‘Gook’: Q&A with Ava Duvernay and why Independent Filmmaking and Representation Matters

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by Tom Nguyen

The indie film ‘Gook’ by director/writer/actor Justin Chon (‘Twilight’) opens in LA theaters today, and has been highly talked about, not only for its provocative title. The story of two Korean-American siblings who own a store in a predominantly African American Los Angeles neighborhood, and the consequences of their friendship with a young black child during the first day of the LA riots, won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Audience Award and was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films for national release — a rarity for an independent film written, produced and directed by and starring folks from a minority community…but I’ll get into Hollywood’s diversity problem and Chon’s astute observations later.

The film shot in black and white follows one day in the life of a street-wise Eli (Justin Chon), intent on keeping his late father’s shoe store afloat, despite daily struggle in Paramount, a suburb next to Compton. His brother Daniel (a very funny David So of Youtube popularity) is more interested in aspirations of being a singer than helping Eli mind a store long past its better days. Kamilla (a brilliant 11-year-old Simone Baker making her debut), a young girl from the neighborhood, is the heart and soul of the movie, as an orphaned girl drawn to the store and the brothers, looking for more parental love and affection, than she receives at home from a sympathetic but absent older sister, Regina (Omono Okojie) and stern older brother, Keith (a very intense performance by Curtiss Cook Jr.).

The film is a humanizing, honest snapshot of complex race relations in a lower income Los Angeles neighborhood that isn’t often portrayed on screen. While the film starts out with what could have been tired cliches, like Eli’s multiple encounters with Latino gangsters or the racist Korean store owner across the street who pulls a gun on Kamilla, there’s a purpose to Chon’s depiction of the simmering racial tensions of this multi-ethnic community — the day happens to be the acquittal of white police officers in the Rodney King beating trial and as the riots start in nearby South Central, those tensions boil to the surface, with moral dilemmas and serious consequences for each character. Continue Reading →

Top Cultural Events in Los Angeles: March 15-21


by Tom Nguyen

Top shows this week: La Chamba‘s fundraiser show, Chico Mann & Captain Planet album release show, Ethio Cali‘s tribute to musicians who recently passed on: David Axelrod, Leon Ware, Doug Lunn, and hang player Manu Delago. Julieta Venegas, Gaby Moreno and Jungle Fire are playing in OC. Indigenous rapper ALAS & more are performing a benefit for Casa Solidaria del Sur and a very rare opportunity to see Shardé Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, playing fife & drum blues, a vanishing tradition directly descended from African slaves. Get your boogie on with Dinamita, Chulita Vinyl Club, Discostan, Chester Whitmore and The Floor Improv.

Last chance to see Confessions of an Arab Woman, and Chicanas, Cholas y Chisme’s Su Frida Calo at CASA 0101 and The Cruise at LATC open this week. March 16 is the anniversary of the killing of Latasha Harlins, and California African American Museum will have a discussion with Latasha’s aunt and original members of Black Lives Matter. Transgender activist and immigrant Bamby Salcedo will speak at CSULA followed by a screening of Raising Zoey. Mexika New Year at Mariachi Plaza, Native American Festival in Long Beach, A Week of French Language Cinema at Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, Santa Monica Airport and Montebello art walks.

MUSIC

La Chamba Go Fund Me Launch Party
La Cita Bar (Downtown)
Wed. March 15, 9pm, $10, 21+
After all these years, we’re finally dropping our full length album. It has been a struggle and a long road- we are done tracking and mastering 13 songs. We’ve made this far, but need your help to get our album entitled “Ecos De La Selva” finallly replicated and packaged. Please spread the love by helping us raise funds for our first full-length album. La Chamba W/ Zapoteca Roots (Deeply Rooted Sonidero Cumbia) & Dj Fresko
Dj Glenn Red, GetDown Collective DJS
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Here’s our Guide to Dia de los Muertos 2015 in LA and a word about Cultural Appropriation

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by Tom Nguyen

Dia de los Muertos is upon us as the weather in LA finally starts to feel a little bit like Fall! As I repeat from last year’s post, as the holiday gains mainstream popularity, cultural appropriation seems inevitable as more and more people “discover” the holiday. I consider myself part of that problem since I myself was discovering Dia de los Muertos as a more culturally deep alternative to commercialized Halloween. As a person of Asian descent who’s called out racist stereotyping in other costumes and cultural events around LA, I am trying to educate myself where the line is between cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation when it comes to this tradition as well.

So please know that I publish this list of Dia de los Muertos events in support and respect of the communities, the artists, the musicians, the cultural organizations and the small businesses, who work so hard to preserve and celebrate the roots and traditions of this important time of year. For people new to this holiday, please ask this question yourself and don’t be afraid to ask people in the community: how do I participate in this holiday in a respectful manner?

The first step to genuine cultural appreciation is to educate yourself on the tradition’s history and significance to the communities where it originates. Get to know the community and issues that affect people in it, beyond just donning face paint for your entertainment one day a year. If I can extrapolate further, don’t just enjoy black traditions of music and dance and not care about #BlackLivesMatter. Don’t just enjoy the great LA street food and not care about poverty, lack of opportunity and criminalization of undocumented immigrants. Don’t just wear a coolie hat in Chinatown and not care about why there’s a Chinatown in the first place. So please keep this in mind and I hope to see you at one of these great Dia de los Muertos events!

By no means is this list complete — there are so many great Dia de los Muertos events all over Southern California, I couldn’t possibly list them all. For a more complete list, check out this one. Events below are all ages and free, unless otherwise noted. (Click on each event to jump to more information and scroll down for a list you can print):

Sat, October 17

Fri, October 23

Sat, October 24

Sun, October 25

Mon, October 26 – Fri, October 30

Thu, October 29

Fri, October 30

Sat, October 31

Sun, November 1

Mon, November 2

Wed, November 4

Fri, November 6

Sat, November 7

Sun, November 8

EnClave LA guide to Dia de los Muertos 2015

LA Film Fest 2015: 15 Films to Watch

15 Film Picks
by Tom Nguyen

The 21st Annual Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) opened last night at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live and runs through June 18. Looking at the list of films, I had to do a double take: there are a lot more documentaries and foreign cinema than ever before, my two favorite film genres! The LAFF site says they’ve made a new effort this year to include a “diverse selection of documentary films from around the world; and a smaller round-up of exceptional international films” and festival director Stephanie Allain made it a personal mission to make sure this was the most diverse festival yet: “About 40 percent of the films [at LAFF] are directed by women, and 35 percent by filmmakers of color,” Allain tells NBC News. “That doesn’t just happen…I so believe in this and the difference it makes in the lives of so many artists…We want to be the change we’re looking for. That is our mission.”

I recently attended a talk at CSULA Pan-African American Studies department featuring Selma director, Ava DuVernay, who said it’s absolutely vital to have more diverse perspectives in film-making and it’s heartening to see a big festival like LAFF setting a visible example showcasing films by women and people of color. After the preview are 15 films I want to see with summaries provided by LAFF. There are also free screenings at nearby FIGat7th and Metro Union Station and a free cultural event Guangzhou Traditional Arts Extravaganza hosted by Sister Cities of LA. Find a printable festival schedule here.

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