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First-Gen Immigrant Filmmakers Are Redefining the American Family Onscreen

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minari00195ralan s kim, steven yeundirector lee isaac chungcredit melissa lukenbaugha24


Westport, Conn. is the 19th richest community in America. It’s where some of my middle school and junior high classmates lived and it’s where my Jamaican grandma cleaned homes for years. I attended countless birthday parties and sleepovers in the same neighborhood where I would accompany my mom’s mom on the job when mine was away at her own. I preoccupied myself with books and schoolwork as she scrubbed, sponged, mopped, and polished interiors that dwarfed our six-person family’s three-bedroom apartment in Bridgeport. All of this was a slice of my so-called American life, my normal.

These memories resurfaced as I watched seven-year-old David (Alan Kim) and his sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho), fictional siblings in the film Minari, settle into a nondescript factory room with their books as their Korean parents distinguished the sex of day-old chickens for a modest income a few rooms away. And then again, as I watched Angolan expat Walter (The Chi’s Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) attempt to reconnect with his estranged daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) in the same yellow cab that, after 17 years, earned him enough to help her and her mother immigrate to his Brooklyn home in Farewell Amor. Both films revive the canon of American family drama that prioritizes nuanced, non-white immigrant narratives and redefines the American dream.

Minari has been making headlines since it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and appears to be a frontunner at this year’s Oscar ceremony following seven nominations including Best Picture. Motivated to provide a legacy for his young daughter, filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung mined his childhood experiences coming of age in the 1980s as a first-generation Korean-American raised on a small farm in Lincoln, Arkansas. He recalled listing ‘80 visual memories—the family facing a tornado warning only a week into their arrival; his mother laying down calendar paper in a clothing drawer; shaking his head, not his toothbrush, to clean his teeth—to inform his powerful, deeply personal semi-autobiographical feature.

To animate his recollections, the director-writer does the difficult yet necessary work of fleshing out each Yi family member: There’s David, the mischievous young boy adjusting to his new surroundings and tumultuous family dynamics; Anne, the slightly older responsible sister whose co-parenting tendencies camouflage her justified anxieties; David (The Walking Dead and Burning’s Steven Yeun), the entrepreneurial patriarch hellbent on growing a small, commercially-viable Korean produce farm, even if it means shattering his family unit in the process; Monica (Yeri Han), his devout wife, whose sacrifices for her husband deepen their rift and isolate her from the religious and social communities that shape her identity; and Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), Monica’s mother, who moves from Korea into the family’s rundown trailer, matching David’s mischief and inspiring her grandson to live life to the fullest. Powering these fully developed characters are insightful references to Monica and David’s marriage story—“You two used to love this song,” Soonja says. “They come to America and forget everything”—an unexpected plot point that infuses delicate notes of love, joy, and heartache. These all-or-nothing stakes illustrate the self-destructive nature of blind ambition and expectations.

Alan Kim and Steven Yeun in Minari.

Melissa Lukenbaugh

“Even if I fail, I have to finish what I started.” David ejects during a pivotal scene where he stands to lose the same family for which he’s killing himself to provide a “better life.” The film’s final act culminates in an explosive event that shows just how far he’s willing to go.

The lush, bucolic Arkansas also serves as a character, providing a classic Americana backdrop and agricultural storyline that culminates in quiet defiance of commonplace portrayals of inner-city Chinatowns, British neighborhoods, and international Asian countries. Yes, Asian immigrants were based in those areas, but what about elsewhere? In fact, it’s beside a creek buried deep inside the Yi’s pastoral land where Soonja spreads her minari seeds and educates David about the resilient Korean herb’s ability to grow almost anywhere.

“It’s only found in the U.S. if people plant it here [with seeds they brought from] Korea,” Chung said at Sundance last year. “It was the only thing that thrived.”

It’s not that Minari is one of the first non-adapted films to focus on immigrants of color whose experiences interrogate an American dream founded on working hard to provide a better life for one’s self and family. We’ve seen this narrative pioneered before, with original stories like Patricia Cardoso’s 2002 Real Women Have Curves, Ramin Bahrani’s 2005 Man Push Cart, Andrew Dosunmu’s 2013 Mother of George, and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s 2017 The Big Sick. But Minari is one of the only (if not, the only) original American screenplays to spotlight an Asian-American immigrant family, period.

If an irreversible rupture looms above the Yi family in Minari, then Ekwa Msangi’s feature directorial film debut, Farewell Amor, begins in the shattered aftermath. Her story takes place during the late 2000s in New York City, specifically Brooklyn, home to one of the nation’s largest, most multicultural immigrant populations. We first meet husband and wife Walter and Esther (Zainab Jah) and their adolescent daughter Sylvia at the arrivals welcome section in John F. Kennedy airport. For almost 20 years, Walter has been separated from both his homeland of Angola and his exiled wife and daughter. This might as well be their first time meeting, because, as the film quickly proves, time bears painful change.

