Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"If I Was Like You" - thought-provoking short film on race relations

From first-time film-maker Wesley Du comes this multi-layered and challenging short film entitled If I Was Like You. It recently premiered at the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival - apparently no other festival would touch it due to its controversial nature. Fortunately for you and I, it has been uploaded to Youtube for public consumption.

The film centres around Asian-American single father Daniel, living with his son Billy in predominantly black neighbourhood in South-Central Los Angeles. When Billy is killed following an altercation with African-American thugs, Daniel's rage spills over after the police cannot seem to help and his black neighbours apparently saw nothing. To bring attention to his son's murder, Daniel erects a racially-provocative sign out the front of his house, which has some serious ramifications.

It's a gripping look at the nature of attitudes to race and racism, and what is revealed in the human character in times of sorrow or anger. There are interesting angles everywhere worthy of discussion, in the interactions between white, black and Asian.

Watch the 13-minute film here in 2 parts.

(Spoiler alert!)
There is plenty left unsaid in the film, which allows events to be read in a number of different ways. There is implicit criticism of how both Daniel and some of his black neighbours see the issue of race. The young black men's violently passionate reaction to the word "nigger" is contrasted with what Daniel sees as ambivalence about the murder of his son. It is not clear whether or not race had anything to do with the son's death, but Daniel feels like it is - he immediately sees events in terms of race, rather than individuals. The line “Man, if he was black, he would have been shot!” is a brilliant touch - implying that his Asianness can be a blessing and a curse. It may well have made his son a victim, but it may also have prevented Daniel from being shot himself.

Great short film that made me think a lot.

What did you think?


  1. Hmmm. It's interesting what is and what isn't allowed in the arts' portrayal of racism. I'm sure if this was a film about an African American's son being killed in a predominantly white neighbourhood, it wouldn't be seen as 'inflammatory' or 'controversial' at all.

  2. ^ I guess it wouldn't be controversial because its already been done - stories involving black victim and white perpetrator are as old as the US itself.
    I think the very thing that makes "If I Was Like You" controversial is the same thing that makes it a good film - its nuances and ambiguity. There is no clear good guy and bad guy, there is no clear "racism = bad" message; the audience are invited to make up their own minds. Which means that lots of people would take this in the wrong way. And I think a lot of black American filmgoers would respond well to what they might see as criticism from an Asian filmmaker.