The Asian-American community has a long, rich tradition of cinema that is being celebrated across the country. Later this month in New York City, Asian-Americans are being honored for their contributions to film in the 38th annual Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF). The festival was the first ever Asian-American film festival and remains the longest-running. The 2015 AAIFF runs from July 23rd to August 1st, with screenings at various locations around the city.
This year’s AAIFF features the documentary My Voice, My Life from Oscar-winning Chinese-American filmmaker Ruby Yang. The coming-of-age comedy Seoul Searching debuts in New York at AAIFF, featuring prominent Korean-American actor Justin Chon. Also debuting is Wong Fu Productions’ first feature film, Everything Before Us. There will also be a tribute to three time Sundance-award winning filmmaker Arthur Dong, including an on-stage conversation and book talk.
Asian-Americans starred in Hollywood films as early as the 1910s, creating icons like Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese immigrant and the first Asian-American leading man. Despite rampant prejudice and stereotyping in the industry, stars like Anna May Wong and Keye Luke broke barriers and gained widespread popularity. In later years, other stars like James Shigeta and Bruce Lee became Hollywood icons, but Asian-American lead roles are still uncommon in Hollywood. Over the course of the 20th century, media activists have fought for acknowledgement of Asian-American contributions to cinema as well as more diversity and representation in Hollywood.
Nonprofit media arts organization Asian CineVision created the AAIFF in 1978, hoping to bring more social and cultural awareness of Asian-American history and lives to the general public. This exploration of Asian-American identity through film led to the creation of other Asian-American and Asian film festivals, such as the Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMFest in San Francisco. Decades later, these festivals continue to spotlight the contributions and experiences of Asian-Americans in the United States.
Meghana Nerurkar is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at American University.