At Project Ava, we consider ourselves storytellers; yet writing this particular story is weird for me. It’s weird because just a year and a half ago, Project Ava didn’t exist. The dream that I’m chasing now was exactly that, a dream, and now I’m sharing with you our real story. People ask us all the time, “how did Project Ava start?” It’s a simple question with an answer that requires an amount of reflection.
Charlie and I were roommates all throughout college (and now). Not only were we best friends, we also shared two traits: a dislike for college work and a desire to do something meaningful with our lives. I studied business in school, and while the concepts were helpful, there were not many chances to apply them. For me, this was frustrating. It was frustrating because I knew that just beyond the dorm walls there existed a world filled with problems to solve. I was young, naïve, and too eager for my own good. During our sophomore year, Charlie nonchalantly mentioned that he wanted to start a business. I can’t remember if he was fully serious, but I jumped on that–“Yes! Let’s start a business.”
So for the next year, we played around with various entrepreneurial ideas in what we called our search for “The Million Dollar Idea.” Things that were considered included 1) square-bottom taco shells, 2) bottled oxygen, and 3) an American-made goods store. None of them made the cut. To be fair, I thought the taco shell idea was gold, but General Mills beat me to it. Dang.
That year, Charlie and I were also working on a social campaign about LGBT youth homelessness in Colorado. During one of our initial meetings, I naïvely suggested that we produce a documentary for the campaign. We all agreed. We had no idea what we were doing. We literally went around with flip-cams, thinking we were about to create the next Food Inc. or Waiting for Superman. Needless to say, it was a humbling experience. However, this was my first exposure to filmmaking, and I was intrigued.
The following year, I studied abroad in London, so I explored the film industry there. I bought my first camera, the Sony NEX 5N, and started learning as much as I could. I sat in on classes, bought numerous cinematography books, attended seminars, and even started doing some freelance work. My first gig was a burlesque show. Fun stuff. I quickly realized how much I loved filmmaking and telling stories through video. Then one day… it hit me. There are incredible stories everyone; stories about discovering love, overcoming tragedy, fostering talent, etc. Stories like my grandpa’s about how he built an entire farmhouse with his bare hands in rural China. What if these stories were shared with everyone? Could they inspire change? I decided, yes.
I quickly Skyped Charlie. We talked. We talked. He asked a lot of questions because that’s what he does. Blah blah blah. Eventually, the business model for Project Ava emerged. We would share meaningful stories in hopes of inspiring meaningful change. We would give visibility to voices normally unheard. We would finally do something meaningful with our lives. I invited Vanessa to found the company with us because I knew she shared a passion for what we were about to do. And throughout the first year, she really was the one driving our stories. Project Ava was born.
Project Ava’s first year was tough. We really had no idea what we were doing. Our clients were happy, but we were all over the place. Charlie, Vanessa, and I were still students at the time, and being student entrepreneurs is no joke. It sucked. To be honest, I was about to give-up on Project Ava after a year, but after I graduated, I had a life-changing experience. I had the opportunity to produce a film with the Jubilee Project in LA about LGBT bullying. Hanging with the JP guys was brilliant, and the most incredible part of the experience was meeting people with similar passions. After watching the short film I made, Alstroemeria, I realized just how far I had come compared to flip-cam, documentary guy. I couldn’t give up.
We expanded our team at Project Ava. We are launching our website. We have clients lined up. It’s all surreal and happening so fast. I tell stories at Project Ava full-time for no salary (and probably none for a while) because this is my passion. If there was ever a time in my life to be chasing dreams, it is now. I am young, crazy, and too blinded to realize if this is a stupid idea–and most importantly, I have a brilliant team that also believes in the power of storytelling. We are in this because we truly believe in our mission: to share and celebrate meaningful stories that move the advocates of today and tomorrow. I have this wonderful vision in my mind that one day Project Ava will be a platform for those who care to share what they care about. We aren’t the best entrepreneurs, filmmakers, photographers, or artists in the world. We are simply people who care.
