The Asian-American Student Alliance is taking a stand against a cultural landscape it says is predominantly shaped by stereotypes and typecast characters.
The group is hoping to strike a different chord on campus by showing two days of movies that present an alternative vision of Asian-American culture. The festival kicked off Tuesday with a Master’s Tea and three screenings.
“Films play a major role in shaping America’s values and perceptions,” said Sarah Chang ’05, one of the festival’s principal organizers. “We hope to present the stories that Hollywood often overlooks.”
The festival, which continues today, was an initiative of AASA’s political action committee. Supplementing traditional cultural and culinary shows, the movies will help engage Yalies through a new medium, Chang said.
Marc Hayashi, a Japanese-American actor and theater director, spoke to a group of about 20 students at a Master’s Tea in Ezra Stiles College Tuesday.
He commented on his role in the 1982 film “Chan is Missing,” which screens today as part of the festival.
“[Director] Wayne Wang was trying to show how unique and diverse and multi-layered the Chinese-American community is,” Hayashi said.
The film depicts two men searching for their business partner Chan through San Francisco’s Chinatown. Along the way they encounter a variety of characters, and Hayashi said these parts attempt to show the true range of Asian-American experiences. The search for Chan becomes a metaphorical search for Asian America.
Born into an activist household and influenced by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Hayashi’s efforts in film and theater have often been politically motivated, he said.
Hayashi said the biggest barrier for Asian-American artists is a financial one, as producers are often hesitant to express political views that might offend customers.
“Hollywood is about huge sums of money,” Hayashi said.
Hayashi’s talk was meant to serve as an introduction to the themes of the festival, which addresses a wide range of topics and contemporary issues.
Organizer Chang said the hardest sell might be to Asian-American Yalies, some of whom prefer to be thought of as individuals and keep their distance from groups like AASA.
She said the depiction of Asian-Americans in films shapes the public’s perceptions, and as such it should matter to all Asian-Americans how members of the group are portrayed.
Chang said the film festival presents a chance to see interesting and provocative works of art, whether or not one focuses on the social and political causes behind the project.
“It’s a luxury,” Chang said. “When else are you going to be able to do this?”