A who’s who of some of the most famous faces among the Hollywood’s Asian diaspora turned out to support writer, director and actor Justin Chon at the Los Angeles premiere of his buzzed-about new film “Blue Bayou,” including Awkwafina, Benedict Wong, Jimmy O. Yang, Harry Shum, Jr., Manny Jacinto and George Takei.
Chon told Variety he was moved to craft the story — in which he stars as an Asian-American adoptee who’s lived the bulk of his life in a small Louisiana town and suddenly finds himself facing the terrifying prospect of an unjust deportation — after hearing of real adoptees facing similarly jarring circumstances.
“I started hearing through the adopted community that this issue is taking place, where adoptees who were brought here as young children and were now adults, getting deported after they were adopted by U.S, citizens,” said Chon, who headlines the film opposite Alicia Vikander. “It just really absolutely made no sense to me, so I thought it was a very important issue, very important issue to shine a light on.”
“I was really hoping to put as much effort into doing the adoptee experience some justice, make sure that they that they felt like in some way I authentically portrayed their experiences in this country, specifically adoptees who are getting deported,” he added. “That was what was very important to me.”
“Blue Bayou” made a significant impact on audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, and Chon, whose previous films “Man Up” and “Gook” pushed forward cinematic storytelling with Asian characters front and center, said he’s hopeful about the state of inclusion in film today.
“There’s been some really positive change,” he said. “I do think we have some more, a lot of work to do. But I think it’s, it’s a good time. I think that the fact that a film like this is coming out is very encouraging. And we’ve got to continue to tell our stories.”
Wong, who reprised his Marvel Cinematic Universe role as the sorcerer Wong in the recently minted blockbuster “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” said he’s pleased to see films of all budget levels featuring Asian leads getting in front of audiences.
“Most of these projects are all kind of founded for the ‘lack of,’ really, and then people are just getting up and kind of going, ‘We are having to tell our stories,’ as opposed to ‘Wait’ — there is no waiting. It’s in the doing,” said Wong, expressing hope that “Shang-Chi” stood tall as proof of the appetite for inclusive storytelling.
“We’re in our second week and it’s number one, and I love what this impact has made – this swell of Asian pride rippling across the world is much needed,” he said. “I recently saw a little kid holding aloft the figure of Shang-Chi. And for a kid [like myself] that didn’t really have any sort of, kind of Asian heroes to grow up to…to experience that is change itself, and that is welcomed.”
Asked if he’d started to feel his own sense of belonging in Hollywood, Chon mused for a moment. “That’s a very tough question. I do feel now that I have rights to tell my stories. Hollywood, I think, is maybe slowly starting to come around, and it’s a good feeling that they’re acknowledging some of my work, but I’m very excited for what’s to come and the opportunity to tell more of my community stories.”