Events

2018 Vulture Festival Los Angeles: Saturday

Deftly avoiding a sophomore slump, the Vulture Festival was back in Los Angeles for the second year in a row, and this year’s lineup was just as jam-packed as the inaugural iteration. Not only did the festival host conversations with cultural icons such as Cynthia Nixon and Busy Philipps, but it also had panels with new fan faves such as Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians) and Lana Condor (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Syfy’s Deadly Class), as well as a handful of pretty nutty feature events—improvised musical podcast taping with special guest Rachel Bloom, anyone? Read on for some of Dinner Party’s favorites from Day One.

Scrubs Reunion

In this age of reboots and remakes, you can’t help but wonder—even worry—any time the word “reunion” is used that a “major announcement” will shortly follow. Seriously though, can’t we all just reminisce about how great a show was without fearing that it will spark a subpar reboot from a network?! Well thankfully, this weekend’s Scrubs Reunion was just that. In what the panel (featuring stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke, John C. McGinley, Ken Jenkins, Judy Reyes, Neil Flynn, Christa Miller, and creator Bill Lawrence) described as the “first one of these things we’ve all agreed to”—namely because of the free booze—the vibe at the Scrubs Reunion was truly just that of friends reflecting on fond memories.

Whether it was laughing about Sarah Chalke’s inability to finish a scene without breaking or trying to understand all of the multiple layers of The Janitor, there were plenty of laughs and “remember whens” at this reunion. Most importantly there was even a surprise appearance from The Todd—notably not invited to speak on the panel, but he made up for it but showing up in his full costume, banana hammock and everything. The panel even had to stop at one point because they had fallen down a deep hole of their own inside jokes before remembering the audience wasn’t in on all of the jokes.

Creator Bill Lawrence did reference and express gratitude for the intense dedication and love from the fans of Scrubs as one of the main reasons the show was able to be as bold as it was. Yes, Scrubs was a hilarious comedy with wacky fantasy bits and slapstick delivery, but it also dared to be real by dealing with solemn topics such as life and death. In the fourth episode, the viewer and doctors in training are all told that on average 1 in 3 patients admitted will die; however, the surprise—SPOILER ALERT—comes when all 3 of the patients-of-the-week die, and the characters are left to deal with the finality of death. Lawrence acknowledges that taking a major turn like that so early in a show’s course could have been the kiss of death for Scrubs, and the studio even advised against it. Thankfully, Lawrence took the risk and the fans loved it; Scrubs set itself apart from other network comedies of the early ’00s because of its ability to balance comedy and drama, all in 22 minutes.

So why no reboot? According to Lawrence, it is both because reboots feel like a cash grab, and all of the actors seem to be doing fine. Lawrence jokingly promised that if any of the actors on the panel were in a crisis, he would help them out—but only with a “small movie” and only in the form of a “where are they now.” Thankfully the cast of Scrubs is, in fact, doing well, so there is no need for the stress and worry of a “will they or won’t they ruin my favorite TV show.” Instead, we can all just gather seventeen years after the premiere and laugh about what it means to know that you’re no superman.

Constance Wu: In Conversation

Constance Wu has lived one hell of a 2018.  Not only has she been able to trade in her ‘06 Prius and swap out her apartment for her very own house, but she’s also enjoyed the fifth season of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and starred in the major romantic comedy hit of the year, Crazy Rich AsiansThis has been an amazing year for Wu, but she mentioned that it has not always been easy, particularly because she felt a lot of anxiety surrounding Crazy Rich Asians—and not about whether it would be a box office hit or slump. Rather, she was worried about what it meant for such an underserved audience. A reflection is the best way to sum up Saturday’s conversation; yes, there were questions about both her TV and film projects, but mainly, the conversation focused around her Asian American identity and what it means to be a woman in Hollywood during the era of #MeToo.  

Wu mentioned that she, like most Asian American actors, struggled at first with how her identity would play out in her characters. At first, she said she wanted to play parts that didn’t take race into account at all, but as time has passed, she realized that doing this was robbing her characters of a fully formed identity and experience. A character’s race (or gender, sexual orientation, and so on) should not be the only thing defining a character, but it is a large part of how the character sees themselves and how they fit into their worlds. Wu said that to ignore her race in the efforts of “color blind” casting was to erase her lived experiences and oversimplify these characters. By taking on roles such as Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat and Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, Wu has been able to utilize her lived experiences and elevate characters that are not just complex and fully formed, but most importantly, real.

A theme that lasted throughout the conversation was challenging the notion that anyone should have to soften their experiences for someone else’s comfort. This came up frequently while talking about her experience as an Asian American, and specifically an Asian American actress, but it was also discussed when speaking about what it means to be a woman during a pivotal time in Hollywood history.

