Stories From the Margins: An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Nanfu Wang

Publicity still from “I Am Another You”, a documentary film by Nanfu Wang. (Photo Credit: I Am Another You)

By Guest Contributor: Dawn Lee Tu (@dawnleetu)

I Am Another You is filmmaker Nanfu Wang’s follow up to the gripping Hooligan Sparrow, named after the rebel activist Le Haiyan who leads a group of protesters seeking justice for six elementary school girls sexually assaulted by their school principal. In that film, Wang embarked on a harrowing journey to film Le, and both were eventually were targeted by Chinese officials for Le’s feminist activism. The film concludes with Wang recording how she  was forced to smuggle her raw footage out of China in order to produce Hooligan Sparrow.

This time, however, Wang doesn’t become an enemy of the state while filming I Am Another You. Instead, she finds herself living on the streets with a free spirit named Dylan who has chosen a life as a drifter. I Am Another You makes us rethink social issues such as homelessness and mental illness, as well as what personal freedom feels and looks like. Wang’s storytelling compels us to think about our lives, through Dylan’s as he lives on the street.

Winner of the SXSW LUNA Chicken & Egg Award for Best Documentary Feature directed by a woman and the SXSW Special Jury Award for Excellence in Documentary Storytelling for I Am Another You, Wang was recently named one of Variety’s 2017’s Ten Documakers to Watch. I Am Another You is currently streaming on Independent Lens on PBS until February 15th. Watch it here.

Wang took time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her passion for documentary filmmaking and I Am Another You.

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Aziz Ansari, and the Crossroads of Our Era

Aziz Ansari

By Guest Contributor: Bessie Chu

I have some probably unpopular opinions about the Aziz Ansari misconduct story. And I’m calling it misconduct because – at least for me – what Aziz did doesn’t fall under the category of a sexual assault. Maybe I’m blinded by my love for Master of None, but I can’t put him in the same category as Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar. In particular, Nassar’s horrifying abuse of generations of Olympic athletes shows that even our country’s greatest champions couldn’t escape all of this; never mind, then, the countless working women whose faces will never grace CNN cameras, Time magazine covers, or red carpets.

I believe Grace. I believe her pain; and, I believe she was overwhelmed; and, I believe Aziz crossed a line. And, when I look at the story — which I think Babe.net handled irresponsibly —  it seems like the whole encounter likely brought up prior trauma from Grace. So, she froze. This is really common and it is something we – all of us — have to consider when we’re in the bedroom. Aziz should have stopped. Even if the story is more complicated, I can’t with these editorials calling Grace a weak woman for not ‘resisting harder,’ especially when a lot of times ‘resisting harder’ escalates to full-on violence. Grace isn’t just a hapless victim or a snowflake, but Aziz doesn’t get off scot-free either.

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How the Aziz Ansari Story Reveals the Toxicity of Internalized Gender Roles

Aziz Ansari (Photo Credit: Ruvan Wijesooriya )

By Guest Contributor:  Tiffany Tso

I’ve been chewing on Babe’s Aziz Ansari story for the last couple of days. The story, detailing a 23-year-old photographer’s sexual encounter with the comedian, has caused a splinter in the #MeToo movement, which I expected. Ansari is generally regarded as a male ally to the feminist movement. So just as people came to the immediate defense of George Takei, I knew there would be an army of Aziz defenders. However, I didn’t realize female journalists would join in on the chorus of victim-shaming and, essentially, defend “Grace” and Ansari’s interaction as “normal.”

The interaction that took place between the two felt familiar: a sexual cat and mouse game between a horny male and his female date. The overly aggressive persistence of a guy trying to get laid, regardless of what his partner wants. Grace gave him non-verbal (and even verbal) cues that she didn’t want to fool around, but Ansari ignored them. Since none of us were in the room, we’ll never know if he noticed these cues and willfully ignored them, or if he felt like he was getting a green light to try and try again.

Much of the ensuing conversation around Babe’s article has been predictable. “Why didn’t she leave?” “Why would she perform oral sex if she didn’t want to?” “He’s not a mind-reader.” A lot of this Twitter commentary came from seemingly male-identifying people. Much to my surprise, there was a cacophony of self-proclaimed #MeToo supporters who echoed these sentiments.

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“Highlighting” the Fight Against Ebola

Kevin Tyan, Jason Kang, and Katherine Jin, founders of Kinnos. (Photo credit: Columbia Engineering/Tim Lee Photographers)

By Guest Contributor: Andrew Cha

In 2014, the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone suffered the worst outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus since the disease’s discovery in 1976. Due to local poverty and the lack of public health infrastructure, the pandemic spread quickly, with one thousand new cases every week, twenty-eight thousand cases in total, and over eleven thousand deaths.

The Ebola epidemic triggered a worldwide response. The United States committed to the largest sum for assistance and relief efforts of any country with its appropriation of 5.4 billion dollars to fight the outbreak. The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), and the Department of Defense were all mobilized to set up a response infrastructure on the ground to contain the outbreak. At the international level, the United Nations and the World Health Organization coordinated a global response to the Ebola outbreak, designating it the “number one global crisis for the United Nations.” The World Bank also pledged a two hundred thirty million dollar aid package for affected countries in West Africa.

The sheer scale of the US and UN response to the Ebola crisis was critical to getting the pandemic under control, but some of the most innovative and beneficial proposals to combat the epidemic arose from the minds of some innovative Asian-American millennials. The United States Agency for International Development sponsored a “Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge,” in 2014 in which citizens from across the nation could propose new ideas to battle Ebola. Three Columbia University students, Jason Kang, Kevin Tyan, and Katherine Jin, were selected from over fifteen hundred applicants, for their invention called “Highlight.”

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Anti-Asian hate is not welcome in politics

An uncredited mailer sent to residents of Edison, New Jersey. (Photo credit: NJ.com)

By Guest Contributor:  Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote (@apiavote)

Edison town council member Sapana Shah realized something was wrong the moment she checked social media, learning that she and her neighbors received the same anti-Asian mailer Wednesday which featured a “deport” stamp on the photos of two Asian school board candidates. The postcard also read, “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”

Targeting candidates based on bias and hate toward various ethnic, racial or religious identity is not new. And Shah is no stranger to it as a candidate. She recounted multiple incidents to me over the phone. Shah, a long-time resident in the Edison township of Middlesex County, New Jersey, was told to go back to her country when she ran for local elected office. She once found her campaign signs inscribed with the words “dot head,” an offensive racial slur. As a town council member, Shah endured insults from residents who shouted her down at the end of a public meeting for voting to include Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as a school holiday.

When individuals are targets of hate, it not only affects them but also entire communities.

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