For inspiration, Msangi looked to a close relative who, to date, hasn’t seen his family since the mid-‘90s due to visa and immigration issues, but has kept in touch through the decades and sent enough savings to build a house and send his son through college. “Despite their hopefulness to one day reunite, I often wonder what a reunion would actually look like after so many years apart,” Msangi said in her director’s statement. “How would they relate to one another? What scars would the distance have left on them? And what of their child who was five months old when his father initially left?” The Tanzanian-American filmmaker also spotted an opportunity to showcase Black love, longing, and relationships in an African immigrant context, a rarity in film that she attributes to “religious reasons, among many others.”

farewell amor

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Jayme Lawson in Farewell Amor.

IFC Films

Msangi doesn’t vilify or condemn the husband and father for his relationship with Linda, even as knowledge of it threatens to destroy the brittle relations inside his first family. Nor does she ridicule or pigeonhole Esther as solely an unworldly, naive zealot or a stereotypically overbearing African immigrant mother. Instead, Msangi’s sensitive lens merely shows each character’s past, present, and ideal future selves clashing in real and devastating ways.

The family’s saving grace comes with Sylvia’s perspective, one in which she harbors an inextinguishable love for dance, a passion she unknowingly inherited from her parents, who shelter their own desires for the sake of coping with post-war trauma and making it in America. This theme of dancing and intergenerational muscle memory ultimately becomes a conduit for open, honest communication and radical forgiveness, both for family and for self, pointing to a hopeful reconciliation and restoration of a once fragmented family.

“This place is really hard for Black people, especially foreigners,” Walter tells his daughter after walking in on her practicing a routine in her bedroom. Dancing, he reveals, “is the one place where I can actually be myself. Show myself.”

While the films vastly differ in time period, location, and racial identity, both Minari and Farewell Amor propose the revolutionary act of not assimilating, but quilting together personal experiences defined by love, joy, heartache, trauma, and distinctive cultures shaped by home, both new and old, familiar and foreign. They counter the steely, back-breaking myth of the American dream with the soft, flexible salve of self-determination, self-acceptance, and self-care, whether in the form of working the land, competing in a dance competition, or reconstructing a relationship. Complex immigrant narratives, particularly those told by and portraying immigrants of color in unexpected locations and genres, have the power to normalize and validate the experiences of a rapidly growing American demographic and redefine a more inclusive, compassionate dream for all.

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28 Commoners Who Married Royals

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28 Commoners Who Married Royals


Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary

She became an Iranian queen when she married Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1951. The daughter of a German mother and a father who was a member of Iran’s powerful Bakhtiari family, Queen Soraya was the Shah’s second wife and later became an actress. She went on to star in two films, I Tre Volti and She, after the couple’s divorce in 1958.

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35 Unforgettable Royal Wedding Scandals, Shockers, and Bizarre Moments

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35 Unforgettable Royal Wedding Scandals, Shockers, and Bizarre Moments


Princess Stéphanie of Monaco married her bodyguard.

Grace Kelly’s daughter, Princess Stéphanie, tied the knot with Daniel Ducruet, who had previously been assigned as her bodyguard. When the couple wed, they already had two children together. At the time, The Associated Press described Ducruet as “a former pet shop salesman and fishmonger known to have a hot temper,” and noted that Stéphanie’s father, Rainier III, opposed the love connection. The wedding took place on July 1, 1995, at Monaco Town Hall. However, little more than a year later, the marriage ended in divorce when, per the AP, Ducruet “was caught by paparazzi in a poolside romp with a Belgian stripper.”

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All of Queen Rania of Jordan’s Best Fashion Moments

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the king and queen of jordan will visit the basilica of st francis of assisi


Franco OrigliaGetty Images

Since her husband, Abdullah II, became the King of Jordan in 1999, Queen Rania of Jordan has been hard at work. The Queen is best known for her advocacy in public health and education, as well as her supremely trendy sense of style. Throughout the years, Rania has proven that her sartorial tastes are impeccable. She has a penchant for monochromatic looks and pops of color, but also knows her way around a neutral palette. Read on for 63 of her best royal style moments here.

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April 17, 2019

Rania stepped out in a casual tank and pants combo during a tour of Jordan, and brightened it up with a coral jacket.

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March 29, 2019

For a visit to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Queen wore a collared navy midi dress, a trendy Louis Vuitton handbag, and added dainty silver earrings.

