MANAA member Lori Kido Lopez recently had the opportunity to interview Oscar nominee Steven Okazaki, who is up for short documentary yet again this year. One of the topics that came up was the absence of Asian Americans at these award shows — a topic that MANAA cares about a lot! Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
LKL: Big award shows like these are starting to recognize more African American filmmakers and performers, do you ever look around and wonder where the other Asian Americans are, or when their work is going to be recognized?
Okazaki: Well, I just won an Emmy a couple of months ago and the guy who handed the award to me was the actor on Heroes, and so I said, the first thing I said when I got up on stage was something like, wow, two Asian Americans on stage at one time. That doesn’t happen. When you said there were a lot of Asian Americans [nominated for Academy Awards], I guess…it seems like there should be a lot more. I think that Asian Americans are still really pigeon-holed, particularly the actors. I think the directors and producers are as well. I think I’m lucky, I work with HBO and they, I’m an independent filmmaker but I work with HBO a lot, and they don’t see me as an Asian American filmmaker, they see me as a filmmaker. Where I worked previously there were certain, you should only do Asian American subjects, and your opportunities are really limited. Obviously the actors suffer most for that. There are these tiny little breakthroughs, usually those are like one part in a motion picture or television season. I think it’s still rather dismal compared to what an important part Asian Americans play in our society and in our culture in general.
LKL: You’ve made a lot of movies about Japanese Americans and their stories. Do you think you’re done with making movies about Japanese Americans?
Okazaki: No I don’t think so. I think that I actually haven’t made that many about Japanese Americans, I’ve just made like two out of 20 films. I think that I wanted to explore different subjects from my own creative range, but I do see myself as Asian American filmmaker. I do think telling Asian American stories is important and a fulfilling thing for me. It’s not necessarily a mission or a chore, I find it a really fulfilling thing to connect. And making documentaries gives you an opportunity to dig really deep, deeper than if you were just having a conversation with someone, it gives you license. There were Japanese American subjects, sure, I think at the same time I really think it’s bad enough that people try to limit you because of what you are, so at the same time I want to open up those possibilities as well in terms of the kinds of things I can do. I’ve tried to do a range of documentaries and mess around with narrative films and thing. For me the biggest danger is being bracketed as one thing, or being limited to do only one kind of film or genre. That’s what I’ve tried to put my energy into. To fully express myself as a filmmaker. But I’m hoping to do other things related to the Asian American community. We’re working on things now, and I’m hoping to do things totally unrelated, things relevant and irrelevant as possible.
To read the whole interview, check out VC Online
Shalini Kantayya, filmmaker, educator, and activist uses film/video as a tool to educate, inspire, and empower audiences. Shalini recently received the 2001 William D. Fulbright Fellowship to make a documentary film about political street theatre in India. Her recent documentary, MANTHAN ( THE CHURNING ) received the first prize award for best documentary at the Asian American Film Institute Festival (New York). Her films have been screened at international film festivals including the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival, The Ivy Film Festival, The MIX Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, The New Festival, Images and Voices of Hope, Paisley Gallery New York, and Chemould Art Gallery Bombay. Shalini has lectured at schools and universities such as The Convergence Institute of Media, The Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communications, and the San Francisco Waldorf School. She holds a BA in International Relations and Multi-Media Production at Hampshire College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Media Art production at the City College of New York. Shalini is currently working on A DROP OF LIFE, is a speculative fiction film based on a global water crisis, and CONNECTED, a documentary about how the call center industry is effecting the lives of urban Indian women.