Adam Crapser and his daughter in 2015. (Photo credit: Gosia Wozniacka / AP)
Last Friday, filmmaker Justin Chon’s latest – Blue Bayou – opened in theatres nationwide, and I interviewed Chon as well as actor Linh-Dan Pham about the film. Shortly after the film’s release, however, members of the adoptee community took to social media to express frustration about Blue Bayou and the ways in which they feel the film fails to properly represent the adoptee experience.
Korean American adoptee and abuse survivor Adam Crapser – who was deported to South Korea five years ago and whose story I wrote about severaltimes on this site – posted a statement on social media saying that Chon reached out to him four years ago expressing interest in bringing his story to film, but that communication suddenly ceased after Chon responded. Crapser was deported in 2016 following an intense grassroots effort to stop his deportation proceedings, leading to separation of him from his wife and young children.
Linh-Dan Pham as Parker in Blue Bayou. (Photo credit: Focus Features / Blue Bayou)
Asian American filmmaker Justin Chon’s latest film – Blue Bayou – opens today in theatres nationwide. In the film, Linh-Dan Pham plays Parker, a Vietnamese refugee who has resettled with her father in the New Orleans area and who is in the end stages of her battle with cancer.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat with Linh-Dan about her role as Parker in Blue Bayou. The following is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for length and clarity.
JENN: Hi, Linh-Dan – thank you so much for taking the time today. I’m really excited to have the chance to talk with you about Blue Bayou. I found the film really powerful, and I really loved your performance as Parker.
One of the things that really strikes me is how few in-depth and complicated representations of the Vietnamese refugee experience there are in media. Can you talk a little bit about what drew you to this character and what aspects of the refugee experience you were trying to portray in your performance of Parker?
LINH-DAN: First of all, I have to admit that in the beginning I had no clue who Justin Chon was! (laughs)
My reason is because I’m French and I don’t live in America. I’m not American; I’m French Vietnamese. But of course, I’m always interested in knowing Asian American – and Asian, in general – artists.
When Justin first got in touch with me, he was so modest. He said: “I wrote this part and I think you would be perfect for it. These are the links to my two movies Gook and Ms. Purple, and here is the script.”
When I watched both of his films – Gook and Ms. Purple – I just fell in love with his work. And, along with the script for Blue Bayou? It was really a no-brainer. On top of all that, Justin’s female characters are always so beautiful and strong, and they always have a storyline of their own. And so really, I was like – yeah, take me! (laughs)
Writer-director Justin Chon (Antonio LeBlanc) alongside actors Sydney Kowalske (Jessie LeBlanc, left) and Alicia Vikander (Kathy LeBlanc, right). (Photo Credit: Focus Features / Blue Bayou)
Asian American filmmaker Justin Chon’s latest film – Blue Bayou – opens today in theatres nationwide.
Blue Bayou tells the story of Korean American adoptee Antonio LeBlanc as he faces a deportation order by ICE that threatens to rip apart his family and expel him from the only home he has ever known.
Earlier this week, I had a chance to sit down with writer-director Justin Chon, who also stars as Antonio in the film. The following is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for length and clarity.
JENN: I saw Blue Bayou over the weekend with my husband and it was incredible — truly an amazing film. So first of all, I just want to say kudos to you for making it.
As you know, there are roughly 120,000 transnational Korean adoptees in the United States, but Blue Bayou is seemingly one of the first American dramatic films to tackle this subject. Why do you think that this story — which seems so integral to the Asian American experience — is so overlooked in film and what inspired you to tell this story in Blue Bayou?
JUSTIN: I think for that reason — because it’s overlooked. I know certain adoptees aren’t going to like that I’m telling this story because I’m not an adoptee, and so I’ll never know what it’s like to grow up as an adoptee. I understand that and I honor that. But, at the same time: how long are we going to wait? When is there going to be a substantial story about an Asian American adoptee — but, specifically also a Korean American — because we all know that the idea of international adoption started in South Korea.
This time, it is not Wheel of Fortune or Paris By Night, the programs that were on so often at home that they were nearly burned into our boxy CRT screen — back when TVs could still suffer from such a thing.
This time, it is a rental – another Chinese-language, Vietnamese-dubbed series my parents have slipped into the VCR, and in which the protagonists are soaring effortlessly through the air, fighting valiantly for one thing or another. My mother tongue isn’t quite far along enough to understand everything going on in these series. But I understand the gist, certainly — there are good guys, and there are bad guys.
Note: This essay contains mild spoilers for the film ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’.
Representation isn’t just about descriptive characteristics. It’s about reflecting the complexities of lived experiences, including the dynamic, evolving nature of culture. There are aspects of Southeast Asian culture woven throughout Raya and the Last Dragon in textiles, food, spiritual practice, and so on.
Raya’s strength, however, is in its assertion of authenticity rather than its conformity to concepts of authenticity. Instead of attempting to conform to what are typically Western-centric or white-centric notions of what makes presentations of our cultures authentic, Raya affirmatively respects various aspects of our cultures while also building on them to create an immersive, imaginative experience that is substantively – not just descriptively – representational. From the dynamic, complex characters to small details like the fruit on a table, Raya is an incredible work that meaningfully engages with concepts of culture, conflict, representation, and justice. It’s a must-watch for everyone.