By Johnny C
[EDITORS NOTE: This is a review for the Queers on the Verge Shorts Program at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.]
The presence and portrayal of any group in cinema is called into question when they are marginalized by ignorance or bigotry—and often times, it’s both. Whether it’s negative portrayals based off of offensive stereotypes or an utter lack of representation, the question remains: how do people tell their story if those talking about them don’t really know what the story is?
Both the Asian Americans and the queer communities have definitely come a long way in the past decade, going from being almost nonexistent in mainstream to a rare appearance and usually negative misrepresentation, it is definitely the right time to bring about the stories of a less visible group: queers in Asian and Asian American film and entertainment.
A series of shorts dealing with a variety of issues—especially perspectives of queers and others with their misunderstanding and biases against them, Queers on the Verge had few stories that were distinctly both queer and Asian, but for the most part, were stories that could easily be retold that were race neutral.
To be fair, that is still a good thing. There may not be many voices that have emerged to describe a distinct Asian American flavor in queer cinema (or perhaps queer flavor in Asian American cinema), but the fact that many of the actors, writers, and directors are predominantly Asian shows a triumph in creativity rather than typecasting or stereotyping.
From the award-winning short Andy by Andrew Ahn about homophobic reactions to ambiguous-yet-innocuous events that may or may not been sexual, to the touching Tsuyako about a Japanese woman’s dilemma between duty and love, and the tear-inducing Viewer Discretion Advised/Tape 96, this screening will stir unfamiliar feelings in familiar ways with each story, which we can all relate to in one way or another.
Even as a straight Asian male, I could share the awkwardness of sitting in a bus in San Francisco and wondering if a girl would reciprocate interest or if I would look silly letting her know—even if Narissa Lee’s The Bus Pass was about a queer girl finding another girl attractive and adding the extra layer of complication and self-doubt: is that pretty girl queer too?
The point is, these are stories that are all distinctly queer, Asian American, queer and Asian American, and at a certain point, universal. We celebrate our diversity through events like SDAFF and this screening of Queers on the Verge, but we walk out of it finding out that we all aren’t that much different from one another: we are all human beings experiencing joy and pain in whatever shape or form it comes to us in.
ABOUT JOHNNY C: John “Johnny C” Chuidian was born in California and grew up in Hong Kong and Manila. He is currently a student at UCSD’s graduate school of International Relations and Pacific Studies, and hopes to use his specialization to raise awareness of global issues and call people to take action, especially in Southeast Asia. He will be going to film his first mini-documentary in Thailand this December on human trafficking and sex slaves, and can be followed on his project blog at johnnycrockstheplanet.wordpress.com