Wake up! Saturday School is a podcast where Brian Hu (@husbrian) and Ada Tseng (@adatseng) teach your unwilling children about Asian American pop culture history. New episodes released Saturdays at 8am, when all your friends are still in bed watching cartoons. It'll be a blast from the past, as they dig up some of their favorite works they've come across covering Asian American arts & entertainment over the years -- and discover other gems for the first time. Saturday School is a proud founding member of Potluck, a collective of podcasts featuring unique stories and voices from the Asian American community. Sign up for our newsletter below for lecture notes!
Season 7, Ep. 10: Down a Dark Stairwell
We promised ourselves we would finish this season by the end of 2020, as it was inspired by the events of 2020. And here we are: episode 10 of our Saturday School semester on Asian American interracial cinema.
We started from the 70s/80s and slowly worked our way up to the present. Ursula Liang's documentary "Down a Dark Stairwell" had its premiere in March 2020 at the True/False Film Fest, right before the lockdown, and has been doing the festival circuit all year. It'll be available to watch on PBS in April 2021.
It's about an innocent Black man Akai Gurley who was killed by a Chinese American police officer Peter Liang in 2014. Over 100 Black men have been killed by the NYPD in the past 15 years. The only NYPD officer who has ever been convicted is a Chinese American rookie cop that shot into a dark stairwell.
As Asian Americans, it was hard for us to watch Chinese/Asian American organizing emerge in full force yet devolve so quickly, chaotically and unnecessarily into warring factions - one deemed racist, the other deemed race traitors or worse. Does the film leave us with any hope that Asian Americans can fight for our communities, without dismissing other communities of color? Maybe only from looking back at pioneers in history and imagining where we can still go in the future. But it's one of the most powerful documentaries of the year.
We learned a lot from making this season, every time we revisited a moment where work was being done to find interracial solidarity, even if there were and will continue to be numerous missteps along the way. We hope you took away something useful from our season too. Happy new year from Saturday School, and here's to being more prepared for whatever 2021 brings.
Season 7, Ep. 9: Signature Move
It's the second to last episode of our season on Asian American interracial cinema, and this week, we're talking about Jennifer Reeder's 2017 film "Signature Move," written by and starring Fawzia Mirza.
It's about a Pakistani American lawyer, Zaynab, who falls for a Mexican American bookstore owner, Alma. As they get to know each other, they compare their respective soap operas, mangoes and mothers. After lots of stories this season about racial strife, it's nice to watch a fun rom-com, where the cultural differences are a means to connection.
What a coincidence that when Zaynab picks up an unlikely wrestling hobby, that her romantic love interest's mother happens to be a former lucha libre star! Must be meant to be. Except, Zaynab has been keeping some secrets from her single mother, played by Shabana Azmi, who is obsessed with finding her daughter a husband.
Often, Asian American films about interracial romance are also about intergenerational differences, and it becomes a choice between your parents or your true love. In "Signature Move," which is equally about the love between mothers and daughters, the mother's approval might be complicated but the relationship with the mother will never be sacrificed.
Season 7, Ep. 8: Lordville
In this episode of Saturday School, where we're exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we look at the 2014 documentary "Lordville" by Rea Tajiri.
The filmmaker had purchased a property in Lordville, New York, and she learned the land title traces back to John Lord, one of the original founders in Lordville, and his wife Betia Van Dunk, a Native woman of the tribe that owned the land before it was stolen from them by settlers in the early 1700s.
What does it mean to own land? The film is an exploration of the land, and it also makes us think about the relationship between Asian Americans, our immigrant dreams and the Native legacies that have been erased. Also, ghosts.
Season 7, Ep. 7: American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs
In this week's episode of Saturday School, as we explore Asian American interracial cinema, we revisit Grace Lee's 2013 documentary "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs." The director Grace Lee first interviewed Grace Lee Boggs when she was searching for different women with the name "Grace Lee" to interview for her first film "The Grace Lee Project," She found the energetic octogenarian in Detroit and got more than she bargained for. Ten years later, she dedicated an entire film to her.
