My name is Jason Lee and I have been a TAFer since 1998. Fun fact, I have some 15 or more cousins who all have been to TAF as well, and one president uncle! I’ve spent the past few years as a counselor for JH and Youth.
I’ve recently graduated, but over the last four years, when I wasn’t at TAF, I was studying at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign under a created major in Asian American Film and Media. Essentially, I took lots of Asian American Studies, Media Studies, and Cinema Studies classes, and studied how they relate to representations of Asian Americans on TV, movies, magazines, and so on. For example, when our classmates judo chop at us and say “Waaaahhhh” as if it were a question, it is a direct legacy of how much influence images that people see on TV and in the movies have on people’s perception of us.
I am especially interested in how many Asian Americans like you and me are counteracting the stereotypes we see created and recreated over and over again in the media by producing music, movies, poetry, and other art that represent Asian Americans in a more three-dimensional and complex light.
You see, something I’ve heard thousands of times throughout my life is the question, “Can’t some stereotypes be good?” And my answer is this: “Stereotypes are never good because we are unique individuals and stereotypes tend to simplify us into these one-dimensional cartoon characters with very little personality”.
That’s exactly what we learn at TAF. Everyone there is Taiwanese, but as we find throughout the week, everyone is quite unique and complex and amazing in very individual ways. That’s why I want to get into film… because movies have so much power in changing perceptions. Think about your favorite movie. Is it your favorite movie because it had awesome explosions or a really hunky actor? Maybe. But it’s also your favorite because watching it made you feel a certain way. Movies have the ability to engulf its audiences and make them feel what the actors are feeling in very physical ways (i.e. when we cry, laugh, cover our eyes). That’s why, while Hollywood has created many simplifying stereotypes of Asian Americans over the years (i.e. geeky business man or subservient geisha) film can also be a great medium for giving Asian Americans more spotlight as real, unique individuals.
For my senior project, I wrote, fundraised, produced, and directed a short film that put together many of the ideas and themes that inspired me during my college career. It’s called Doughboy: Inventor. Entrepreneur. Funnel Cake Hero. It’s a twelve-minute dark comedy about an Asian American male who decides to continue his late father’s American dream of making funnel cakes as easy to find as a hot dog. So he builds a mobile funnel cake suit inspired by his ultimate hero, Data Wang from The Goonies. The reason why I wanted to write this week’s blog was because TAFers took a crucial part in making Doughboy come to life.
I raised funds to make the movie through a website called Kickstarter, where supporters back projects they like with various amounts of money in exchange for goodies that come out of the project. I was incredibly humbled by the amount of support coming out of the Taiwanese American community, including a large donation from TaiwaneseAmerican.org. By the end of the fundraising campaign, my project was 143% funded!
Then it came to production. About twenty people traveled from all parts of the country to Los Angeles to help me make Doughboy come to life. There was a little joke going around because it seemed like while all of the actors were Korean, all of the crew was Taiwanese. That is because many TAFers volunteered their time and talents to help me make my college dream project a reality.
It was a very hectic week. It seemed there was always another problem arising that we could not foresee just as we found a solution to the problem preceding it. However, a leadership quality we learn at TAF is the ability to step up where help is needed and fill in the gaps to get things done. For many of our crew members, it was about getting Doughboy made and many people volunteered to take care of the many details that needed to be done, from making funnel cakes to filling out paperwork for the Screen Actors Guild.
In the end, it was a very trying week. But it was amazing to see so many people coordinating and working together for a common cause. I am wrapping up the project now and have thanked many people for their support throughout the process. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to make a big shout out to the my friends in the Taiwanese American community. I could have never made Doughboy without the support of so many talented TAFers or the skills TAF has instilled in me throughout the years. Thank YOU.
You can’t watch Doughboy online yet, as I can’t publicly release it online if I want to get it into any film festivals. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to know someone receiving the DVD, who helped out with the fundraising process a few months back. Or perhaps you will be able to watch it on the big screen at an Asian American film festival near you! Whether you are able to watch it or not, I appreciate your continued to support, not only for my work, but also for me as a friend, a counselor, or someone I would call my brother or sister.