8mm Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon – an “Asian American-y” Movie

While the main character of Brittany Runs a Marathon is definitely not Asian American, two major characters in Brittany’s life are Asian American and are interesting enough to make this, in the words of Stacy Nguyen, an Asian American-y movie.   One is Gretchen, a shallow woman (played by Alice Lee), who  trying to live a lifestyle above her means to achieve social media “influencer” status.  The other is Jern, a South Asian American man (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar) scraping by in life by house sitting.  You can see them in the picture of the cast below.

I like this movie and recommend it.  The Jillian Bell’s Brittany isn’t a typical kind of female movie lead who is skinny or glamorous or even super likable.  Brittany has character flaws and does things that will make you cringe.  You expect her to run a marathon as the highlight of the movie, but in a way, that becomes an afterthought to a more the important transformation that she makes.  Jillian Bell’s changes during the movie are pretty amazing – she lost 45 pounds as part of the process of performing her part.

The Asian American characters are interesting, definitely not stereotypical.  Alice Lee does a great job with as a progressively unlikeable Gretchen, and Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Jern was surprising in a number of ways (I am not going to spoil it).

Jillian Bell is an executive producer of the movie.  Amazon Studios purchased the rights to the movie at the 2019 Sundance Festival.  You can see Brittany runs a Marathon on Amazon Prime Video.



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A Remarkable Search: “A Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather”

Long hidden family secrets, an African American journalist’s deathbed request, and the Japanese American internment – all these seemingly unconnected elements connect to create a moving and timely documentary about a man taken away by the authorities and never again seen by his family.  With divisions between Asian Americans on why they should care about Black Lives Matter and their own anti-black racism, Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather, produced by Japanese public media division NHK World, tells us how people of color can have hidden connections in the intersection of systemic racism.  It is also a story of incredible sacrifices made to protect family and to further the cause of civil rights.

The story starts with Regina Boone, a photo journalist who knew few details about her grandfather.  On his deathbed, her father asked Regina to find out what happened to his father and to tell their family story.   Regina’s father was Raymond Boone (pictured on the left above), a prominent journalist during the Civil Rights era and beyond.  Among other things, he was a journalism professor at Howard University, founded the Richmond Free Press newspaper, and was known as a crusader for justice.  Yet why didn’t Raymond Boone talk about his father?  All Regina Boone knew at that point was that her Japanese grandfather  was arrested shortly after Pearl Harbor and would never return to his family.

(photo credit: Regina Boone/Detroit Free Press)

As an accomplished photo journalist, Regina was well equipped to track down what happened.  Her picture of a two year old boy affected by lead in Flint Michigan made the cover of Time magazine.   She follows a trail through local Virginia archives and to her father’s friends in Suffolk Virginia.  This is the city where her grandfather Tsuruju Miyazaki would establish a Asian/Soul food restaurant in the black part of town, start a family with an African American women, and have two children with her, including Raymond Boone.  The trail would lead to the National Archives in Washington DC, an interview with an FBI Historian, to the Rowher Relocation camp in Arkansas, to Chicago, and finally to Nagasaki Japan.  Along the way, we learn what Tsuruju Miyazaki did to protect his family and why he was never able to return.

I found the story to be both moving and deeply relevant today. Tsuruju Miyazaki sacrificed much to protect his half Japanese half African American children in an era when Asian American immigrants were treated with suspicion and African Americans were treated with contempt, an era with some disturbing similarities to today.  Raymond Boone made sacrifices too, regarding his family history.  The documentary makes the claim what happened to Raymond Boone’s father drove him to be so active in civil rights and pointing out injustices.  To me, the story shows how groups from what would appear to be drastically different backgrounds can have some deep and profound connections, a fact also relevant today.

I did find a few annoying things about this video.  The NHK World production makes speakers fade out while they are talking just before a change of scene.  I don’t read lips, so I kept wondering what they actually said.  Another unpleasant fact is that the show will be taken down next year.  Given the limited time it is available, I recommend that you take 50 minutes and see Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather while it still is available.



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Chinatown Block Watch: Fighting Xenophobia in New York’s Chinatown

In response to xenophobic attacks in New York’s Chinatown, activist Karlin Chan formed Chinatown Block Watch.  He is interviewed here in an episode of PBS’s Brief but Spectacular (included is a transcript of the interview).

In a Bowery Boogie interview, Chan mentions that the group is non-confrontational, preferring to be a “visual deterrent” in their bright, highly visible safety vests.  As pointed out in the PBS interview, the group is a multi-ethnic group of 20 or 30 people.

