Asian Americans, the Series
Interview: Renee Tajima-Peña
Special Focus: Fraud and Documentary
Trigonometry and Sex Education
Virtual Doc Market Transitions
The Wandering Earth and Nova
Zeng Jinyan with Ai Xiaoming
Page Views: Sporting Blackness
Asian Americans, the Series
Black film scholar, critic, and curator, Albert Johnson is hardly a household name–but he should be. In 1965, at the height of the civil rights era, Johnson offered this dissection of the representation of African-Americans in Hollywood cinema of the time.
Michael Boyce Gillespie leads a roundtable with scholars Jonathan W. Gray, Rebecca A. Wanzo, and Kristen Warner to discuss issues of medium, genre, fandom, and African American history in the highly regarded HBO series Watchmen. Characterizing the HBO series as a disobedient adaptation that modifies, extends, and redirects the world making of its source material, the famed twelve-issue comic-book series of the same name, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Gillespie et al. explore the ways in which Watchmen remediates American history, starting with the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 that serves as the historical and ideological trigger that sets the series in motion. In a wide-ranging conversation that encompasses subjects including fan fiction, adaptation, cultural mythology, and black superheroes, the authors argue for Watchmen’s significance as some of the most consequential television of the century so far.
In February 1968, at the West Indian Students’ Centre in London, James Baldwin delivered a now-famous lecture on black experience and identity in Britain and America. Boldly rejecting simplistic notions of race and color by elucidating the history of racial mixing in the United States and the colonies, he also led a discussion with civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory on the role of white liberals in the black struggle. The event was brilliantly captured by Trinidadian-British photographer and recently trained filmmaker Horace Ové in Baldwin’s Nigger (1969), a forty-eight-minute black-and-white documentary made in a simple but intimate cinema verité style.
On June 5th, Brian Hu and FQ editor B. Ruby Rich moderated a virtual roundtable on Asian American filmmaking in New York during the 1980s and 1990s. With FQ special dossier contributors Roddy Bogawa, Shu Lea Cheang, Daryl Chin, Vince Schleitwiler, and Rea Tajiri.
Christina Sharpe’s conception of “wake work” concentrates on how visual and expressive culture renders and contemplates death and the afterlife of slavery in black life. For Sharpe this entails a focus on how “literature, performance, and the visual culture observe and mediate this un/survival.” Her assessment of existence “in the wake” as a critical positioning attends to the structural and affective with reference to a range of connotations including “the keeping watch with the dead, the path of a ship, a consequence of something, in the line of flight and/or sight, awakening, and consciousness.”
On May 22, Brian Hu and FQ’s editor B. Ruby Rich moderated a virtual conversation celebrating fifty years of Asian American film. With FQ special dossier contributors Lan Duong, Viola Lasmana, Josslyn Luckett, Melissa Phruksachart, and Oliver Wang.
Patricia R. Zimmermann and Caren Kaplan explore the “coronavirus drone” genre.
In Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980), Filipina star Nora Aunor plays the titular character, who grows infatuated with Gardo (Phillip Salvador), a B-movie actor and stuntman. Bona gives up the comfort of her middle-class home, leaving behind her family and boyfriend, to live with Gardo in a Manila slum. She dedicates her life to serving Gardo full-time, in spite of the many abuses to which he subjects her. Illustrating the imbalance of their relationship, Bona bathes her lover every night, ensuring the water is always warm enough for his liking, even after he brings other women home for his sexual adventures. At the end of the film, after being told by Gardo that she should leave his home, Bona gives him one more bath—this time with boiling water. Bona watches her lover scream in agony as she carries out her vengeance with the same serenity with which she had formerly carried out his bidding. Balancing highly emotional scenes with a quasi-documentary depiction of decaying Manila streets, Brocka reconfigures film melodrama into a defiant political act.
Marina Razbezhkina is a well-known Russian documentary filmmaker, educator, and founder of the largest independent documentary school in the country. Her very original approach to documentary, which combines intimate proximity to the protagonist with raw observational aesthetics, revolutionized the Russian film landscape and became the trademark of her school. Her students most often work as a one-person crew with a lightweight hand-held camera shadowing their protagonists up close. This “hunt for reality,” as Razbezhkina terms the practice, usually results in deeply engaging observational documentaries that completely absorb the viewer into an unfamiliar reality. In this interview Razbezhkina talks about the beginnings of her career, explains the origins and the core of her filmmaking method, and discusses the changing role of documentary in the modern world.