Wong, but the index does not include her even though she was covered throughout the book. Also, with any kind of compendium, somethings will be left out. I was surprised that Colma: The Musical was left out, given it has been included in some lists of notable Asian American films and became a cult classic of sorts. Also, since it is a compendium, there is a limit into how much depth it can go into each movie. Some of these films, like The Seven Samurai, even have entire books dedicated to them.

Overall, I give The Golden Screen my hearty recommendation. If you are a students of Asian American culture, it definitely belongs on your shelf, along with Rise.




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APIAVote: Taste of Democracy Briefing on AAPI Voter Data

During APEC 2023, the non-profit APIAVote was in town and had a briefing which I was able to attend. The focus of the briefing was the following:

To understand AAPIs’ growing electoral power and become a part of the community investing in the movement to ensure AAPI voices are heard and addressed. Stopping Asian hate, addressing climate change, public safety, and inflation are some of the issues at stake in the 2024 election where AAPIs will be the margin of victory.

I first became aware of APIAVote when I first attended the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and met Co-founder & Executive Director Christine Chen.

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A Conversation with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu with SF City Attorney David Chiu

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was in San Francisco recently during APEC 2023 to attend the California Asian Leadership Network of Elected and Appointed Officials (CALNET) 2023 leadership retreat. As a Taiwanese American born and raised in Western Massachusetts, I’ve been a big fan of Michelle’s ever since she got elected to Boston city council and an even bigger fan when she was elected Mayor of Boston (as the first woman, first person of color, first Asian American elected as mayor of Boston) back in 2021.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu

During Michelle’s brief visit, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu hosted a conversation with Michelle in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Michelle talked about her path to becoming Mayor of Boston and answered audience questions.

Crowd at Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu at China Live in Chinatown San Francisco

I had the fortunate opportunity to visit at a smaller prior event hosted by APIAVote’s ‘SF Taste of Democracy Briefing & Reception.’

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and I

I expressed how much of a big fan I was of her and especially appreciated her openness about being a caregiver to her mother who had suffered from mental illness – something that the Asian American community is not so open to discuss and something that I can relate to.

Michelle is half-way through her term and will be running for re-election in 2025. I hope Michelle does get re-elected and  runs for higher office in 2029!


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8mm Review: Quiz Lady

Awkwafina and Sandra Oh star in Hulu’s Quiz Lady, which premiered on November 3rd:

“A hilarious and heartfelt comedy starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh as estranged sisters forced to cover their mother’s gambling debts, set out to get the cash the only way they know how – by turning Anne (Awkwafina) into a bona-fide gameshow champion.”

This is a lighthearted comedy with strong performances by Awkwafina and Sandra Oh. I especially enjoyed Oh’s over-the-top portrayal of an irresponsible adult older sister. As of this writing, Quiz Lady enjoys an 81% Rotten Tomatoes score based on 53 reviews.

I agree with the New York Times review’s overall sentiment:

“Like so many road trip buddy comedies, the effectiveness of the enterprise rests, arguably more than the writing or direction itself, on the balance and chemistry between the central duo. And “Quiz Lady” in particular is predicated upon a role-reversing gamble: Typically a dramatic actress, Oh is playing the freewheeling Jenny, while her co-star, Awkwafina, who aside from her role in “The Farewell” has mostly made her name as the often cartoonish comic relief (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Little Mermaid”), is the serious and high-strung Anne.

But the pair finds an easy harmony together, even as Oh does most of the heavy lifting. While Awkwafina’s little-sister turn often falls into uptight, one-note outbursts, Oh is a charismatic and natural counterbalance as the outsize Jenny. She knows when to reel her choices in and, most important, imbues Jenny’s kookiness with an emotional depth bubbling just underneath the surface.

The funniest scene comes toward the end, when Jenny and Anne play a high-stakes game of charades on the quiz show. As they hit their stride, the sequence, punctuated by a strikingly tender moment that would have rung forced in lesser hands, floats off the comedic brilliance of Oh, at once natural and ridiculous, as her answers burst out of her via an intuition that could only exist through a lifetime of sisterhood.”

The film is not eligible for an Oscar as I don’t think it will ever have a theatrical release, but is an enjoyable watch if only to see the chemistry between Awkwafina and Oh.


