Eighteen Years of CinemAsia
I am Doris Yeung, founder and director of the board of CinemAsia film festival, the gateway to Asian films and filmmakers in the Netherlands for last 18 years. Since 2003, CinemAsia’s has helped Asian voices and stories be heard and represented in the Netherlands and Europe through our annual film festival. We also pursue this mission through our educational programs such as FilmLAB, which creates and exhibits Asian diasporic films and trains filmmakers, media creators, and cultural workers to promote Asian visibility in Dutch and European film and media.
As a lifelong member of the Asian diaspora – having moved from Hong Kong to America and then to the Netherlands – I started CinemAsia film festival in 2003 to address the lack of accurate and visible representation of Asians in the Netherlands and to challenge ingrained stereotypes of Asians through awareness in film and media. This passion for fair and equitable representation in media stems from being mentored as a student by the late Linad Mahbolot, the founder of Visual Communications and Los Angeles Asian Pacific film festival. Mahbolot was a Filipino-American filmmaker/activist whose lifelong work was to put Asian faces and voices in American media. Her mission has borne fruit after 40 years, with structural progress in putting Asian faces and stories in mainstream American films and media.
In the Netherlands and Europe, I still see the struggle for accurate portrayals of Asians in the media – if and when there are any portrayals at all. The film and television roles available to Asian actors in Europe have historically been limited to offensive Asian stereotypes such as the exotic temptress, sweet submissive geisha girl, geeky computer nerd, or Asian restaurant owner/take-out boy. But in 2022, times are changing, as diversity and inclusion are the topics on everyone’s minds. Yet there is also backtracking, such as the rise of anti-Asian hate during Covid-19, with incidents of racial stereotyping, discrimination, and even violence against Asians worldwide. Film and media changes how we perceive each other in this world. This is why organizations like CinemAsia are important. They enable us to tell our own stories of our communities to counter these stereotypes. They help us connect with others to increase understanding within greater society. If Asians do not speak up against these stereotypes and prejudice, then the oppressive power structures that created and perpetuated them risk being maintained.
Fig. 2: Doris Yeung, founder of CinemAsia, speaking at the opening ceremony (Photo: Narutai Riangkruar, 2022).
CinemAsia is not only a festival showcasing the best of worldwide Asian cinema. It is also a platform to empower Asians to create and represent their own narrative and image. Since 2006, CinemAsia has made 35 short films about the Asian-Dutch diaspora through its FilmLAB program. These are voices and stories that are seldom heard or seen in mainstream Dutch society. In order to have a voice and place in the greater community, Asians have to be seen on the small and big screen as much as possible. To do so, we create, exhibit, and distribute our own stories of the Asian diaspora, as no one else is going to do it as authentically as our own selves. Diaspora cinema is representative cinema.
After 18 years, CinemAsia is still one of the only platforms that connects the Asian diaspora with Dutch society. It is the longest-running cultural and community organization with this mission in the Netherlands. A representative and culturally aware community is the sign of a progressive and equitable society. It is our responsibility to educate and inform the new generation against outdated stereotypes and behaviors, especially if they are to be part of an increasingly heterogeneous and integrated world.
I am proud to have seen CinemAsia grow from an idea to a reality with help of the many colleagues, filmmakers, volunteers, and supporters, all of whom have helped us grow through the years. Please help us continue our work in creating and exhibiting Asian stories in film and media and in training storytellers and cultural workers to represent Asian voices in the Dutch and European media landscape. We are always looking for interesting partners and collaborators. Please find us at www.cinemasia.nl or on social media.
Doris Yeung is the founder of CinemAsia Film Festival and the Chairman of the Board of the CinemAsia Foundation. E-mail: email@example.com