happy A24 oscar campaign season
The first time I went to see Everything Everywhere All At Once, I remember finding it enormously uncomfortable to watch. For me, there’s a thin line between finding pleasure in “seeing yourself” (AKA, legibly East Asian-American girlies on screen) and feeling queasy to witness too-familiar dynamics played out in lush, A24-level production, sort of like when you read an old diary entry and there isn’t enough distance yet for you to objectively find that initial deluge of anguish like, endearing.
It seems, for now, the most visible level of (East) Asian-American storytelling remains preoccupied with parsing family dysfunction: think Parasite, Minari, Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, Tigertail, Always Be My Maybe (is it true love if it doesn’t involve honoring someone’s dead mother?), even Sh*ng-Chi lol. It makes sense that the Azn storytellers who are getting the funding and who’ve been able to amass the clout over the last untold number of years are breaking through with projects dedicated to personally formative questions. I’m reminded of what my friend Adrian Horton wrote in a recent review of Aftersun, how nostalgia functions as an avenue for meaning-making, of connecting the evidence to arrive at satisfying answers into adulthood. Like of course so many of us from this specific kind of family with this specific kind of fraught cross-cultural and cross-generational dynamic are probably going to spend our adulthood (if not our whole lives) performing an ongoing post-mortem. Like, what was that?
Sometimes it makes me feel wholly uncool to know that I’m throwing a book about my own familial feelings into the world in what is basically a few weeks (how am I coping? by making a finsta/meme account on Instagram, of course). Are all stories important if they are more or less riffs on what has already been said (how many times can a fictional Azn mother be kind of a buzzkill)? Can any diasporic experience be considered worthy without the full mom-dad-grandma-grandpa-once-there-was-a-war backstory? Aren’t there entirely different dimensions of stories still waiting to be told, or are we as a community alternately stuck/pigeon-holed to these elementary questions as the safest commercial and cultural bets? (But maybe everyone is though? Hence the White Lotus inter-generational douchery storyline, The Fabelmans etc). I think about this a lot and usually go on to worry vainly about originality, but what often helps is to imagine each of these kinds of works in dialogue with each other, pushing and tugging at every trope-ified totem plated up for review, stretching the bounds of what can be.
Earlier this fall, I profiled Ke Huy Quan, the character in EEAAO I personally had the most questions about, for Vanity Fair’s new awards season issue out this week. It was as lovely of a conversation as you could have hoped for, and such a relief to be able to wrap Quan’s narrative up in a nice, Oscars-forward bow. But I know I’m going to be mulling over that nearly 40-year career gap over for a while and wondering what else there could have been. What else could we have? (And if you’re on a real Quan kick, I highly recommend Feeling Asian podcast’s interview with him from May, which is infinitely more evocative to hear Quan’s voice tell his story himself, but also for the incredible exchange that comes when the hosts have the chance to assure Quan: we were always looking for you.