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Blog: Asians in Media – VAFF Report by Alan Wong

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The Vancouver International Asian Film Festival (VAFF) is in its 20th year, and is a festival celebrating films on the Asian diaspora. I was attending the premiere screening of my short documentary, “A Dwarf’s Hideout”, about a young Japanese family who came to Winnipeg and chose to stay and plant roots. It’s an all too familar story for me, as my parents were also transplants to this quirky little prairie city, and my childhood mirrored that of the Akimoto’s young children, running around their family restaurant. Dwarf no Cachette in St. Boniface is a little home-style Japanese cuisine jewel, and the film captures the family’s everyday life, their first impressions of Winnipeg, and why they chose to stay.

I’m proud to announce that the film won the award, Best Canadian Short, out of a strong group of films by emerging Asian-Canadian film-makers from across the country. It is an honour to be recognized for what I believe to be a very “Canadian” story, and a project very close to my heart.

Some other interesting events that I was able to attend, were the Asians In Media panels, of which there were three different sessions: Comics, Music and Movies. All were interesting for different reasons. Comics are now one of the major sources of material for new films, so the diversity represented in new comics are important for the overall impact they have on pop culture. Also, in today’s age of self or independent publication, stories about POC are much more accessible. Writers/creators are finding that readers are not only out there, but are plentiful, and hungry for these diverse stories.

In Music, YouTube and other sites have done the same for indie artists with talent, but aren’t in a record label’s sights – yet. It evens the playing field, giving the fans the opportunity to engage with who they wish, instead of their musical tastes being dictated by big media. It is still a very challenging industry, but one that is less about looks or colour of skin, than about your musical ability. The ears are colour-blind.

By far, the biggest panel was the Asians In Movies session. The keynote speaker was William Yu, who launched #starringjohncho, a social media movement that saw popular movie posters photo-shopped with John Cho in the lead role, to see what it would look like to have an Asian male as a Hollywood star. It became viral, spreading all over the world and was covered by CNN and BBC, to name a few. Demonstrating that the issue is very relevant, and that all POC feel under-represented or misrepresented. Also discussed was the whitewashing of Asian roles by Hollywood and the position that stereo-typically Asian roles put Asian actors in. One might be apt to refuse those roles that pander to a stereotype, BUT if the actor is able to bring depth to that character, then it might be worth it to take pride in that endeavor, and fight for the artistic freedom to do so.

The discussions were all enlightening, with the take away being that if we want to see diverse stories being told, we need to support inclusive creative work, not just in voice, but with our dollars. And that, even though the industry has come a long way to recognizing that diversity makes for a better industry, we still have a lot of work to do. So let’s get to it.

Alan Wong

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