Filmmaker Curtis Chin gained notoriety for his documentary “Vincent Who?” about Vincent Chin (no relation), an Asian American killed by Detroit autoworkers who blamed him for the loss of their jobs. They conflated this Chinese American with the rise of the Japanese auto industry. It was a turning point in the lives of Asian Americans. As Frank Wu wrote in the New York Times:
“The killing catalyzed political activity among Asian-Americans — whose numbers had steadily increased since the 1965 overhaul of immigration laws but who then represented only about 1.5 percent of the population — as never before. “Remember Vincent Chin” turned into a rallying cry; for the first time, Asian-Americans of every background angrily protested in cities across the country.”
Chin has turned his focus onto education. In particular, he focuses on the divisive topic of standardized testing. In Chin’s new film Tested, the documentary follows students who battle to gain coveted seats into some of New York’s top schools. This raises concerns of achievement among the city’s diverse dwellers. As the Tested website points out:
“The gap in opportunities for different races in America remains extreme. Nowhere is this more evident than our nation’s top public schools. In New York City, where blacks and Hispanics make up 70% of the city’s school-aged population, they represent less than 5% at the city’s most elite public high schools. Meanwhile Asian Americans make up as much as 73%.“
I had a moment to interview Curtis Chin about his latest project.
How did Tested come about? What made you interested in standardized test scores as a subject matter?
After the success of my first film, I was looking for a follow-up film that dealt with similar issues of racial justice and equality. That’s when I read this article in the New York Times about the racial disparity in New York City. I was also interested in the way Asian Americans were portrayed in all the discussions. I felt there was a lot of misunderstanding about our community and why education is so important to our community.
You follow a dozen kids. How did you choose the students involved?
We worked closely with the schools and prep programs. We also spread the word to our circle of friends. We specifically asked people not to recommend the students they thought would pass, but more importantly, who would have an interesting journey over the next year.
Did anything surprise you when making the documentary?
I was surprised by how open the families were to being filmed. I guess they felt this was their opportunity to share their stories.
For those working in K-12 policy or education, what do you hope they get from your film?
For us, the film looks at how these different families approach public education, but more importantly how public education approaches these different families. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that need to be challenged and dispelled.
What’s your next project?
I am working on a memoir called, “Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant.” It’s all the life lessons I learned growing up in the family restaurant founded in Detroit by my great grandfather in 1940.
Watch the trailer: