How do we define an Asian American story? by Anna Gardner

It seems simple enough, but for me it has become a strain between two ideas. You could say anything made for and about Asian Americans constitutes an Asian American story. But what if the content or story does not focus on an Asian American story, but the writer or filmmaker is Asian American? This is where I’ve had my dilemma.

The argument for: when working on the film selection committee, one of my professors said, “Why can’t a beautiful film not about Asian Americans, but created by Asian Americans be programmed? Wouldn’t that be a celebration of Asian American talent?” I definitely agreed. I have friends who are artists and their paintings or designs are not always focused on their identity, but as an artist, their identity as a woman, as black, as someone with a mental disability, etc., is very important to them. By being of a minority identity but creating something just as well as anyone else, isn’t that a reason to take pride in that creation?

The argument against: What is our film festival trying to accomplish and what are the stories we’re trying to tell our audience? What if we ended up programming films by Asian Americans, but the plots had nothing to do with being Asian American, could we still call this the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival? Another professor of mine argued that the story has to incorporate Asian Americans as characters or situate the story in an Asian American experience for it to be a good fit for the festival. I definitely agree with this as well. If we are trying to expose more people to Asian American stories, those stories should include Asian Americans as main characters.

So where does this put me? I’m leaning more towards not thinking of a film that does not focus on an Asian American story, but the writer or filmmaker is Asian American, as NOT an Asian American story. Maybe if a documentary were made about that filmmaker as to why they think it’s important to be an Asian American creating genre films, I would accept the filmmaker’s personal story as an Asian American story. But the actual film they create is not. But we will see; I may have to compromise. Stay tuned for the final program of IPAAFF!

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