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8Books Review: End Credits – How I Broke Up With Hollywood, A Memoir by Patty Lin

I’m not sure how I first came across End Credits – How I Broke Up With Hollywood, A Memoir by Patty Lin. I think I saw a post on Facebook and then became excited once I knew that Lin was a fellow Cornell University alumna. I later found out that we were the same graduating class! I was even more excited that once I learned that Lin would be speaking at the Stanford Bookstore in September. At that talk, I was able to meet her in person and buy an autographed copy of her book.

From the publisher’s official website of the memoir:

“A candid and revealing look at life in television, Hollywood, and work in the writer’s room, from an insider who wrote for some of the most popular television shows in history: FriendsDesperate Housewives, and Breaking Bad.”

I enjoyed reading the memoir. It was interesting to learn about the dysfunctional entertainment industry, at least for writers. Lin also often describes experiencing imposter syndrome, especially being usually the only woman and/or person of color in the writing room.

My first job out of college was in Connecticut, near where I grew up in Western Massachusetts. In a department of about 45 engineers and draftsmen, I was the only non-white person and everyone was 15 to 30 years older than me. I don’t think I felt the constant imposter syndrome that Patty felt, though I did feel inexperienced. It was clear from the writing roles she received as well as just reading her memoir, she definitely has writing talent.

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Pinoytown Rising: San Jose Public Library Exhibit through November 30

When Number Two Son and I were getting coffee in a cafe in San Jose Japantown, we noticed a small flyer on their community bulletin board that talked about Pinoytown Rising, an exhibit in San Jose’s Martin Luther King Library about the history of San Jose’s Pinoytown. Having a few hours to spare and given that the library is not that far from Japantown, we checked it out. Number Two Son knew little about about the history of San Jose’s Pinoytown and found it fascinating. I thought I would share as many of you might also be interested if you happen to be in the Bay Area.

I have talked about San Jose’s Pinoytown before and have been on a history tour there, but I still learned things that I didn’t know before.  Wandering around the exhibition, I noticed the item to the right and discovered that many of the migrants to Pinoytown were Sakadas who made a first stop in Hawaii. For those who don’t know, “talk story” is Hawaiian Pidgin for telling stories.

Another reason to see this is exhibit is the Martin Luther King Library itself.  It is an fascinating combination of a University (San Jose State) and a municipal library. For example, right next to the Pinoytown Rising exhibit is San Jose State’s Center for Steinbeck studies and its Center for Beethoven Studies. I have gone there just to enjoy the views from the top floors. It’s also a good place to study or work – all three of my children studied there during their high school years. Number Two Son went back to the exhibition and brought his older brother.

As mentioned above, the exhibit will be available only through November 30, so you have about two and half weeks left to see it. The San Jose Martin Luther King Library is located at 150 East San Fernando Street in San Jose.

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SVAPFF 2023: ‘A Great Divide’ – Q&A and Review (Spoilers)

A few weeks ago, I attended my first screening at the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFest (SVAPFF), the 9th and most recent edition of the festival. I was eager to see the independent film A Great Divide, as I had seen a friend on Facebook attending the world premiere of the film back in June of this year. The cast includes my fellow Duke alum Ken Jeong, and I wanted to see how Ken performed in a non-comedic role. The film plot summary:

“The Lee family leave the Bay Area for a fresh start in the rural expanses of Wyoming, only to encounter hostility and xenophobia in their new community. How they confront these issues will break them – or make them stronger.”

Two actors in the film were in attendance at my screening, Emerson Min (who portrays Benjamin Lee) and West Mulholland (who portrays Hunter Drake).  Producer/director Jean Shim was also there.

From left to right: filmmaker Jean Shim (director, producer), actors Emerson Min and West Mulholland.

I thought that Emerson and West were great in their respective roles. It was great to see that a point of tension in the film, Ken’s non-comedic acting chops shine through. Some spoilers below, along with the Q&A session from the showing.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Ronny Chieng & Old Spice’s “The Expert”

This Old Spice commercial has been on YouTube for four months now, but I only recently saw it as an online commercial. I was blown away! It made me wonder if the commercial was airing on TV as well, and it looks like it is, from a simple Google search and finding the agency that produced the commercial:

“In our second collaboration with Old Spice and PCA, we had the pleasure of shooting a commercial with actor and comedian Ronny Chieng in New York City. This particular spot was a part of the “Men Have Skin Too” Series of online and broadcast Old Spice commercials that will release in 2023 as part of the Asian demographic niche for the brand.”

