Dave Chan - Between Yellow Face and Whitewashing

Melissa Slaughter

David Chan brings the Yellow Peril
A white, gentrified Brooklyn might be the punchline for every comedian at the Comedy Cellar right now. But some people aren't gonna let that stand.
Joseph Shahadi stated that his mission with the 7th Annual Art of Brooklyn Film Festival was to showcase all of Brooklyn. Not just the straight white men, and not just with the calling card of "diversity." He opened the "Between Yellow Face and Whitewashing" Panel by stating this festival is about "inclusion...we're not making space...we're giving you space" that’s rightfully yours.
The guest director/curator of the festival this year was Dave Chan, an award-winning filmmaker, who’s film “What’s Eating Dad?” was featured at last year’s Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. Dave’s role as guest director/curator was to organize panels for public, and he hosted many of them. In line with my own interests, Dave put together a panel that addressed the trend of white-washing, yellowfacing, and white saviors that occurred in 2016, and shows no signs of slowing down in 2017. The panel featured: David Huynh (Actor/TED talk speaker), Anne Hu (filmmaker), Eddie Shieh (filmmaker), Becky Yamamoto (actor/comedian), Victor Huey (lead grip), Celia Au (actor who can be seen in episode 11 in Netflix’s Iron Fist). 

  • Books could (and have) been written about the topic covered in this panel, and it's unfair to break it down without giving it the nuance it deserves. So here are some highlights:
  • Executive Director Joseph Shahadi reading internet comments about the announcement of this panel. Just read any facebook comments thread on whitewashing and you’ll get the gist of what these were. 
  • Victor Huey has been in the business for over 40 years. His stories about how film was mostly Irish and Italian when he started, and how someone told him “didn’t have a Chinamen’s chance” of working in the film business, were some of the best features on where we started and how far we’ve come. 
  • David Huynh (an accomplished Shakespearean actor who recently came off an acclaimed run of Vietgone in the Midwest): “I go on a third of the auditions of my peers...there’s just not as much opportunity.” 
  • Anne Hu (who wrote/directed starred in the short Cake): Asian women are of two different extremes...either submissive/servant types, or the dragon lady…. [I received] slut-shaming from Asian men who have never seen the movie...it’s important for Asian-American women to claim their sexuality.”  
  • Becky Yamamoto: “ I’d love not to make an Asian thing, but just an Everyman thing.” 
  • Celia Au (on why she keeps going in this industry): If we give up, we’re giving up on the people behind us. 
  • There were long discussions over what doesn’t work (Ghost in the Shell; Great Wall; Aloha; the upcoming Ni’hau), what we should celebrate (Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Masters of None; Justin Chon’s upcoming Gook; John Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians), and how representation both in front of and behind the camera matter. 
  • If there was any call to action, it was filmmaker Eddie Shieh’s simple answer: “We need to support each other. 

I was happy to see that there were not just people of Asian descent in the audience. And the non-Asian people did ask questions on race and how to address it in the film industry. Panels and discussions such as these need to happen, and they need to happen often. But more often than not, they are shouting into a vacuum. When Asian people are only talking to fellow Asian people, progress becomes difficult. I applaud Dave for putting together this panel, as well as making it a positive, educational experience.