Those interested in volunteering can send a note here:

(photo credit:  Karlin Chan)
(h/t: dsw)

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Panda Express – ‘New Black Pepper Angus Steak’

While you cannot definitively see any Asian Americans in this Panda Express commercial (transcript follows),

“New Black Pepper Angus Steak – Tender Angus steak wok-seared with hand-chopped baby broccoli, onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms in a savory black pepper sauce. It’s hot off the wok and ready for takeout & delivery. Only at Panda Express.”

what caught my immediate attention was the song sung in Mandarin.

I immediately looked to see if the commercial was available on YouTube to do some more research. I discovered from the comments that this was a cover of Frankie Valli’s ‘Cant Take My Eyes Off You’ by Katherine Ho.

If the name Katherine Ho doesn’t sound familiar, she’s the artist that sang the Mandarin cover to ‘Yellow’ in the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ Apparently, someone on YouTube had asked Panda Express and confirmed that it was Ho as well as the fact that there is no single of the song.  That’s really too bad, since I *love* her rendition of the song. Maybe she could post one up in the future on her YouTube channel?

Beyond Ho’s cover of the song, I really liked the cinematography of the cooking, the chopping of the vegetables, etc. – it made me really want to try Panda Express’s Black Pepper Angus Steak and also try cooking the dish at home.  They make it look easy to make!

Also, I like the fact as the commercial is zooming out of the kitchen, Panda Express is not shy to articulate that they are a Chinese American Kitchen … cooking Chinese American cuisine (not necessarily “authentic” Chinese). Chinese American cuisine may not be for everyone (I prefer authentic), but I can say I’m a fan of some Chinese American dishes.

Additionally, I noted that Panda Express mentions they are ready for takeout & delivery, given that we live in interesting COVID-19 times, where in restaurant dining won’t happen until mid-July (at least that is the current plan for opening up per the State of California).

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Awkwafina, Andrew Yang, and Dino-Ray Ramos make the A100 list of Influential Asians

For the past three years, Gold House has published the A100 list of Asians and Asian Americans who have been highly influential in the past year.  2020’s list includes well known people like Awkwafina and Andrew Yang, plus others that you may have not heard about.  When I read through the list and bios and all of their amazing accomplishments and influence, I surprisingly had mixed feelings.

The people on this year’s list are just plain incredible.  Andrew Yang may not have made it as the final democratic presidential nominee, but his historic run and advocacy of  Universal Basic Income seems to be a key influence in the American Stimulus check program.  Miky Lee helped bring movies like Parasite into being and also was a key player in the rise of K-POP.  Satya Nadella has turned around Microsoft and made its Azure Cloud unit a worthy rival of Amazon Web Services.  I was pleased to see Anderson Paak on the list.  I learned about Anderson Paak from my sons, who listen to him.

It was great to see Dino-Ray Ramos on the list.  He has written in the past for 8Asians, and now is an associate editor at Deadline, covering inclusion, diversity and representation in film and TV, among other topics.  He is also the only one I have met personally on this year’s list.  Even the judges in this contest are pretty amazing.  I have met Dado Banatao and and his wife – they are simultaneously amazing and down to earth despite him having made a big impact on the world’s technology.

So why the mixed feelings?  Part of it is the times we are living in.  Despite all the Asian American accomplishments listed here, those achievements won’t save you from being blamed for the coronavirus pandemic.  Just as being a Harvard trained Marvel comics writer, author, bio-medical editor, and well-known birdwatcher won’t prevent someone from falsely accusing you of threatening her.  I felt better after reading about another person on the A100 list, Chanel Miller, whose life makes me realize that we can’t let evil and destructive people prevent us from living our best lives.  If she can bounce back from what happened to her, so can we call.



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The Joy Luck Club: Online Discussion with Author Amy Tan and Movie Cast on June 9

Joy Luck Club cover cast and author

Before Crazy Rich Asians or Always be my Maybe, there was The Joy Luck Club in 1993Not many mainstream American movies before it and for a long time afterward had a majority Asian American cast.  Some Asian Americans really disliked the movie after it came out, but recently it seems to have had a revival, with the 25th anniversary of its release being celebrated at 2019 CAAMfest.  In addition, Gold House is sponsoring online discussion with author Amy Tan and the cast of the movie at 6 PM Pacific Time on June 9th, 2020.  To RSVP, go to Gold House’s Event Facebook page.

Gold House, from their web site:

Gold House is a nonprofit collective of diverse leaders dedicated to forging stronger relationships that empower Asians to have more authentic, more successful, and healthier lives to, in turn, advance all of society.