I’m hoping that the commercial itself is used for not only for the “Asian demographic niche” because Asian American men are American men as well. Asian American men have been desexualized and emasculated in  American media, culture, and even immigration policy.

I think it may be the first U.S. television commercial to display an attractive and fit Asian American man topless as well. What would have been even more shocking is if these two Asian American men had non-Asian American women significant others. It is very common place in commercials to have mixed race couples with Asian American women.

Here’s to more commercials like this!

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Asian American Medical Hazard: Lung Cancers for Female Asian Non-Smokers (FANS)

When a family fried recently was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were all puzzled because she and her husband did not smoke. She wasn’t the first Asian American we knew that happened to, and according to this article, it’s a mystery why Female Asian Non-smokers (FANS) have a much higher lung cancer rate than other American women. The article goes on to say that lung cancer is decreasing for everything else, according to this study. Dr. Jeffrey Velotta from Kaiser Permanente and also UCSF, says that for FANS, lung cancer is increasing at 2% per year.

Velotta, along with researchers from UCSF, Stanford and UC Davis, is studying why FANS are getting lung cancer. They are recruiting members for their study – you can sign up at the FANS study home page. For actions that people can take now, Velotta recommends that anyone having respiratory systems that don’t get better after four weeks should see a doctor. Other doctors suggest that lung cancer screening be done for younger Asian womenregular lung cancer screen is typically done for people over 50 with a history of regular smoking, but this misses the FANS demographic.

(photo credit: James Heilman, MD licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

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Asian Americans in Pop Music History: Norma Tanega

Most people have probably only encountered the work of Norma Tanega through her song “You’re Dead” which is used as the theme song for both the movie of “What we Do in the Shadows” and the ongoing TV series of the same name. The daughter of a Filipino US Navy Band leader and a Panamanian mother, Norma Tanega had one hit song that went to #22 on the US Billboard charts in 1966 called Walkin’ my Cat Named Dog. She has a quick one paragraph description in Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now. She died in 2019, but if you think that “You’re Dead” applies to her work, you would be wrong. Despite having only one hit of her own, she was influential in popular music during her day and even some today.  To me, Norma Tanega is not only an interesting pop music historical figure, but is a role model of how to create, grow, and impact others positively through her life, whether one is famous and popular or not.

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Asian American Medical Hazard: PFAS “Forever Chemical” Levels

Structure of perfluoroundecanoic acid, a member of PFAS group

A recent paper concludes that Asian Americans have higher levels of PFAS relative to other groups in the US populationPFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly in the natural environment. Research suggests that high levels of PFAS may lead to a number of health effects ranging from increased cholesterol levels to increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.

A summary of the report with an interview with one of the authors of the study concludes that the cause of this higher exposure is not known.  One theory is that Asian Americans eat more fish than the general population, as fish are a known source of PFAS exposure.  No major excesses were measured in Black populations compared to the white population, and the Mexican American populations had lower exposure compared to whites.

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Asian American Books that have been Banned in the Past Few Years

Image credit: Grace Lin

Asian America for Advancing Justice (AAJC) has published a list of Asian American books that have been banned over the past few years. Some are children books that I found hard to find any real problem, such as Grace Lin‘s Caldecott Honor Book A Big Mooncake for Little Star. The AAJC list says that the reason that this book was banned in Pennsylvania is that it talks about Chinese Culture.

In some places, books such as Dim Sum for Everyone (another seemingly innocuous Grace Lin book) have been removed from shelves while they are being “evaluated,” which leaves some school districts room to say it isn’t a ban.  Then again, if the books aren’t available, then then that is a effectively a ban. One apparent reason for these bans is that the books are on lists of books recommended for teaching diversity.  This article about how one of Kelly Yang books, Front Desk, about a Chinese immigrant family who run a motel and based on her own experiences, generated parental objections, is illustrative of the concerns and thinking of ban proponents. You can also see some of this thinking in the book’s one star reviews on Amazon.

Ironically, as this article points outs, book bans are a great way to get books read, especially as kids often do the opposite of what you tell them to do (i.e. forbidden fruit). AAJC has sourced the data for their list from Pen America’s Book Ban pages.

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