Only a few days into Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month, the national coalition Stop AAPI Hate released a report stating that incidents against Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States are continuing to skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic. How many of our fellow Americans will read that report (or a similar one from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University)? How many will take action as a result? Audiovisual engagement - particularly through documentary filmmaking - provides an opportunity for those outside an issue to gaze into the eye of the storm. 

In February, 2021, director Natasha Lee and producer Lucia Tran assembled an all-volunteer, all Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI)-identifying crew to sit with AAPI documentary subjects, to learn about their experiences in America - and to capture their reactions to the disturbing - if too familiar - climate in which we find ourselves. On March 16, the mass shooting of six AAPI victims in Atlanta, GA, added to the emotional weight of the material and influenced the experience of making the film. The result is IN THE VISIBLE, a short documentary the filmmakers intend as a tool in the ongoing fight against white supremacy and its systematic, destructive manipulation of the AAPI community against other BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) communities as a ‘model minority.’ 

Lee, who is Chinese, was born in Penang, Malaysia. Her family moved to the Bay Area when she was 9 and she has traveled frequently between two worlds ever since. She headed to LA to attend Otis College of Art & Design and began her career in commercial production. Lee worked as a Designer/Art Director in broadcast design and entertainment at Troika Design Group, New Wave Entertainment and Midnight Oil, before pursuing photography. She transitioned into digital publishing as a Visual Director at Whalerock Industries, where she had the opportunity to direct branded content pieces for Acuvue and T-Mobile. Lee’s photography credits include Quibi, WarnerMedia, Condé Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, Hemispheres Magazine and Food Network, complemented by directing assignments for RCI Vacations and Tahiti Tourism, on which she served as Director/DP. 

“Although the presence of Asian Americans in advertising and film is steadily increasing, my experience thus far is being the minority on a lot of sets/projects,” said Lee. “Besides wanting to bring authentically diverse representation to the stories I tell, I also want to help uplift Asian crew members who may not have as many referrals because they haven’t had as many opportunities. I’m grateful for the support I have received in my journey so far and hope that we as an industry and society continue to move in a direction of embracing diverse storytellers as a way to keep shining light on underrepresented voices. Hopefully brands will be open to looking deeper into the many different Asian cultures and their nuances, so that Asians can see their actual lifestyles and cultures reflected accurately onscreen.”

IN THE VISIBLE's subjects are Nithya Raman (South Asian American, LA City Councilwoman), Jake Choi (Korean American, Actor), Joy Cho (Thai American, Designer), Mas Yamashita (Japanese American, Retired), Tisha Alyn (Filipino American, Golfer), Sherry Cola (Chinese American, Comedian/Actress), Larry Sir (Cambodian American, Mechanic), Lindsay Watson (Hawaiian, Actress), Lien Ta (Vietnamese-Chinese American, Restaurateur), Benjamin Holtrop (Taiwanese American, Stylist), June Berk (Japanese American, JANM Volunteer), and Albert Tsai (Taiwanese American, Actor).

Marveling at the candid interviews in her film, Lee concluded, “I’m grateful to all the interviewees for putting their vulnerability on camera, as they processed and unpacked untold stories and deep-seated trauma from past and present events - and for believing that storytelling is the first step to addressing injustices.” 

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