Guest Speaker Arthur Dong and “Hollywood Chinese”
Born in San Francisco, Arthur Dong is an Academy Award-nominated American documentary filmmaker. His work combines the art of the visual medium with an investigation of social issues, examining topics such as Asian American history and identity, and gay oppression. He received a BA in film from San Francisco State University in 1982 and completed the Director’s Fellowship program at American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies in 1985.
Dong’s film career began with Public (1970), an animated Super-8 film shot on his bedroom floor. Based on a poem written by Dong, Public tells the story of a child’s response to oppressive societal norms and the culture of violence surrounding him. The five-minute film earned first prize at the California High School Film Festival and was Dong’s first introduction to the power of film as a tool for progressive change.
As a film student at San Francisco State University, Dong produced Sewing Woman (1982), a documentary about his mother’s immigration to America from China. The film went on to receive an Academy Award nomination. Dong started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, Inc, which continues to develop, produce, and distribute his work. In 1984, Dong was selected a Directing Fellow to attend the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies. Lotus (1987), a half-hour drama about the foot-binding of Chinese women, was produced with the support of a production grant from the American Film Institute’s Independent Filmmakers Program.
Dong’s next film was Forbidden City, U.S.A. (1989), a documentary on Chinese American nightclubs in 1940s San Francisco. He proceeded to produce thirteen documentaries for the Los Angeles PBS program on KCET-TV, Life & Times (1991-1992). For PBS’s first national series on the gay and lesbian issues, The Question of Equality, Dong directed the premiere episode, Out Rage ’69 (1995), which explored the New York City Stonewall Riots, an event many historians cite as the catalyst for the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
“Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” Dong’s first DVD collection, puts together his trilogy of films covering the challenges and conflicts over gay issues. It includes Family Fundamentals (2002), a look at America’s culture wars over homosexuality as experienced by three conservative Christian families with gay children, Licensed to Kill (1997), a study of murderers who killed gay men, and Coming Out Under Fire (1994), an examination of the World War II origins of the military’s policies governing gay and lesbian service members.
In addition to an Oscar® nomination, Dong has earned a George Foster Peabody Award, three Sundance Film Festival awards, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, and five Emmy nominations. His numerous awards for public service include the Asian American Media Award from Asian CineVision, the Historian Award from the Chinese Historical Society of America, two consecutive GLAAD Media Awards (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and the OUT 100 Award from OUT magazine. San Francisco State University named Dong its 2007 Alumnus of the Year. Dong has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Film and a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. He served as a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is currently on the Documentary Branch Executive Committee and represents the Academy on the National Film Preservation Board.
The film Hollywood Chinese (2007) investigates the cinematic history of Chinese Americans in film. From the first Chinese American film produced in 1916 to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), this documentary weaves together a phenomenal portrait of actors, directors, writers, and movie icons who have defined American feature films. Dong explores the portrayals of Chinese Americans in films and how filmmakers have and continue to navigate an industry that was typically ignorant of race, yet still receptive. Hollywood Chinese also features intimate interviews with Nancy Kwan (the original Suzie Wong), Ang Lee, Amy Tan, and other Chinese-American celebrities who tell the story of how their heritage has limited their careers. Hollywood Chinese is a celebration of Chinese American film history, and it’s also the story of how the movie business has gradually changed for the better.
– Tommy Meyer and George Rowe