You might know them from their Gold Open efforts to make sure that Asian American movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Searching have strong openings.

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ESPN’s 30 for 30: “Be Water” Bruce Lee Documentary Airing Sun, June 7th

This coming Sunday, ESPN, in their ’30 for 30′ documentary series, will be exploring the life of Bruce Lee, in the documentary ‘Be Water’:

“Take a first look at ‘Be Water’, a 30 for 30 film that intimately chronicles Bruce Lee’s life and complex journey, which premieres on Sunday, June 7th at 9pm ET on ESPN”

Bruce Lee is one of the most famous, if not the most famous, Chinese Americans ever to live. His influence on martial arts in the United States alone (much less the mixed martials and the whole world) cannot be overstated. I remember as a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s being asked more than once if I knew kung fu or karate (because I was Asian), and I’m pretty sure it was because of Bruce Lee.

An overview, from a Rolling Stone review:

“The scope is admirable, and in many ways necessary to fully capture the context of Lee’s growing celebrity throughout the Sixties, his difficulty breaking through in America, and the transformative impact of the handful of films he shot in the years leading up to his shocking 1973 death at the age of 32. We need, for instance, to see clips of white actors being cast in Asian roles (John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Mickey Rooney as Audrey Hepburn’s bucktoothed Breakfast at Tiffany’s neighbor) to appreciate not only how the odds were stacked against Lee, but the attitudes in place that led to Warner Bros. casting white actor David Carradine to play the Chinese-American hero of the Seventies TV drama Kung Fu, which was a project Lee had conceived as a vehicle for himself. A former Warner exec unapologetically explains, “The bottom line was, Bruce’s accent was gonna be a little tough on the American television audience,” and states that the show never would have been made with him as Kwai Chang Caine(*).”

It’s a shame Lee died so young – he could have had a much greater positive impact for Asian Americans and American culture had he lived longer. I’ll definitely be watching this documentary!

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Filipino American Nurses and Medical Workers Hit Hard by Coronavirus

If you are a Filipino American, it is highly likely that you know lots of nurses and other medical workers.  It also is highly likely that news that that Filipino American nurses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 Pandemic would not surprise you.  Then again, medical workers of all ethnic groups have been hit in some way (like the Khanna family, an Indian American family of five doctors that lost two members to the virus) and not just through harassment and discrimination.   What makes Filipino Americans different particularly hard hit?  I’d say it is a couple of different factors, both cultural and economic, some mentioned by the Stats News article and another that I think that they missed.

First, as the article points out, Filipinos, as part of the global supply chain for medical workers, make up proportionately more of the health care worker pool than their population in the US and beyond, including places like the UK, where a number of Filipino medical workers have died.  My cousins are nurses in New York, and the husband of one of them is medical technician who contracted the virus (we are thankful that he recovered and went back to work).  I would like to point out that it is not just doctors or nursing getting sick, but workers like my cousin’s husband, administrative staff members, and others.  One Filipino maintenance worker we know at the hospital where The Wife works ended up on a ventilator because of the virus – one of 14 maintenance workers who contracted the virus.  He also got better.

The article also mentions that many Filipino Americans live in multi-generational households, which adds other stresses, like concerns about bring the virus home to young children, grandchildren or vulnerable elderly parents and grandparents.  I have heard that concern from Filipino nurses I know, one who has an both elderly parent and a young grandchild at home. Some ended up staying in “Covid” hotels provided to them so that they don’t infect their family.

One other factor that the article doesn’t mention is that many Filipino Americans suffer from hypertension and diabetes, diseases that make a person much more vulnerable to the coronavirus.  This is factor that probably affected Indian American health workers also.

It seems that the coronavirus deaths have peaked in the US, at least for the moment.   Let’s hope the cases stay down, for all of our sakes and especially for medical workers.

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US Memorial Day: Remembering Hazel Ying Lee, WASP Pilot

Hazel Ying Lee  was one of two Chinese American women in United State’s Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program during World War II (Maggie Gee was the other).  She learned to fly and later volunteered to fight the Japanese in China as a pilot, but since she was a woman she was only given a desk job by the Chinese Military.  She joined the WASP service and worked moving planes for deployment.

Lee died in after plane crash just three days before the Lee family learned that her brother Victor was killed in action in France.  The family wish to have them buried together in Portland in a particular cemetery was initially denied since the cemetery was whites only, but the family eventually won out, and she was buried in a nonmilitary funeral.