As depicted in the movie, Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 100, was a Chinese American philosopher and author known for her role in the Black Power Movement and other activism work that spanned seven decades. In an interview, her Black activist friend says they all thought of her as "one of us," whereas her FBI file assumes she must be "Afro-Chinese." We chat about how she's become an icon for Asian Americans and intersectionality, as well as how we appreciate the film as an intro to Grace Lee Bogg's life and an invitation to learn more.
Season 7, Ep. 6: The Learning
In our next episode of Saturday School, where this season we're exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we look at the 2011 documentary "The Learning" by Ramona Diaz.
It's about four women from the Philippines as they're recruited to be teachers in the American public school system around 2006. It follows them over the course of their first year teaching at a predominantly Black school in Baltimore.
Over a century ago, the U.S. colonized the Philippines and established an English-speaking public school system there, inadvertently creating a workforce of Overseas Filipino Workers that could be exploited decades later. The Filipina teachers come because they are able to earn over 20 times as much teaching in the U.S., and they can send money home, which also supports the economy of the Philippines.
We're reminded of a popular trope in Hollywood, where an outsider white teacher comes to teach at a low-income school and ends up uplifting Black and brown students, and then Michelle Pfeiffer ends up in a Coolio video in a shiny black leather jacket.
But in "The Learning," the power dynamics are more complicated. These women teachers come to a new country and are often separated from their husbands and young children for a whole school year for these jobs. Here, there are no white saviors, just the failures of colonialism on both sides of the ocean that bring Black and immigrant Filipino communities together to figure out how to save themselves and each other.
Season 7, Ep. 5: Fakin' da Funk
As we've been exploring Asian American interracial cinema this season at Saturday School, we've covered a lot of heavy subject matter. But not everything related to cross-cultural storytelling is traumatic and existential. This week, we revisit the 1997 comedy "Fakin' da Funk," starring — are you ready for this? — Dante Basco, Pam Grier, Ernie Hudson, John Weatherspoon, Tatyana Ali, Margaret Cho, Kelly Hu, Amy Hill, Ron Yuan and more. Not bad for then-first-time filmmaker Tim Chey.
The movie (currently on YouTube) follows a Chinese American adoptee Julian, played by Dante Basco, who is adopted by a Black family in Atlanta. The family moves to Los Angeles, and while everyone back in Atlanta understands Julian to be the adopted son of a well-loved preacher in the community, many of their South Central neighbors don't know how to respond to this new Chinese American kid on the block who is culturally Black. In a parallel subplot, Margaret Cho and Kelly Hu play Chinese exchange students who are actual outsiders to not only the Black community but America in general.
Yes, there are some gaps in logic you have to accept to enjoy this film, from "Dante Basco is Chinese American" and "Margaret Cho is a Chinese immigrant" to "A game of basketball can solve pretty much everything" to "Why is this film called 'Fakin' da Funk' when the entire premise is that the main character is NOT faking the funk?" Looking at it 30 years later, there's a lot that is cringe-worthy. But if you compare it to "Rush Hour," which came out a year later, there's at least a humanistic attempt to understand all these different perspectives (the Black community, the Chinese American adoptee, and the first-generation Chinese immigrant) and think about how everyone can overcome their ignorance and biases, and not only co-exist but love each other.
Bitesize guide to Asian American pop-culture
A fun, educational podcast for those interested in learning about Asian & Asian American cinema and pop-culture. Both hosts are knowledgable in the subject and have great banter. Most of the episodes are short (about 15-20 minutes), which makes listening very easy and quick.
Insightful and informative
I wish there was more coverage on South East and South Asian American media, as the East Asian American narrative is very prevalent and comes off as monolithic.
Great for everyone, especially Asian-Americans
Great for everyone, especially Asian-Americans. Interesting topics focused on Asian-American pop culture that's really hard to find on other platforms.