raceAhead: Three Films About Families

August 28, 2018, 7:58 PM UTC
Mother holding waist of daughter wearing roller skates
Mother holding waist of daughter wearing roller skates
Peathegee Inc / Getty Images/Blend Images

Breaking news: I need to take a few unscheduled days to spend with family, so I’m signing off early this week.

Thanks for understanding! I appreciate all of you so much.

To keep you in the diversity frame of mind, I’ll leave you with three film recommendations for the long weekend, perfect if you need to take a break from the cook-outs and gatherings. The theme, very much on my mind, is family:


Pushing Hands is Ang Lee’s first feature film. Made in 1992, it tells the story of a retired Tai Chi grandmaster who relocates from Beijing to the U.S. to live with his only son in a non-descript New York suburb. His daughter-in-law, a white, American, struggling novelist, is unmoored by his presence. The quiet film deals with familiar tensions of filial obligation, tradition, and culture shock; the title, a tai chi reference, describes a bigger conflict. “Pushing hands” is explained as “a way of keeping your balance while unbalancing your opponent.” But when the opponent is the modern world, pushing hands also means navigating shifting identities. Fans of The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, will recognize the sensibility of an emerging master. Fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will enjoy some brief moments of martial arts magic. My guess is that Chinese and Chinese American viewers may enjoy some specific and tender moments, such as the wonderful one when the elder Mr. Chu, played by the elegant Sihung Lung, kindles a fine romance in a Chinatown community center amid a dumpling-making throng.

Cheesy trailer here, on Amazon.


Creedmoria is writer/director Lee Slimmer’s debut film, and it borrows heavily from her life growing up in Queens, New York in the 1980s. The family dysfunction starts from the jump. Seventeen year old Candy, played by Stef Dawson from The Hunger Games series, is managing to come of age despite a boozy, self-absorbed mother, an addicted and delicate older brother, a fabulous but closeted younger brother and the desperate longing for her dead father. There are a host of other elements in this high school drama – including a creepy leather-jacket-wearing boyfriend and a fast-food slinging boss known only as “Dickhead Manager.” There are even a few zombies, sort of. But what there is in abundance is a profound sense of what it means to love your complicated tribe despite needing to escape them. Though the dysfunction is real, I laughed through tears. It won a bunch of awards on the festival circuit and deserved to, including a number of “Audience Favorite” nods, “Best Comedy,” “Best Director,” and “Best Ensemble Cast.” Stinkin’ best film ever, I say. (Disclaimer: Lee is a friend and the spouse of a Fortune colleague. But still.)

Trailer here, on iTunes,Google Play, and Amazon


The Lost Arcade is a really good documentary about the way people love games. I loved it. (I wrote about this documentary last year, and I’m going to keep writing about it until one of y’all watches it and tells me they loved it too.) On the surface of things The Lost Arcade is the story of a sketchy looking arcade in Chinatown that drew a wildly diverse group of people who loved playing digital games. But it ended up being so much more. For one, it has the best opening scene of any documentary I’ve seen in ages. But it’s also about misfits and cast-outs, of people with imagination but no homes, business visionaries disguised as maintenance people, and how communities are transformed in the strangest ways by the people you least expect. It’s also about how the shallow victories of gentrification and technology innovation don’t really matter if you’ve got friends who will battle you and quarters in your pocket, especially if you’ve got next. It’s the way families are chosen, not made. It’s available on Amazon, iTunes, all over the place. Edited, produced and directed by Kurt Vincent, written and produced by Irene Chin.

Arcade Movie


See you on the flipside. Here’s one breaking news haiku to tide you over:


Dance like no one is

watching! But live like Ronan

Farrow always is


RaceAhead will return on Wednesday, September 5. I wish you a stress-free and spectacular end of summer.

On Point

Rejoice: A record number of girls of all hues, Latinx and black students took AP computer science this yearThere was a record number of rural students, too, all excellent news for the future talent pipeline. The change came after the College Board, which administers standardized tests, attracted more students to an intro computer science course. As a result, this year some 135,992 students took advanced placement (AP) computer science exams, a 31 percent increase from last year. The gains in underserved populations were heartening.  Black student participation rose 44 percent, Latinx participation rose 39 percent and rural student participation rose 42 percent. Small intervention, big win.USA Today

