In No Look Pass, Emily Tay is an extraordinary young woman born to Burmese immigrants, raised in Los Angeles Chinatown, Harvard educated, starter for their women’s basketball team, and now a professional basketball player in Germany living with her female partner. But she faces a dilemma: coming out to her parents, and she is afraid of being rejected and disowned by them.
The documentary will have its world premiere at Outfest LA and one of the few Asian American themed films in this festival. On the one hand, No Look Pass is extremely unique: the experiences of Southeast Asian American queers is few and far between, especially those from Burma/Myanmar. However, it also highlights a dilemma that faces many queers, regardless of cultural or ethnic origin, one that is almost commonplace: coming out to one’s family.
While the story of Emily’s coming out and her sexuality are supposedly the central theme to the documentary, the vast majority of the movie is focused on basketball, which even the director, Melissa Johnson, admits was her initial interest in filming the Harvard women’s basketball team. “[I wanted to demonstrate] basketball as the tool a young girl uses to figure out who she is between adolescence and adulthood,” she writes in her statement about the film. Emily Tay is an amazing basketball player, ranked in the top 25 in the country for assists while at Harvard, one of the few players to score 1000 points during her career, and she shows moves that the camera loves and focuses on throughout the film.
Unfortunately, Ms. Johnson’s preoccupation with basketball dominates the entire movie, leaving the rest of the film to suffer, even though it could very well have lent some perspectives that are rarely talked about. There are tantalizing bits that Emily talks about the racism that she faces as an Asian female basketball player in the Ivy League, and as the only non-white member of Harvard’s team, but not much else is mentioned. There is more attention paid to her lesbian identity, and she even mentions that she is the only out lesbian in her teams as well as recent and current girlfriends. Very little attention is paid to the homophobia that pervades her sport.
Despite all these flaws, Emily’s story is one that needs to be heard. The film becomes very compelling with Emily’s story and her character shining through. Even when the documentary become very frustrating with regards to how she actually discloses her identity, it is worth slogging through to see Emily mature in front of your eyes.