journal issues

editorial staff

call for proposals

FFC contact



  home | film reviews | featured article | calls for papers | in memoriam | contact
  issue 2.2 |  

Journal Issue 2.2
Fall 2010
Edited by Agatha Beins, Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and
Karen Alexander

Editorial Assistant: Julie Chatzinoff


Two Lies. Directed by Pamela Tom. New York: Women Make Movies, 1990.
The Grace Lee Project. Directed by Grace Lee. Los Angeles: Lee Lee Films, 2005.

Reviewed by Lee Ann S. Wang


Two Lies (25 mins.) explores the “truths” and “lies” of Asian-American women’s representations told through the thoughts of Mei, the eldest of two daughters struggling to make sense of her mother’s recent double-eyelid surgery. The film introduces this common form of surgery amongst Asian and Asian-American women within the larger context of Western perceptions about Asian and Asian-American women’s femininity. Pam Tom’s lyrical black-and-white film is a unique and useful text for any course focused on Asian-American women’s experiences, cultural representations of national memory, and U.S. histories of colonialism.
           Doris Chu, a Chinese-American single mother, seeks a “new grip on life.” Her daughters watch their mother apply make-up in the mirror and listen to language instruction tapes despite her flawless and unaccented English. When a middle-aged white man comes to visit his “lotus bun,” Doris pushes him away and covers her eyes with dark sunglasses. These physical reactions repeat themselves throughout the film as Doris hides, turns off the lights, and turns her face away from white men who want to look into her eyes. As she waits for the surgical cuts to heal, it is unclear whether Doris struggles with the “truth” her new eyes can potentially create or with the “lie” they potentially hide.
          Doris and her two daughters decide to take a trip to visit Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo Museum off a dusty highway in Southern California. A tour guide tells them stories about the “Indians who loved Cabot” yet also built a statue of him as a two-faced man. As mother and daughters stand before the two-faced statue, Mei is visually frustrated by the tour guide’s stories and the stories told by the actual objects in the museum. Mei learns that “some rich guy from Boston built it and lived here with his crazy wife” and she complains that the museum should not advertise the space as an authentic Indian pueblo. Doris responds, “Who the hell cares who built it, it looks like one, doesn’t it?” Their argument over authenticity turns into a fight about Doris’ new eyes, which Mei feels represent two lies. Director Pam Tom insightfully uses the dramatization of the truth of Cabot’s relationship to the Pueblo Indians and the lie told by the museum as a frame for explorations into racial identity, the whiteness expressed by Doris’ suitors, and mother/daughter disagreements over Chinese values.
        In The Grace Lee Project (68 mins.), filmmaker Grace Lee wonders “Who is Grace Lee?” and whether this extremely common name among Asian women will translate into commonalities across personality, talents, backgrounds, and personal histories for all Grace Lees in the world: “Smart nice, quiet, accomplished, are all Grace Lees cut from the same cloth?” The filmmaker advertises a call for Grace Lees from different ethnic backgrounds, ages, nationalities, and occupations to participate in the project by registering themselves on a Web site and sharing their personal stories.
        The bulk of the film, however, is dedicated to eight specific stories from Grace Lees in California, Detroit, and Korea. While it is not clear why or how these specific stories were chosen, the variety provides a wide range of topics for instructors to use in class discussion. The eight featured Grace Lees include a news anchor from Hawai’i, a high school student who set fire to her school, a lifelong radical organizer and activist in Detroit’s black community, a teenager who loves dark art and lives in a suburb of Silicon Valley, a pastor’s wife in California, a recent college graduate and devout member of the Christian church, a lesbian activist in Korea, and a single mother adoptee who helped a friend survive an abusive relationship. The filmmaker weaves her own thoughts about meeting Grace Lees from across the world through her narration of the film.
          Throughout the film we hear variations of the primary question driving this project: “Who is Grace Lee? Is part of being Grace Lee insisting that we are not that Grace Lee?” The film provides no resolution to these questions and perhaps this is precisely the point. Ultimately, the common and uncommon experiences of Grace Lees across the world tell us very little about any one Grace Lee in particular and instead reveal much more about existing racial and gendered imaginings of what Asian and Asian-American women should and ought to identify as. In the end, the film’s focus on stereotypes leaves us wondering what the limit of such an analysis can be for pedagogical practices. For introductory Women’s Studies and Asian-American studies courses, The Grace Lee Project is a useful exercise for undergraduate students to reflect upon their individual and collective personal experiences. Instructors may consider pairing the film’s discussion on stereotypes with readings that explore how discourses of power and sociohistorical contexts shape Asian-American women’s experiences.

Lee Ann S. Wang is currently a doctoral candidate in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan. Her research and teaching focus on Asian American women, racial and gendered representations, state violence, and immigration law.


back to top
Design by Joanna Wyzgowska.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.