Another question we get is “What does ‘Ava’ stand for?” I came up with “Project Ava” because “Ava” was the most popular baby girl’s name in England at the time. For me, it sounded youthful and fun. When I told people that, they were confused and gave me weird looks. “Ava” now stands for Advocacy Via Art. We tell stories through a variety of mediums, not just films. We call our brand of advocacy “Avalove.” For us, we believe choosing to celebrate and share the people, moments, and events around us is a lifestyle. It is a life filled with love, and that is what drives this company.
For us, we believe choosing to celebrate and share the people, moments, and events around us is a lifestyle. It is a life filled with love, and that is what drives this company.
Over the next couple months, we have amazing stories and campaigns in store for you, and to be honest, our whole entire movement depends on you. It depends on you watching, reading, sharing and celebrating the content we produce, so we thank you for your support. Now you know the Project Ava story.
The Asian American Film Lab is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization devoted to the promotion and support of gender and ethnic diversity in film and television programming. Through our education and outreach programming, we connect filmmakers of color, provide seminars, screenings, opportunities to workshop scripts, and more.
Lots of badass Asians and posts about representation PLUS opportunities in New York City for Asian-American artists. Give them a follow.
If you have made a short film and want to submit it to an awesome film festival, email your
Title of film (or if it’s online, the link)
Length of film
I will by screening my documentary in progress at the 2012 Eye See No Slant Asian Film Festival at Intermedia Arts along with several other amazing filmmakers. Please come support!
Spirited is about the new wave of young Hmong-American spiritual healers (shamans) and the changing face of Hmong spirituality.
Submit to the Knickerbocker Film Festival!
The submission deadline has been extended to January 31, 2013!
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.
For most of his life, Jiro has been mastering the art of making sushi, but even at his age he sees himself still striving for perfection, working from sunrise to well beyond sunset to taste every piece of fish; meticulously train his employees; and carefully mold and finesse the impeccable presentation of each sushi creation. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow.
The feature film debut of director David Gelb, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and a loving yet complicated father.
Every year thousands of American men go to China to find a bride. The documentary film “Seeking Asian Female” follows an eccentric modern love story about Steven and Sandy – an 60 year old aging white man with “yellow fever” who is obsessed with marrying any Asian woman, and the young 30 year old Chinese bride he finds online. When Steven meets a willful young woman named Sandy from Anhui, China, over the internet and she agrees to migrate to the US to marry him. Fantasy and reality collide in this modern love story.
Told through the lens of Chinese American filmmaker Debbie Lum, who becomes the couple’s reluctant translator and marriage counselor, the film examines the penetrating effect of stereotype and expectations on love and relationships today. Debbie documents and narrates with skepticism and humor, from the early stages of Steven’s search for an Asian bride, through the moment Sandy steps foot in America for the first time, to a year into their precarious union. Global migration, Sino-American relations and the perennial battle of the sexes, weigh in on the fate of their marriage in this intimate and quirky personal documentary. “Seeking Asian Female” is at the intersection of several timely subjects – finding love online, an increasing interest in New China, and what it means to have a race-based dating preference in a supposedly “post-racial” America.
Dear SUBTLE friends,
In 2012, SUBTLE is seeking a wide variety of volunteer staffers offering a diverse array of interests and skills beyond writing. Those who are inspired to join a new form of Asian-American activism, but do not know where to start, are especially encouraged to apply.
To apply please email us (email@example.com) your a) name, b) location, c) resume/CV, and d) a one-paragraph personal statement on how SUBTLE has touched your life by December 31st, 2011. SUBTLE will contact you with further details on the joining process. (Referrals via SUBTLE readers are also welcome. Simply replace “d)” in your application with e) a one-paragraph personal statement on what you wish a magazine such as SUBTLE might do for the Asian-American and American communities.)
While SUBTLE cannot expound on specific plans for 2012, the following are general profiles of open staff positions that are open to applications from anyone in the United States (for now):
- Event Planner - You have had some experience helping plan successful events as part of an organization of some sort, and you are confident that you can put together a successful event in your local area in a relatively short amount of time. Beyond your skills, your most valuable asset is your warm, engaging, and sincere presence.