The only Latino employee of an anti-immigration group resigns
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its “racialized criticism” of immigration in all forms. But Joe Gomez, who joined the organization last year as press secretary, believed that they had moved past any issues – like an affinity for neo-Nazis. Evidently not. Instead, he endured months of “racial comments, racially charged comments, racial slurs,” and was mocked for not being able to speak Spanish, according to the complaint he filed with Washington D.C.’s Office of Human Rights. Click through for the ugly details.
The Daily Beast

Clinical trials lack racial and ethnic diversity
The editors of Scientific American are blunt: It’s unethical and risky to ignore racial and ethnic minorities, they say. The numbers are equally stark. While 40 percent of Americans belong to an ethnic or racial “minority,” clinical trials are typically 80 to 90 percent white. “The symptoms of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as the contributing factors, vary across lines of ethnicity, as they do between the sexes,” they explain. Without a diverse group to study, it’s impossible to know if a drug will work at all, or if there will be problematic side effects. A Congressional remedy, the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, required the agency to include more women and people of color in their studies. That was 1993. But a 2014 study showed that only 2 percent of more than 10,000 cancer trials conducted by the National Cancer Institute focused on a specific racial or ethnic population.
Scientific American

Y tu Latinx romcom también?
While Latinx and Hispanic audiences are big movie-goers – some 23 percent of tickets sold in the U.S. come from their pocketbooks - the success of Crazy Rich Asians is leaving some wondering when their big break-out-feel-good hit will come. According to USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, it may be awhile. Only 6.2 percent of speaking characters in the top 100 movies in 2017 were Hispanic or Latino. While Coco was a clear delight, it's not enough. Where are the features? “The people in charge, mostly, are non-Hispanic people and they are the ones with the power to approve and greenlight Latino stories,” Jack Rico, a film critic and podcaster tells Bloomberg. “They decide not to.”

It’s a special day in history, y’all
Don’t forget to tune into August 28, the latest production from the preternaturally productive Ava DuVernay. The twenty-two minute film, written, produced and directed by her, “traverses a century of Black progress, protest, passion and perseverance of African-American people,” by highlighting key episodes that happened on this date in history: The passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, the lynching of Emmett Till in 1956, the first radio airplay from Motown Records in 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the massive March on Washington in 1965, the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and then-Senator Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2008. At 7pm on OWN.

The Woke Leader

Strangers in a strange land
Sothy Kum has lived in the U.S. for 37 of his 43 years. He has a father, wife, daughter, and small business in Wisconsin. But now he is one of a growing number of people who are being forced to start over in a faraway land he’s never known. He was part of a group of people who were rounded up and detained by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, then deported to Cambodia. “Socially and linguistically, they’re American,” says Bill Herod of the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation (KVAO), a non-profit that is helping new deportees find their way. “I’m a foreigner here,” Sothy Kum says. “It’s like learning everything all over.”
South China Morning Post

A Multiracial Family in America
This is an emotional tale written by a self-identified white, evangelical Christian, American father who adopted – and clearly loves -  a needy child from Ethiopia. He tells the expensive story of welcoming Naomi into their family, only to become the object of intense scrutiny from “the left” and those concerned that a Christian adoption industry operated in ways that were either culturally insensitive or in some cases, corrupt. Then, in 2015, he noticed a change. “The attacks on our family came less and less from the left, and increasingly from the so-called alt-right—a vicious movement of Trump-supporting white nationalists who loathe multiracial families.”The abuse they’ve experienced is deeply disturbing. That said, the article will provoke wildly different reactions, no doubt, and some may be surprised by the critical views of others.
The Atlantic

On being Korean all alone
This is a gorgeous essay, filled with detail and cultural nuance that will be profoundly familiar to some but accessible to all. Michelle Zauner begins by explaining the unique pain of being of Korean descent in America without your cultural lifeline. “When I was growing up, with a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, my mom was my access point for our Korean heritage,” she says, a complex and lifelong lesson that played out mostly around food. Which is why H Mart, a supermarket chain offering Asian fare, has now become the emotional epicenter of her identity, and a place where she misses her mom the most. “I can hardly speak Korean, but in H Mart I feel like I’m fluent,” she says. Without giving too much away, this story will make your eyes water with hunger and grief and love.
New Yorker


Tarell and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award — certainly don’t think he would grow up to win Best Picture. I’ve said that a lot and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself. I denied myself that dream — not you, not anyone else — me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself. Because doing so may be the difference between dreaming at all and somehow, through the Academy’s grace, realizing dreams you never allowed yourself to have.
Barry Jenkins

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