Wu’s struggles—and honestly, one I very much related to—was best summed up in her recent panic over whether to use an exclamation point or a period in an email. Her point was that women used exclamation points to soften the blow of their sentences; she argued that by ending “can’t wait to discuss this further with you” with an exclamation point, she intentionally created a more easygoing and cheerful sentiment in comparison to the same sentence with a period, which would have been more forceful and direct. With this example, Wu addressed the idea that as a woman, she is expected to put other people’s comfort over her own truth and experiences. In the end, she said that she—with the help of her therapist—decided that it’s still ok to use exclamation points, but not to fall back on them when you mean the sentiments of a period.

Ever the entertainer, Wu kept the conversation from lingering too long in the shadows of these complex topics by peppering the conversation with fun facts. My personal favorite was Wu’s obsession with Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.” For the record, Wu loves the song because she believes it is using both an exclamation point and a period—which is where she seems to want the future to be.    

Standard
Think Piece Roundup

Think Piece Roundup: Crazy Rich Asians

image

For the record: I loved the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel. I’m a self-professed romantic comedy junkie who frequently gets suckered into watching any movie even remotely resembling the genre. On top of that, I’m an Asian American constantly tip-toeing the line between being “too Asian” in some contexts and “not Asian enough” in others. I am this movie’s target demographic.

That said, I also grew up in the Philippines during the era of Flor Contemplacion. For those unfamiliar, Contemplacion was a Filipino domestic worker who was charged with murder and executed by the Singaporean government. Her death caused a political firestorm, souring relations between the Philippines and Singapore for years after, as well as sparking a renewed interest in the treatment of OFWs and the intersection of class, ethnicity, and power in the geopolitical sphere. Needless to say, I’m always curious to see how—but more often than not, if—filmic portrayals address this tangled web of issues.

And so, although I cherish the opportunity to watch a glitzy Hollywood rom-com starring a bunch of people who look a lot like me—I think it’s worth spending the time to take stock of the discussions surrounding Crazy Rich Asians, both good and bad. Because even if it didn’t rake in over $160 million at the box office, the film still has all the trappings of a movie that launches a thousand think pieces—and thankfully not the kind that has to explain “Whitewashing 101.” Read on for a small, curated slice of these conversations, from articles criticizing the film’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Singapore to writers celebrating the fact that this movie has moved us along just enough that we’re now able to discuss the delicate nuances of Asian identity in a global context.

Singaporean activist and writer Sangeetha Thanapal maintains that Crazy Rich Asians furthers the “ongoing systematic erasure and oppression of Singapore minorities on a global screen” in an article for Wear Your Voice, an intersectional feminist website.

Likewise, Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi calls out the movie’s troubling portrayal of her country’s ethnic minorities in positions of servitude.

Kirsten Han echoes these sentiments, arguing that the movie doesn’t avoid caricature or stereotype but merely offers another version of the “exotic” East. The Vox piece also touches upon the “divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia” and points out that while the film’s all-Asian cast is touted as a win for representation in America, the focus on East Asian faces merely reinforces Chinese dominance in Singaporean culture.

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Frank Shyong suggests an alternative viewpoint, noting the film’s “fractal resonance or truth that holds up from many angles,” which he observes in the film’s popularity within the Cambodian American community in Long Beach, California.

Similarly, Jiayang Fan tempers these criticisms by urging viewers to watch Crazy Rich Asians “like an Asian American” in a piece for The New Yorker.

Shannon Liao has a slightly different take on the Asian American vs. Asians in Asia divide. She points out that director Jon M. Chu, screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, as well as actress Michelle Yeoh, have mentioned in past interviews that female agency and power dynamics were integral in shaping the characters and plot of the film adaptation; these concerns, Liao argues, subvert expectations of the traditional Asian rom-com and allow the film to become “not only…an opportunity for Asian-Americans to see themselves represented on-screen as positively and vividly as they are in Asian media, but also for Asian characters to be reflected in a more feminist and appreciative light.”

Journalist Audrey Cleo Yap admits that the film “doesn’t even come close” to representing the full spectrum of Asian and Asian-American experiences—and why that’s okay with her.

Oddly enough, the movie may never be released in China according to Amy Qin at the The New York Times. And even if it were, many doubt just how popular such a film—with its thematic undercurrents of diaspora culture—could ever be amongst mainland Chinese.

Jeva Lange of The Week questions if the film truly offers anything beyond “wealth porn,” writing that Crazy Rich Asians “fetishizes extreme wealth while failing to acknowledge or grapple with the nuances of a system of gross inequality.”

On MUBI’s The Notebook, Kelley Dong takes this argument a step further by connecting wealth with cultural identity—and why, against a backdrop of “sizzling street food and skyscrapers,” the movie’s failure to address these issues is problematic.

Finally, Allyson Chiu at The Washington Post notes that “since stories about nonwhite characters are so rare to begin with, movies that break the mold are put under a stronger microscope,” a sentiment shared by Crazy Rich Asians actor Nico Santos in an interview with CNN. The solution, according to both, is to support the movie for the opportunities it could create. After all, as Santos says, “We should be allowed to fail…How many chances do white people get? How many [crappy] movies do they get to make over and over again?…This is our first chance, so let us throw the dart. If it doesn’t stick, then ok. Give us another dart.”

Standard