- Graphic Design Specialist - You are adept at HTML, photo editing, graphic illustration, print layout, or some combination of those skills. And, your creative talent, driven by your conscientious commitment to social justice, allows you to design material in a politically artistic way.
- Socially Conscious Fashionista - Yes, that’s right. You have the eye of the (fashion) tiger that can see what does and does not go together for either a woman or a man. More importantly, you cannot stand the Anglo-American artificial standard of beauty and the industry’s wide-spread cheap labor practices. So, you know of styles, shops, and resources that are socially conscious and you can put together a look that does not look like another Anglo mannequin at the mall.
- Music Content Curator - You, or you know of many who, make music from their heart as an Asian-American looking out at a world that does not seem to belong to Asian-Americans. The melody, rhyme, rhythm, and/or lyrics all speak directly into the souls of any who experience something similar and who are looking for inspiration. And, you know it will make a difference in the lives of others if they just heard it.
- Fictional Writing Curator - You like writing or reading fictional short stories or novels that are inspirational and make bold statements about the state of society. In particular, you dream about writing fictional short stories about the Asian-American experience and how it is so misunderstood by non-Asian-Americans. If someone gave you a chance to do it, you know you could wow your readers by the profound depth of meaning in your stories.
- Film/Movie Curator - You are an aspiring actor or director and either you or someone you know is involved in making films that inspire a commitment to social justice in the Asian-American community. You have a special preference for “indie” (independent) film-makers that are trying to stay true to their beliefs and not be swayed by the money that goes around the industry. And, you want them to get some very much deserved positive attention for their work.
- Religious Content Curator - You are involved with a religious community that serves a large portion of the Asian-American population and you are able to think critically about its past and its future in terms of its interaction with the next generation of Asian-Americans. In particular, you want people to see a particular side of religion that people usually do not see. And, you can imagine a society with or without religion for the better.
More often than not, Asian men have always played the role of the evil and greedy gangster in popular adventure movies such as Lethal Weapon 4, Rush Hour and The Year of the Dragon. The myth that Asian American communities such as Chinatown breeding with illegal activities like drug dealing, prostitution and gangster movements all get their emphasis in movies such as the ones mentioned.
For example, in Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li plays an Asian villain character who is in charge of smuggling illegal labor force from China, drug dealings and assigned killings, among other things. When his Chinatown-based operation is discovered by two Los Angeles police officers, played by a Caucasian and a Black actor, the chase is on to capture the villain. The end results favored the good guys, of course. Often have other movie producers used this stereotypical movie plot to increase the suspense and sensationalism of the movie. Asian men are seen as violent, inhuman, property destroyers, and kill mercilessly. This Asian-male-gangster image glorifies male aggression beyond the point of rational.
Another interesting observation we gathered about Asian men in the movies we saw depicted the Asian man as being less than intelligent when compared to their white counterparts in the movie. Using the example of Lethal Weapon 4 again, the Asian villains were constantly making the wrong moves in combating their enemies. Asian sidekicks were making tactical decisions that cost them their lives, making the heroes look superior and the killings of the Asian American men justified.
In another popular adventure movie, Rambo (1987), the leading actor and hero, a white male (Sylvester Stallone), single handedly defeated a villageful of Vietnamese soldiers in his quest to destroy communism. Such a feat could not be possible in reality.
Asian men are depicted as men who do not have the capability of being ideal partners to women of their own racial groups. This is emphasized when movie producers start pairing Asian women off with white men instead of men of their own races. These women supposedly prefer to be with white men.
In the family-oriented movie based on Amy Tan’s book, the Joy Luck Club portrayed Asian men as undesirable male partners. Joy Luck Club was a story of the relationships of first generation Asian American mothers and their grown-up daughters. Out of the four daughters that appeared in the movie, only one married another Asian man while the rest of the daughters married white men. Even at that, the Asian man turned out to be a stingy, selfish man with little regard for his wife. On top of that, the husbands of the mothers in this story were abusive and promiscuous Asian men. In other words, Asian men were seen as irresponsible and do not value their families.
