‘He Called My Mom ‘Chopsticks’’: Oscar Nominee Opens Up About Domestic Abuse From White Stepdad
By Ryan General
February 25, 2019
Bing Liu’s brilliantly-crafted film, “Minding the Gap” yielded the Oscar for “Best Documentary Feature” to “Free Solo,” a documentary by husband-and-wife filmmaking team Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.
Filmed by the Asian American director between 2012 and 2017, “Minding the Gap” is about the lives of three skateboard-loving friends — Kiere Johnson, Zack Mulligan, and filmmaker Bing Liu himself — growing up into adulthood in the midst of domestic violence in Rockford, Illinois.
While the film appears like a collection of personal footage of old friends, it actually started out as interviews with random skateboarders around the country who shared their lives on camera. According to Liu, he didn’t even meet Johnson until the project was well underway.
“The press paints it as this film that slowly formed over time. I didn’t meet Keire until a year into making ‘Minding the Gap,'” Liu told the Wall Street Journal last year. “It started out, the idea was I’m going to examine skateboarders’ relationships with their fathers. My first [interview] shoot with Keire was him talking about his father’s abuse and his feelings about it. And then my first shoot with Zack was talking with him about his father.”
“When I started making this film, that was when things got so bad with my stepfather and my mom, like he shot a gun at her in the house, and things were getting really violent. She finally decided to move out for good and try to get a divorce, and that was sort of happening in the background of making the film,” Liu told NBC.
In the film, Liu even interviewed his mother about the abuse they both received at the hands of his stepfather.
“(He) Called my mom ‘Chopsticks.’ And it was just to demean, just to make us feel less than. It also fits into the pattern of white man dominating an Asian woman who needs him in financial and legal ways,” Liu revealed in a recent interview with Vulture.
“So much of that relationship and that marriage was about our citizenship. I didn’t get my citizenship until I was 14. And then they had a child the first year they were married, which is another form of control, using the child. First and foremost, for them, it’s about domination and control, and racism came out of that.”
According to the Hulu’s website, Liu compiled over “12 years of footage shot in his hometown of Rockford, IL,” as he searched “for correlations between his skateboarder friends’ turbulent upbringings and the complexities of modern-day masculinity.”
Rock Valley College, where Liu graduated, hosted an Oscar watch party for the supporters of the 30-year-old filmmaker. Liu attended the Academy Awards with his former RVC professor, Jerry LaBuy, chairman of the college’s mass communication department.
While it failed to get the Oscar, the film has received numerous accolades elsewhere, including U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered on January 21, 2018.
It also won the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Non-Fiction Film and was named one of the Top Documentaries by the National Board of Review, IndieWire reports.
The film, which currently has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been cited by Former U.S. President Barack Obama as one of his favorite films of 2018.
Meanwhile, the Oscar winner “Free Solo” follows the story of climber, Alex Honnold in his nail-biting attempt to become the first person to scale Yosemite’s 3,000-foot rock wall of El Capitan without ropes.
Vasarhelyi and Chin, the first married couple of Asian descent ever nominated for Oscars together, received the award along with producers Evan Hayes and Shannon Dill. Honnold and his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, also took the stage with them.
“Thank you National Geographic for believing in us and for hiring women and people of color; we only help make the films better,” said Vasarhelyi in his acceptance speech.
“Minding the Gap” is streaming on Hulu while “Free Solo” is still playing in select theaters in the United States.
Featured image via YouTube/Sundance Institute
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