Thirty-eight WASP pilots died doing military work, with Lee being the last.  In 1977, the WASP unit was given military status retroactively.

A documentary on Lee was produced and can be purchased here.   We discuss her fellow WASP Maggie Gee in this article.

(photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo – http://www.960cyber.afrc.af.mil/News/Photos/tabid/8618/igphoto/2001547104/Default.aspx This Image was released by the United States Air Force with the ID 160531-F-PS461-003 (next), Public Domain, Link)

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Today is Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s Birthday

Today Google’s daily doodle celebrates Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoʻole‘s birthday and includes the above video.  His version of Somewhere of the Rainbow is well known, and I personally think of it before Judy Garland’s.  It was said to have inspired the Pixar Theatrical Short Lava.

Iz would have been 61 years old today.


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Amazon Prime Video: Jimmy O Yang: ‘Good Deal’ Comedy Special Now Streaming

Now that Netflix has popularized streaming comedy specials, Amazon Prime Video is seems to be starting to make more of an effort in this area (or at least this is the first special I have noticed). Jimmy O. Yang’s ‘Good Deal‘ was just released on Friday, May 8th:

“In his debut standup special, Good Deal, Jimmy will tell you all about his take on Asian representation, how he learned to speak English from rap videos, dating tall women, and pursuing his dreams only to disappoint his old school Chinese parents. From assimilation to representation, Jimmy O. Yang delivers an absolutely hilarious hour of comedy in Good Deal.”

I’m a fan of Yang’s and got to see him perform live last November, so some of his jokes in his special were familiar to me. Overall, I really enjoyed the special, but I generally like comedy specials. If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime – the delivery service, then you already have Amazon Prime Video for free and can watch the special here (or in their mobile app).

From this interview, The Wrap provides some background on the special:

“Prior to taping, Yang spent four months touring to hone his material. He scouted the venue — Seattle’s Neptune Theater — and worked with his director and production designer on everything from lighting and staging to the colors he was going to wear.

“I toured Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and San Jose, just to name a few cities, and they were all awesome. They were big metropolitan cities with big Asian populations, and a lot of my fanbase was there,” Yang explained to TheWrap.

“In Seattle, one of their big comedy clubs had closed down. I didn’t have a chance to tour there so that was one city that the audience hadn’t seen this new hour. At the same time, it was perfectly a tech hub without Silicon Valley. And secondly, it had a great, diverse population; people kinda just get the representation stuff. So it turned out to be a great decision. Some of my favorite AAPI comedians like Jo Koy’s ‘Live in Seattle’ and Ali Wong’s first special taped there.”

And while there are a fair number of Asian jokes, Yang’s hot takes on everyday situations like dating, apartment hunting, and (not) living up to parents’ expectations, are universally relatable.”

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8mm Review: Netflix’s ‘Tigertail’ – A Taiwanese Journey to an Unfulfilled American Dream (Spoilers)

I’m a bit late getting to this, but I did watch Tigertail‘ when it premiered on Netflix on April 10th. Tigertail was written, produced and directed by Alan Yang (most known for his work on Netflix’s ‘Master of None.’). The film is about:

“A Taiwanese factory worker leaves his homeland to seek opportunity in America, where he struggles to find connection while balancing family and newfound responsibilities in this multi-generational drama from writer-director Alan Yang.”

A more detailed synopsis of the film and review in Rolling Stone describes ‘Tigertail’:

“Once upon a time, a young man wanted to come to America. He’d grown up in the rural countryside of Taiwan with his grandmother, occasionally having to hide in cupboards from communist Chinese soldiers looking for unregistered citizens. The boy was lonely, except for a girl he met in the fields. His name was Pin-Jui, and her name was Yuan. Later, as a teen, his mother brought him to live with her (his father had long since passed away) and work beside him in a factory in the city. At night, Pin-Jui and Yuan dance to ’60s beat pop at a local bar and dine-and-dash at expensive restaurants. Their friendship is blossoming into a romance. But an opportunity to move to the U.S. beckons, so Pin-Jui leaves his mother, and his job, and his true love behind. He has a new life, a new wife and a humble New York apartment. Decades later, he’ll have a family, including an adult daughter who he doesn’t know how to talk to, and an old man’s memories and regrets. Many, many regrets.”

As a Taiwanese American, there was a lot I could relate to this film and in some ways, see how my parents’ journey to the United States reflected in this story. Much of the film is in Taiwanese (which I don’t understand but can recognize) and Mandarin, subtitled in English as a lot of the film have flashbacks to the past in Taiwan.

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