Adding to Austin's Asian-American Cinema
Huay-Bing Law on his new short "June," now on HBO
By Richard Whittaker,
2:30PM, Fri. May 25, 2018
As America takes a long, hard look at its racial legacy, there's a blindspot in the discussion. The position of Asian-Americans has often been a strained one, and their historic stories of integration and alienation have often been overlooked. Austin filmmaker Huay-Bing Law hopes to help change that dynamic with films like his HBO short "June."
The short, filmed on the UT campus, is a period piece: in 1955 a Taiwanese academic, Gene (Joe Lee), brings his newly arrived wife June (Ching Wang) to a party, where her attempts to fit in reveal very quickly that it's going to take a lot more than just learning a few dance steps. Law said, "You just show up to America, you don't understand what segregation is, you don't understand the racial dynamics or history of America, and here you're thrust into this situation where the Jim Crow laws are in effect, and you don't know what to make of it."
Filmed as Law's masters thesis for his MFA from UT's Radio, Television, and Film program, "June" has been critically acclaimed even before it became a finalist in HBO's 2018 APA Visionaries Short Film Competition (more recently, it has been included in the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' student awards short lust).
However, even before graduating, Law was a fixture on Austin film sets, having made his own shorts as well as as serving as cinematographer and grip for projects including Geoff Marslett's Loves Her Gun, and Kat Candler's "Hellion." Yet "June" was going to be his biggest personal project. He explained, "It's a period piece, there's a big dance sequence, it's not just something you can throw together."
However, the stars seemingly aligned: first, he needed a bigger project for his graduation thesis; second, the 2016 election lead to him considering "my otherness in this country, and really questioning where I fit in."
The story is deeply personal to Law, and is based on a story his uncle told him. In particular, it was the question of which bathroom an Asian-American was supposed to used in the segregated South became "the germ of the idea. ... In my experience, and a lot of people I know, we've all had that moment when we walk into small town Texas, or white America, and you just feel the eyes turn, and they just sort of look at you. That's happened to all of us at some point in our lives, and there are some people who will just say 'Suck it up,' but it can have an effect on you growing up."
That's why he applauded HBO for both sponsoring the APA film award, and for broadcasting and streaming the winners. "If you're a young Asian-American aspiring filmmaker, and you want to tell your story, you don't have very many people to look up to, you don't have very many avenues to say, 'Hey, this is what I can do.' To have HBO do this, it's really a big deal."
For Law, it's not just an opportunity to get his work seen: it's an opportunity to broaden the discussion about the Asian-American experience in popular culture. "We're always on the outskirts of discussion, or never quite the center of attention. Especially in films and TV, we're definitely underrepresented. Hopefully with my crew I can add to that library of stories of Asian-Americans."
"June" is on HBO GO now.