Many people the last few days have been talking about the trauma they’ve been carrying for the last four years and recognising it in the relief of Joe Biden’s inauguration. That relief may be temporary, because of course there is so much work to be done, so many issues still to be confronted, but the point is that for all the celebration, there is still pain to be acknowledged and process – pain inflicted by a cruel administration and its cruel leader, who was cruel to the end in his farewell speech, when he just had to throw in one more mention of the “China virus”. Hearing that term which, let’s be clear, is racist, along with its sibling, the “kung flu”, for almost a year has been traumatising to many East Asians, both emotionally and physically, since incidents of hate crimes against East Asians in the west has dramatically increased.
With that in mind, the trailer for Boogie was released earlier this week. This is Eddie Huang’s directorial debut and he also wrote the script. Eddie is a writer, culture critic, television personality, restaurant owner, and basketball fan best known for Fresh Off The Boat, his memoir that was turned into the TV series. He’s outspoken, sometimes controversial, and sometimes combative – so he’s not your stereotypical model minority East Asian male and he has said that in his work, he aims to go beyond representation. Representation is often just the beginning, to be included is just the beginning; what comes next is more active, more nuanced, more than just reflection, as Eddie says. Because Asian is not a monolith, and the whole point is to tell different stories – stories about immigrants and their children, and stories about second and third generation East Asians in America, an identity shaped by multiple cultures, in a country whose identity and culture continues to evolve, as much as there are forces who would hold it back…and often by force itself. This is where we find Boogie, a film about an Asian man raised in New York who dreams of playing basketball.
There are many movies about young men trying to achieve their hoop dreams so this is a familiar story …but with an unfamiliar protagonist. Not unlike, say, holiday rom-coms that are a tradition but now we’re getting holiday rom-coms with LGBTQ+ couples, and blockbuster rom-coms based on the Cinderella trope featuring Asian couples. These are narratives everybody can relate to but until recent history not everybody was invited to participate in.
So for me, seeing this trailer the other day, and thinking about all we’ve been thinking about these last few weeks, these last years, really, I cried. I cried because I know “Boogie”, I grew up with so many Asian guys who wanted a place on the court, so many who resisted being defined by stereotype. And I’m also intimately familiar with that scene where Boogie kneels in apology and shame, to the great discomfort of the non-Asians in the room. The push-pull for Boogie in that moment illuminates the duality of his upbringing in the most heartbreaking way. These are the stories that can and will encourage more empathy, understanding; these are stories that can be the answer to the trauma – and inspire more layered conversation about belonging to culture and about borrowing from culture too.
Boogie comes out on March 5. I can’t wait to see it and talk about it.