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March 29, 2019

While visiting French President Emmanuel Macron, Queen Rania wore this bold monochrome look, which features a pleated midi dress and a tailored leather jacket.

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October 14, 2018

The Queen stunned in a belted pinstripe midi dress for the state opening of Jordan’s Parliament.

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June 25, 2018

On a visit to the White House with her husband, Rania wore a flowy blush pantsuit with a matching purse and pumps.

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May 22, 2018

Rania wore a gorgeous grey-blue pleated turtleneck dress to her daughter Princess Salma’s graduation.

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March 21, 2018

Rania chose a tailored grey blazer, turtleneck, and crisp white pants for a visit to the Netherlands. Her suede heels and elaborate woven handbag were perfect complements to her neutral outfit.

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March 20, 2018

Queen Rania showed us that she isn’t afraid of a bold pop of color. Here, she wore a bright blue swing coat with statement buttons and a white neck scarf over her grey dress.

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November 11, 2017

For this look, Rania paired a simple white top with a brightly patterned pencil skirt and coral handbag.

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August 11, 2017

For the Sovereign’s Parade at the Royal Military Academy, the Queen chose a bright pink quilted princess coat and matching heels. She accessorized with a black purse and silver jewelry.

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May 21, 2017

Rania glowed at the Fashion for Relief event at Cannes, wearing a delicate white dress with lace details and simple jewelry. She posed for a photo with Princess Beatrice and Sarah, Duchess of York at the event.

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December 3, 2016

The Queen wore an elegant A-line gown with pink silk details to a gala in Germany.

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November 11, 2016

Rania chose a simple black blazer and pencil skirt, drawing attention to her intricate turtleneck, for the state opening of Parliament in Amman, Jordan.

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September 11, 2016

Queen Rania stepped out in a beautiful crimson and blue gown for the Celebrity Fight Night gala.

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June 2, 2016

Rania arrived at the Great Arab Revolt centennial wearing a deep teal dress with gold embroidery, turquoise drop earrings, a cream quilted clutch, and black heels.

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May 25, 2016

For Jordan’s 70th Independence Day, Rania chose a belted maroon top with an extravagant red and white detailed skirt, maroon heels and silver accessories.

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May 18, 2016

Rania wore a soft pink swing coat adorned with a floral detail and black kitten heels alongside the Queen of Belgium during a visit to Brussels.

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May 2, 2016

The Queen turned heads on the red carpet in a feathered gown dotted with delicate silver gems by Valentino at the Manus x Machina Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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January 8, 2016

During a visit to London, Rania wore a hot pink pencil dress with a complementary belted coat and black pointed-toe heels.

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November 20, 2015

While in Spain, the Queen wore a black and white striped accordion skirt, a white blouse, and a mahogany wide belt.

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November 19, 2015

Here, Rania paired a trendy leather pencil skirt with a patterned blouse for a visit to the Prado Media Lab cultural center in Madrid, Spain.

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November 19, 2015

Queen Rania walked with Queen Letizia of Spain on the airport tarmac as she arrives in Madrid, Spain for a royal visit. Rania’s chic ensemble proves that even after a long plane ride, the royal is glowing. This look features a simple sky blue dress, a red and white woven wrap coat, and glittery heels.

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September 25, 2015

For the UN Foundation’s Gender Equality Discussion, Rania stepped out in an all-white ensemble, but it’s far from dull. The detail in her top, her snakeskin clutch, and her reflective pointed-toe heels make this a style to remember.

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August 26, 2015

Rania and her daughter walked the red carpet for the Medef Summer University Conference. The Queen wore a simple A-line dress and accented it with a Louis Vuitton bag and strappy heels.

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May 19, 2014

Here Queen Rania wore a black and white patterned top, a black midi skirt with a sheer overlay, and pumps.

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March 12, 2013

Rania and Camilla Parker Bowles pose for a photo during Prince Charles and Camilla’s royal tour in Jordan. Rania chose a bright blue and white knee-length dress adorned with a flower, and pearl drop earrings for the occasion.

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May 18, 2012

Queen Rania chose a classic flattering dress for a dinner at Buckingham Palace. The celebration was held in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary on the throne.

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May 18, 2012

Rania wore a white ruffled top with gold accents, paired with a fiery red pencil skirt, and her signature black pumps for an event at Windsor Castle in England. The royal was in town to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

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April 2, 2012

The Queen was glowing on a visit to the Royal Palace in Italy, wearing an embroidered double-breasted trench coat, peep-toe heels, and a sleek black purse.

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June 19, 2010

Rania stepped out in a purple gown—the color of royalty—paired with a tiara and sash for Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling’s royal wedding in Stockholm, Sweden.

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