When Alan Yang first started developing the Netflix film “Tigertail” years ago, other movies centered on the Asian diaspora — like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Farewell” — had not yet been made. And while Yang feels the momentum of increased representation of the Asian American Pacific Islander community in film, he feels this is just the beginning.
“[We’re] getting to a point where the variety of Asian stories can really start to be told because, quite frankly, it can’t be told with three movies or five movies or ten movies,” Yang, who wrote and directed “Tigertail,” tells Variety on the “Variety After-Show.” “You look at the entire history of Western canon or the history of American movies. It would be lunacy for someone to watch “Back to the Future” and say, ‘Is that what all white people are like?’”
The film is deeply personal to Yang, who is known for his work as a producer and writer on shows like “Parks and Recreation,” “Master of None” and, most recently, Apple TV Plus’ “Little America,” and the story inspired by his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan.
The film follows Pin-Jui, played by Tzi Ma, across decades, first as a young, carefree man working in a factory in Taiwan then to a husband immigrating to the U.S. with his new wife and finally a stern, slightly bitter old man with a strained relationship with his daughter, played by Christine Ko.
But according to Yang, this is more than just an immigrant’s story.
“The story is, ultimately, about Pin-Jui’s relationship with the four most important women in his life: it’s his mother, the woman he loved, the woman he married and then his daughter. And I thought there was this beautiful symmetry in that,” Yang says. He adds that it also deepens the stereotype of the “stoic Asian father” by giving Ma’s character a backstory.
In a time when Asian Americans have been the targets of racist attacks fueled by misguided links to the coronavirus pandemic (Ma himself was a victim of one such encounter), Yang says visibility of Asian Americans, through films like “Tigertail,” can help combat the problem.
“I think the way forward is just through more education. It’s the familiarization with Asian faces. It’s the understanding that, as basic as this is to say, we are human beings. We are not robots, we are not automatons, we are not aliens, we are not foreigners,” he says. “We are Americans, and we have inner lives, and we have emotions, and we have interiority, and we are fully human.”