By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Local filmmaker Jade Justad is a hapa Korean-American, based in Seattle. Her new project is a short film, “Creased,” exploring the ever-more-popular phenomenon of double eyelid plastic surgery amongst young Asians, especially, but not exclusively, young women.
NWAW: Did you grow up in Seattle? Tell us about your background.
Justad: I was born and raised in Seattle. I am of Korean Caucasian descent. I grew up in North Seattle and while there were some API kids in my schools, I was by and large removed from any identifiable Asian American community.
This trend continued even more steeply when I went to study at Boston University’s acting conservatory.
There were no APIs in my class and very few other minorities. One of the joys of making “Creased” so far is that it has opened new doors for me into the local API community. Myself and my project has been met with a lot of support. Gabrielle Nomura-Gainor, “Creased”s amazing PR hero, made a lot of introductions and through her, I have found a community partner in the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). It has been a wonderful opportunity to create new ties with my API community.
NWAW: What were your experiences as a biracial child? Did the two sides of your family get along? How did you become aware of your distinctive racial identity?
Justad: You know, I feel very lucky, I come from a very loving home. Maybe too loving–I was raised to believe I could achieve whatever silly dream I had! I knew my father was white and my mother was Korean (I was eating fistfuls of kimchee straight out of the jar as a toddler) and I knew I was biracial, but it was not an issue for my family.
I didn’t see any conflict until late in elementary school when I went on a class overnight trip in southern Oregon. Some girlfriends and I were walking through a playground and this local boy remarked loudly and disapprovingly to his friends, “Ew, why are there so many Chinese people?” I was the only Asian in the group so I guess one was too many for him! I remember that moment because I felt shocked, but I knew I had been humiliated. I cried behind a school bus with my friend and I remember that one of our chaperones, someone’s father, heard what happened and just shrugged it off. I felt very alone. I started to internalize those kinds of comments and it made me wonder if I wanted to be all white. That is definitely a theme in “Creased.”
NWAW: How did you settle on filmmaking as a career path? What about your personality, and your education, inclined you towards this? Which are your favorite films and directors, and why?
Justad: I was a shy child and acting really brought me out of my shell. I decided as a young teenager that I wanted to be an actress and I went on to major in acting at Boston University. After graduation I found that the business of acting s super tough and tougher yet if you are a woman of color. There just aren’t as many roles for us and certainly not many mainstream leading roles. There was only one hapa role I have heard of in recent years in a Hollywood film and it went to Emma Stone.
I started writing and directing short films to create roles for myself and my friends, but I quickly discovered that I prefer life behind the camera. I enjoy having greater control over my work and I love being in charge of the larger picture. I do believe that my acting training is invaluable as a director. I love working with actors, full stop.
I think Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” will always be one of my most favorite films. My parents showed me that when I was fairly young and at first I was doubtful because it was in black and white and subtitled–I probably wanted to watch a Jim Carrey film or something – but after the first few scenes I was completely drawn in. I watched it again the next day – it was just so thrilling to me on every level. And Toshiro Mifune is always the man.
NWAW: What was the first film you shot, and what do you wish you that you’ would have known then, that you know now?
Justad: I started making films when I was 25.
I wrote, directed, produced and acted in a short comedy called “Three Actresses Walk Into A Bathroom…” The film played at over a dozen festivals and picked up eight awards. Making that film felt like coming home–I knew where I belonged.
To me the beauty of that experience was that because I knew so little about the medium, I was kind of fearless. I think if anything I’m always trying to sum up that boldness I first felt.
NWAW: What inspired you to make a film about double eyelid surgery?
Justad: When I decided to write the script I spent a lot of time researching the topic and quickly discovered how broad of a subject matter it really was and it stretches continents.
I had to pick a single storyline so I went with what was most personal. I do not have monolids (though my crease was less pronounced as a child,) but to me, double-eyelid surgery is an interesting point of convergence for issues affecting Asian Americans. I grew up without a large API community and especially because I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be white and it caused me a lot of shame and anger.
This surgery is a hot-button issue for a lot of Asian-Americans and there are many people that will say that the surgery has nothing to do with wanting to look white, but if we are looking at an Asian American girl that feels marooned in a white suburb and is interested in this surgery, how can she not at least in some way be influenced by the overwhelming presence of white beauty standards? That is the story I am examining.
I was inspired in part by Julie Chen of “The Talk.” During one episode she revealed that she had had this surgery as a young reporter at the insistence of her superiors. She was told that she would never achieve success without it – her monolids made her look “disinterested” and less relatable to a wider audience.
After much debate she got the surgery and coincidence or not, she is now on national television.
What was equally fascinating to me was that after she shared her story, she presented before and after photos. Almost all of her (non-Asian) co-anchors commented that she did look better in her after photo.
This is troubling to me because it reaffirmed for Ms. Chen and possibly young Asian American women watching the show, that she looked “better” when she got rid of a very distinctly Asian feature. This idea that ethnic minorities may need to “whiten” their features is something worth examining especially as our country becomes more diverse.
NWAW: How common is double eyelid surgery, and does its popularity vary by area? Do you think its popularity is increasing?
Justad: There has been a steady rise in Asian American plastic surgery and double-eyelid surgery is the third most popular form of plastic surgery for Asian Americans.
NWAW: What did you know about double eyelid surgery before going into the film, and what did you learn as you shot?
Justad: I knew very little about the surgery until a couple of years ago. I was in a Korean-American run nail salon and at the end of my manicure, young woman doing my nails complimented me on my double-eyelids while expressing disappointment in her monolids.
I was shocked. My mother had monolids and she was very beautiful so I thought every feature of hers was desirable.
It was upsetting to hear this young woman say she thought monolids were “ugly.” I was immediately curious as to how she had come to form this opinion because few preferences are made in a vacuum. I didn’t get to talk to her more because the salon was busy, so in a way this script is a continuation of that conversation.
NWAW: How long will the finished film run, and how will its story run?
Justad: My goal is for the film to be about 15 minutes in length. There’s an old adage about short films “The problem with short films is that they are too long.” Shorter is always sweeter (and more programmable at film festivals) so I’ll be looking to keep the edit lean.
NWAW: How are you going about raising funds for the film?
Justad: I received a grant from 4Culture to help fund the film and I also have received some support from JACL. We are in the middle of our Kickstarter to raise the second half of the budget. Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1912645969/creased-a-short-film
NWAW: How do you plan to market the film once it’s completed?
Justad: Part of the funds we are raising through Kickstarter will go towards promoting the film because I really want to get this film in front of as many audiences as possible. We will be hosting a couple of free local screenings that will have a talk-back session afterwards where I hope to have some dialogue, especially with the local API community about the issues the film raises. Funds raised by Kickstarter will also go towards festival fees (festivals both local and national including Asian American festivals) press materials, duplication, etc.
NWAW: What are your plans for after this film?
Justad: Go camping with my boyfriend and cook spam, eggs and kimchee over an open fire. That’s the dream right now! Then get back in the saddle and start working on a feature film script. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.