MANAA’s Student Scholarship Committee recently selected Jin Yoo-Kim to receive the 2009 scholarship of $1000. The committee was impressed with the professional quality of her numerous films, as well as the high praise given to her by her mentors.
“I was jumping for joy when I heard the news,” said Yoo-Kim. “The first thing I did was call my mom and dad because I wanted to tell them that I’m really an Asian American filmmaker and they don’t have to feel sad that I might not make it someday. I’m doing what I love.”
Yoo-Kim, an MFA student at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, has an impressive resume of films under her belt. Her work spans all genres and styles, from a documentary called Bearing Dreams on the prophetic dreams that Korean women have about the destiny of their unborn children, to Pretty, a fictional short about human trafficking and child prostitution, to Raider Nation, a humorous look at an obsessed football fan. She was also the recipient of an Armed with a Camera Fellowship at Visual Communication.
“My parents always wanted me to work in the family business,” she said. “But the turning point for my dad was when I had my picture in a Korean American newspaper promoting a film festival. He bought all the newspapers he could and gave it to all his family members. I saw how proud he was, and I knew he was going to let me do this now if I just push harder.”
One of Yoo-Kim’s goals with her work is to combat the stereotypical images of Asian Americans in films today. Although she is one of only three Asian Americans in her semester at USC, she strives to use all Asian American actors and crew. On her last set, all but 3 of the 20 or so crew members were Asian American. It’s a role that she thinks will land her the humorous award of “Most Asians in a Film” from her classmates, but she’s proud to take it on.
“The most Asian Americans I’ve seen in films is during my Asian American studies classes when they showed documentaries, and it just felt so natural,” she said. “I wanted to do that. I wanted to make Asian Americans look like part of society and not use them for any other reason.”
Working with Asian American actors is a pleasure for her because they are so excited to be working in an industry that often rejects them. She is also impressed with their creativity and thankful for their contributions to each project, which she feels are very collaborative in nature.
However, sometimes she struggles to convey her perspective in a world where Asian American experiences and identities are so misunderstood. On past films, her advisors have suggested that she add more ninja noises, gong sounds, or bonsai trees to her set dressing—Asian stereotypes that she refused to accept. Yoo-Kim also recalled a moment in class when the professor began talking about responsibility as a filmmaker.
“He said we should feel no responsibility about what we do because we’re creative and we shouldn’t hinder the artistic side. I totally disagreed with him,” she said. “I stood up and said I think as filmmakers we have an immense sense of responsibility because people watch film all over the world and it’s really powerful.”
Yoo-Kim’s latest film, called Cut the Fat, tells the story of a Korean girl who is bringing home her Korean boyfriend to meet her parents for the first time. She’s scared of her dad’s reaction, but she finds the strength to stand up to him. The film is based on some of her own experiences in seeking acceptance for her choices, and she’s excited because it’s not only what she considers her best work, but she is also planning on showing it to her dad at an upcoming screening.
“My parents are always worried about me. They tell me this industry isn’t right for me, that it’s not good for women. It’s a struggle,” she said.
Hopefully the MANAA Scholarship can help to validate her work and her struggles, and encourage her to continue bringing her unique perspective and talents to an industry that can definitely use them.