There's been a lot on my mind recently - when is there never not!
The recent familiar debacle with The Royal Opera House's production of Turandot . Once again we see an opera employing the odious practice of Yellowface. Yellow face isn't just about white actors, performers donning yellow make-up and pulling back their eyes to make themselves appear more East or Southeast Asian; it's also the inappropriate appropriation of costumes, including masks with Asian facial characteristics or “supposed mannerisms" or mimicking a “Chinese” accent. This practise is still widespread through out UK culture and the wider society, even now in 2023. Yet if as a society we acknowledge and (by and large) accept that blacking up, or blackface and brown face are unacceptable, that the representation of those of the Jewish faith or of the Muslim faith cannot be presented two dimensionally, or in the old stereotypical and racist trope way. Why then is it so difficult to apply the same consideration , understanding and acknowledgement to those of East and Southeast Asian heritage?
I've just completed directing AIYAA a solo theatre piece written and performed by Lucia Tong it takes a very humorous dive into what it's like to be a parent and of dual heritage. What happens when cultural expectations weigh in, what happens when you find yourself literally torn between to countries, two cultures, two ways of being and seeing? It's a great show and full of potential there's so much more there to explore. I really do hope that it has more life and goes on again somewhere. But in this current climate - who knows.
It's bizarre to me (but I'm not complaining) that work I did nearly forty years ago is only now getting the recognition that it deserved. To put this in context; Ping Pong directed by British-Hong Kong Chinese director Po Ch'h Leong was the first British feature film to place the narrative of the British-Chinese community at the heart of a film. The reason I say that this film deserves recognition is because crudely put Ping Pong was doing exactly the same as My Beautiful Laundrette did for the British South Asian community. Ping Pong did exactly the same, yet the treatment this film got from the critics, the post production support was the opposite. In my honest opinion it didn't really get any. One or two people commented one being Alexander Walker the film critic questioning why the film hadn't been supported more , why hadn't it received a proper Westend cinema release? Who knows, moment has long gone.
And then there is my debut documentary I completed i n 2016. Interest from the US and central Europe but no one in the UK, why? The obvious common denominator both works centre around a British minority which continues to be ignored, in a society that openly allows blatant racism and abuse to occur sometimes even on prime time TV and says it's all harmless, its complimentary, it's just school boy humour. But we all know it isn't. We've only got to look at what happened during the lockdowns to know that the racism, the racial hatred harboured by some people in the UK towards anyone who looks "Chinese" was more than mere playground name calling. It was deep rooted racism that dates back to the early 1800s. That never really went away. Much like the sympathies and sentients of right wing politics and ideologies never really went away post WWII even though Hitler was defeated.
So my documentary is now getting awards.
Is it as one blogger posited, in a play to right the wrongs of years and years of
whitewashing and ignoring East and Southeast Asian talent, awards are being handed out to work authored by East and Southeast Asians.
Is the resurgence and interest in Ping Pong a film that looks at a still under represented, seldom seen on screen or stage, seldom written about narratives of British East and Southeast Asians (BESEAS) is this in some way an attempt to make up for lost time?
Ping Pong is/was a forgotten and overlooked work of note. That audiences are now interested in, because of the wider, different British narrative? Perhaps the consistent diet of movies that have had very little variety and diversity in their casts let alone their narratives, is what audiences want to see more of?
The old argument was that audiences wouldn't be interested in such narratives.
Everything, Everywhere All At Once, The Farewell, Monsoon, Crazy Rich Asians, Lilting would suggest otherwise.
So why does there continue to be such resistance in UK arts, culture, society in general, to acknowledge the existence of BESEAS as normal people with the same wants, needs and worries as any other UK citizen? Why do people baulk at historic works that centre BESEAS? Some even claiming that such stories are historically inaccurate, when there is clear written and corroborated information that East and Southeast Asians have been in the UK since the 1600s. The British Empire included territories in East and Southeast Asia. East Asians died in support of the Allies in WWI, East and Southeast Asians fought as part of the allied forces in WWII. Yet how many UK history books document this?
The final worry that's been going round in my head, as a founding member of BEATS.org are we once again going to be subject to abuse from within our own communities when we talk again about The BEATS TEST?
As part of the 2nd HKFFUK BEATS will be part of a panel discussion "ESEA FILMMAKERS’ NETWORKING EVENT: REGAINING AGENCY THROUGH FILMMAKING." We will be talking about the BEATS TEST at this event. I worry.
after we launched our test back in 2021. We knew there would be push back. It was controversial and was asking people to do what hasn't been done before. But the abusive, negative and most nasty push back didn't come from where I was expecting. There was a lot of mischief going on. Several of the people who raised loud concerns about the test, the fact that is was discriminatory against BESEAS; we later found out hadn't even read the details of the test or looked at the FAQ section on our website. One complainant later commented 'how much of a non-event it was', i.e. nothing happened. BEATS didn't withdraw the test, we stood by it. Those that sought to disrupt BEATS failed. There was some pretty nasty under-hand tactics going on. The kind of stuff we're very used to seeing from our politicians Johnson onwards and indeed across the globe. Anything to destabilise, to destroy individuals and organisations that are not liked or feared. I mean to be accused of being racist towards other BESEAS/ESEAS given the work the BEATS had done up to 2021 and what BEATS had achieved for the entire BESEA communities made no left brain sense whatsoever!
Like I said there's been a lot on my mind recently. More than usual, but then there's a lot going on in the world right now isn't there.
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