I went to NYU Undergrad Film and began making this film when I was 20, completing it when I was 25. Conceptually, the film was developed through many conversations will composer/alto saxophonist Will Connell Jr., with whom I played with in the quartet Commitment (with William Parker-bass, Takeshi Zen Matsuura-drums). Ideas also grew out of my experiences at Basement Workshop, with Fay Chiang and Jack Tchen, both of whom appear in the film; and Richard Oyama, Teru Kanazawa, and Helen Wong.
Producer / Director: Jason Hwang<!--
This visually thoughtful piece examines the personae of American born Asians, looking at the unpredictable relationship between inner identity and external pressures to be "Asian," and/or "American." Including footage of an "African Chinese" and a "Caucasian Chinese," "Afterbirth" portrays cultural and national identity as nonabsolute concepts.
• Local PBS broadcast
1982, 34 minutes, documentary, with teacher's guide
Distributed by NAATA (National Asian Communications Association)
Afterbirth examines stereotypes held about Asian Americans through interviews with a variety of people who discuss their cross-cultural lives. One Asian American tells of attacking a retarded boy in school because he was a "mongoloid." Another discusses the discomfort of being born American but sent to Chinese school on Sundays. Others, Caucasian and black, speak fluent Chinese as their words are reproduced in English by an Asian translator. The interviews are intercut with poetic images of a suburban home that reflects the discomforted Americanized Asian personalities living there. Signposts of the past and future are as appealing as they are poignant: a Chinese grandmother preserves her cultural identity through Buddhist prayer and ritual; two third-generation Asian Americans reenact the graveside ritual called "Walking Up the Mountain." They don't know the precise form of it, but reenact it to remember and honor their father. Part poetry, part documentary, Afterbirth is a superb film. Try programming it with general audiences, especially young adults who should be stirred by its meticulous rendering of cultural ambivalence and pain.
-- Library Journal, Julie Semkow - November 30, 1985