Asian men are portrayed as passive, old and speak broken English. The term “Yellow Uncle Tom” was coined to describe Asian men of this type. The Karate Kid (1984) was a movie we saw that depicted the Asian actor as such a man. In Karate Kid, Pat Morita plays Mr. Miyagi, an old Japanese American World War II veteran who calmly trains an enthusiastic white teenage male the Japanese martial arts of karate. Despite the fact that Mr. Miyagi was an American WWII veteran, he was still portrayed speaking English with a foreign accent (Wong).
The myth that all Asian men know some form of martial arts was also stressed in this movie when Mr. Miyagi surprises Daniel (the white male leading actor) with his karate moves after appearing passive and bashful during the first portions of the film. It reminds people to be aware of Asian men in general because passivity may not appear to be what it seems.
In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) starring Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh, the plot centered on James Bond, a white secret detective, who initially had an Asian female reporter interfering with his duties. Tension builds between them until they start cooperating in their operations and predictably fall in love in the end. It has been a common sight seeing a white man paired off with an Asian woman in the movie scene, but seldom do we see an Asian man paired off with a white woman. Asian women are often depicted as easily falling in love with white men, sometimes even at just first sight. This scene has been termed the “unmotivated white-Asian romance” because the woman easily falls in love with a man because he is white (MANAA).
We have also seen news broadcasts on television where the news anchors consist of an Asian female and a white male. An example of an Asian female news anchor that we observed on television paired off with a white male news partner was Juju Chang for ABC news. Anchor team for CBS news, Connie Chung and Dan Rather was also a popular pair on the news broadcast several years ago. We have yet to see an Asian man paired off with a white woman on the news. The only times we observed Asian men in news broadcasts made them appear solo, e.g., the weatherman on the Weather Channel or as Asia-based correspondents on CNN (Interracial).
The Asian woman is supposedly sexually active, exotic, overly feminine and eager to please. This character is termed “China Doll,” and appears countless times in popular movies. Examples include Return to Paradise. The movie sets itself in Malaysia where three white male Americans spend their time laying on the beach, sniffing cheap cocaine and sleeping with the local girls. Even though the Asian female actors in this movie were not Asian American and only appeared for a few minutes in the beginning portion of the movie, nevertheless it still conveyed the message that Asian women take pride in sexually serving white men because the men are white and rich. When Asians are constantly depicted as one way in movies, it predominantly effects the way people see Asian Americans.
What Hollywood may have failed to portray about these Asian women is that these Asian women are prostitutes merely trying to support their families by offering sexual services to men whom they see rich. Because they come from poor families and lack education, some Asian women earn their living by these means, and preferring to sleep with a man due to his skin color has nothing to do with it: money talks.
Another example of the China Doll character appeared in The Year of the Dragon. The leading actor, a white police chief who is deemed racist towards Chinese in this movie, tries beyond his best to eliminate violence in New York’s Chinatown. He befriends an Asian American female news anchor to get his crack-down-on-Chinatown-violence stories on TV broadcast. The police officer is depicted as arrogant and selfish man, and the Asian American woman dislikes him immensely because he makes derogatory remarks about her being Chinese. She refuses to air his story. However, when the police officer swings by the woman’s house, he coerces her into having sex with him, and she submits to him, despite giving him rejection slaps on the face prior to engaging in sexual intercourse. This movie not only showed that Asian American women were passive and indecisive, but it also stressed that Asian American women do want to have sex with white men, even if she says no initially.
"Dragon Lady" refers to an Asian woman who is perceived as seductive, desirable but at the time she is untrustworthy. Movies from the early century have been successful in portraying this stereotypical version of the Asian woman. "Daughter of Fu Manchu" is one of them. Scheming, treacherous and dangerous, the Dragon Lady is the female version of the Asian bad guy, only with a slightly different approach to defeat her enemies. She has the power to hypnotize her male rivals, gains trust by seducing them, and when they least expect it, she rids of them through sabotage or backstabbing (Espiritu).