Where are the Asian Women in Film?

Nadine Truong, Di Quon, Christine Choy, and S. Casper Wong

By William Kustiono

On July 30th, 2013, the Asian American International Film Festival collaborated with the Museum of Chinese American to host Where are the Asian Women in Film. This panel discussion focused on Asian female filmmakers getting started in filmmaking. This discussion also examined the role of females in the movie, the challenges of being Asian and female in the film business – how to increase our visibility in front and behind the camera and how to benefit from the new channels in the era of international mobility and crowd-sourcing.

Nadine Truong, Di Quon, Christine Choy, and S. Casper Wong

The speakers at this panel were Nadine Truong, Di Quon, Christine Choy, and S. Casper Wong. Nadine Truong is a German-born Vietnamese filmmaker. She worked in talent representation and various production companies prior to earning and education at American Film Institute Conservatory. She received her MFA degree in directing in 2009. Her latest work is,” Someone I Used To Know”.

Di Quon is best known for her role as nanny “Rita” in Grown-Ups starring Adam Sandler. She made a big debut as “Lily Kim” in blockbuster film Maid in Manhattan starring Jennifer Lopez. In 2006, Di Quon created, starred, and produced the first Asian American drama comedy television show with Eric Byler titled “My Life… Disoriented.” Before her acting career, she signed to Wilhelmina Modeling agency and appeared on the Aerosmith’s cover “Young Lust”.

Nadine Truong, Di Quon, Christine Choy

Christine Choy is a veteran director and Professor of the New York University Graduate Film and Television Department. She has produced and directed about seventy works in various forms and receiving over sixty international awards. These awards are the John Simon Guggenheim, the Rockefeller, the Asian Cultural Council, and Academy Award Nomination for the documentary film, “Who Killed Vincent Chen?”

S. Casper Wong, the panel moderator, is a Silicon Valley attorney turned New York based writer, director and producer of both narrative and documentary films. Her recent feature documentary, The LuLu Sessions, has won 10 international awards and nominations, including Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary, Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary and Emerging Director Awards.

The panel discussion was opened with a brief introduction about each panelists and their experience as filmmakers. Afterwards, we took a deep dive into the film industry and named a few Asian people in films, especially women as protagonist. Do you know any western movie that the protagonist is an Asian woman? Very few, we have Pacific Rim and Babel starring Rinko Kikuchi, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon starring Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. Christine Choy commented that the reason why few Asian women starred in movies was because Hollywood’s directors preferred western people to star in their movies. There is racism in the Hollywood movie industry and even now, they have not changed. Christine further commented that she created films as an “alternative” to show people that Asian women can perform well in the movie. These “alternatives” are produced to broadcast people about Asian culture. In the early years, when she was writing an “alternative”, she tried to distribute her script to other film producers, which at that time was hard because she does not have big connections. The movie attracted producers because it contained many features that are displayed in the U.S. from other parts of the world, which she refers to as “Anti-everything, anti-capitalism, anti-western, anti-radio, anti-televisions, and anti etc…” After the success, she gained funding to produce more films and became the first Asian American director in U.S. Nadine responded to Christine’s argument that in the movie shooting, sometimes she has an identity issues, that she discusses with the filmmakers because people’s perception about Asian women and her own perception is totally different.

During the discussion, there was the topic of contemporary documentary films. Christine is the veteran of documentary films and she explained that in the past there were similarities between documentary and journalism. Documentaries are all about accuracy, it has to match the news that the journalist presented to the public. Today, the documentaries are diverging from journalism. The story line is completely dependent on the producer’s mind. This is very important because a documentary film is about educating the audience about the real story that already happened before. It is not about entertainment, but re-enacting the story. One of the examples she mentioned is Sarah Palin’s documentary movie. Christine was amazed on the accuracy of the documentary. The film does not only criticize about Sarah Palin or the Republicans, but it is about politics in a larger content and what it means to be a politician in this period.

Nadine Truong, Di Quon, Christine Choy

When Casper was questioning the panelists about the biggest issues of filmmaking, they answered with the same answer: Finance. Nadine tells the audience that her biggest hurdle is finance. She needs to borrow money from her closest friends or families to create a movie. If it is a one-time loan, then it should not be a problem, but asking multiple times, then it is a problem. Christine replied that she is now working on a scholarship that will help aspiring filmmakers to step up and produce their movies. Christine has such a remarkable way to help expand the Asian film culture abroad, and is willing to put her money and time to create this scholarship to make sure the Asian filmmakers or actors especially women, get their chance to create and produce their films.

Overall, the panelists have left the audience with astounding answers and solutions. One of the audiences agreed to give Christine a special screening for her documentary work when she traveled around 50 different states. This panel was worth attending for any aspiring and talented filmmakers and actors who wished to pursuit their ambitions and gain more connections within the film industry.

Di Quon, Christine Choy, and S. Casper Wong

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