Interview with Alice Wu and Joan Chen of “Saving Face”

Wu with Saving Face stars Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen

AE: The issue of racism is also explored through Ma’s interactions with Wil’s African-American neighbor Jay (Ato Essandoh) in the movie.
AW: For me, what I love about those scenes–it’s so funny because audiences love that scene when Jay and Ma are first at the table together. At the same time, if I’m sitting in audience with mostly people of color, they think it’s hysterical. If I’m sitting in a mostly white audience, they still think it’s funny, they’ll laugh…
JC: …but there will be a nervousness.
AW: There’s a moment where they think, “Is this racist?”

AE: There’s the whole political correctness thing.
AW: Right, which I totally understand. And then they laugh anyway. For me,
that’s authentic. The mother’s not P.C. (laughs) She’s going to say whatever she wants. What’s great is that they’re speaking in this other language so she feels like she can. Why I think so many people think it’s funny and real is because they’ve experienced it in their lives, they just don’t usually talk about it (laughs).
JC: Every race or every ethnic group sometimes talks about another group. We all do that, it’s just that in this country, in this environment, people are so nervous. They censor themselves again and again.
AW: It’s great that there is a racial awareness. But the reality is, in something like that (the movie), calling attention to it where it’s real actually helps you see the relationship spring up.

AE: A high point in the love story aspect of the movie between Wil and Vivian occurs when Vivian tries to teach Wil to “fall without hurting herself” – which I took as a metaphor for falling in love. Am I on the right track?
AW: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of those scenes, on the page, that some people like and some people were like, “I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be silly.” And then they saw it and they were like, “Ahhh.” It’s one of those things that you have to see to totally get.
It’s how the two different energies of Wil (Michelle Krusiec) and Vivian (Lynn Chen) come together.

AE: The coming out process is also central to the movie. Ma knows about Wil, having dropped in on her years earlier, and catching her w/someone, yet it is incomplete. Alice, was your coming out process this protracted?
AW: This is a fictional film, but it is true that everyone thinks the important moment is the one when your mom finds out, and it’s not, I don’t think. I think it’s the moment that the parent and the child decide to honestly deal with each other about it, which may happen as soon as you tell them about it or it might not happen for years. People have said that they told their mom and she said nothing and acted like nothing happened for years. That is more real to me. This is not a story about when will this woman tell her mom. It’s a story about when will these two women drop their masks and really see each other.

AE: Joan, when Wil comes out to Ma, Ma says “I’m not a bad mother.” As a mother yourself, how did you feel about that type of reaction?
JC: My own (liberal) upbringing and background is slightly different from Ma’s. But I played it as coming from love, because her daughter’s chance for happiness is shot. A good mother raises a daughter and provides her with a chance for happiness. To Ma, she is not going to be happy, her life is going to be hard. I think that’s what saddened her and didn’t want to accept that at all.
AW: I think that (when Ma says) “I’m not a bad mother” (she) is basically saying, “You are a reflection of me.” She is also worried about how this reflects on her.
JC: I do think for the mother, the most important thing for a mother is the happiness of her children. If you’re not “normal,” you are not going to be happy. Of course it reflects badly on the mother. “I raised an abnormal child.”

AE: There seems to be a revival of queer movies at this time. How does it feel to have your film be caught up in this current wave?
AW: It’s great. I had no idea I was caught up in a wave of queer films.
JC: (Laughs)
AW: Only because I’ve been so busy, but why not? I look forward to seeing all the other ones (laughs).

AE: What do you each want people to come away with after seeing Saving Face?
AW: I want them to come away with this feeling that, no matter who they are, whether they are gay or straight, or whatever their cultural make-up is, that if there is something that they secretly wanted, whether it’s this feeling that they could actually have that great love or whatever it is, that it’s never too late to have that. I want them to leave the theater feeling a sense of hope and possibility.

For more about the movie, go to our Saving Face section

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