When life gets heavy - particularly over the past few months - turning to comedy is often healing for me. Recently, two of my favorite creators in the field took time out of their busy lives to have this phenomenal conversation, and were gracious enough to share it with us. Angela Tucker is a New Orleans-based filmmaker whose documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is a powerfully candid exploration of identity and stereotypes, and Hye Yun Park is a New York-based filmmaker whose mockumentary web series "Hey Yun" is as brilliant as it is hilarious. I'm honored to be able to share this wonderful exchange, and hope that you'll spend some time with these women's vital work.
Hye Yun: How do your creative ideas come to you? Mine often start with a spark in my head that lead to a passionate, ranty email filled with typos to a close friend about it. And do you mind sharing one of those first spark examples?
Angela Tucker: I have a similar process sometimes. Like for my web series, “Black Folk Don’t,” the phrase just came into my brain. It was a phrase I had heard forever from family or friends when I was doing something especially “strange.” Then I, too, sent out an email to my black friends asking them, “What are some things that black folk don’t do?” Some friends wrote back long lists and some were totally offended. That kind of spirited response helps me know that I am onto something.
For a long time, I felt like my ideas were completely arbitrary, but now I feel pretty clear that my ideas tend to deal with identity in some way, specifically through a comedic lens. An idea feels real to me when I can’t stop thinking about it. Also, I guess I like things that feel provocative. That was never the plan, but I suppose I do.
HY: Not to get all sentimental, but one day early on in our friendship you asked me - I think it was at a bar on Nostrand Ave - “How do you ultimately see yourself?” Wait, maybe it was “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” or “What’s your ultimate goal?” Anyway, I remember feeling a tingly excitement and shock when I got asked that question. I felt like I mattered to be asked that question. I think I answered some stuff about wanting to be a writer/performer, then said, “I want to be like you and Nancy (Schwartzman - an amazing documentary filmmaker and activist).” Then you said “You already are.” THAT MOMENT STUCK WITH ME. And guess what? Ever since, when I talk to young women who want to talk to me about their future or artistic paths, I always ask them that. Anyway, where I’m getting to is… How important is mentorship to you? Do you enjoy being both a mentor and a mentee? And who are some memorable mentors and mentees you’ve had?
AT: I’m glad that that question stuck with you. I am a pretty goal oriented person, so I do think it’s important to sit down and think about what you want for your life so things aren’t just happening to you arbitrarily. There are few things you can control in this crazy industry, but I want to live my life trying to do as many things as I can.
In terms of mentorship, this is hard only because I am constantly consumed with guilt about it. I have been so fortunate to have a lot of mentors. I never asked them to be mentors, but for all of the years that I worked at Big Mouth Productions (a documentary production company), incredible women like Katy Chevigny, Kirsten Johnson, and Jacquie Jones took me under their wings and taught me a lot, especially about longevity in this industry. Now I am at a stage that people come to me for that same support and it can be hard to provide.
I now see how generous my mentors were. I try to be helpful, but I get a lot of requests for advice/help. I know it’s because there are so few accessible women of color to talk to about this. I do the best I can but there are only so many hours in the day … Have I mentioned that I am consumed with guilt about this?!
Angela Tucker at the NAACP Awards
AT: I often wonder how much my choices of projects are tied to my race. Like if I was a white man, what kind of work would I be interested in doing? (It probably wouldn’t be something like “Black Folk Don’t”, you know!) What role do you think your race and upbringing in Korea has played in the work that you do? This may be hard to figure out so maybe, more specifically, do you feel as if your work is at all a reaction to your upbringing, or in response to it?
HY: I think my Asian identity and my upbringing in Korea are increasingly becoming a bigger part of my work. When I started acting, I used to be hesitant to bring that part of myself into the work. I thought I had to be the least amount of Korean to blend in and "make it" as an actor. But thanks to my brilliant acting teacher and filmmaker Deborah Kampmeier, who encouraged me to speak out in my native tongue during scene work, I no longer limit myself in that way. (I was born in Korea and mostly raised in Korea, even though I ping-ponged back and forth between the US and Seoul a lot.)
I hope my narratives evolve into deeper and wider stories, but right now I’m at a (pretty self-indulgent) phase of exploring my identities and my life choices unapologetically — like being an Asian-American queer woman, living in New York City, dead broke, making art, and hating hipsters and gentrifiers, even though I am one of them — so race and my upbringing in Korea plays a significant part. They serve as a source of INSPIRATION and a source of “FUCK YOU’s”. For example, I love telling stories or bringing in details that are a celebration of being Asian-American and Korean. I also love creating work that is a big fuck-you to South Korea’s homogenized culture, which is obsolete of diversity and has such a narrow and oppressed perspective on beauty. The erotic clown act I performed live, filmed, and put on the internet, wearing a bathing suit with a giant vagina puppet on my crotch, with my tits out, jiggling my fat body, is a full-on “GO SCREW YOURSELF, FAT-SHAMING, JUDGEMENTAL, MISOGYNISTIC KOREAN CULTURE!!!”
Ancient Toddler the Clown performing at the Boodissy Show, April 2016
Yes, I get angry easily, but I’m not angry all the time. :) I recently had a non-fury Korean inspiration moment. I don’t listen to new K-pop songs, but I listen to old school K-pop from the 80s and 90s. As I walked out my door to get to work one afternoon, I randomly put on one of my favorite oldies - a Gwang-suk Kim song - and man, music seeps so deep in the bones. Hearing that song just got me crumbling down. I was weeping uncontrollably at the bus stop in Crown Heights. And it’s not like it triggered anything traumatic, or it’s not like I’m going through a break-up or anything. It was a song that I grew up listening to in my parents’ car, and I’d ask them to rewind it on the cassette tape because I loved it so much. Hearing the lyrics and the melody of that song for the first time in several years just hit me hard. I’m sure there was a bit of homesickness, even though I consider New York my home. My entire family lives in Korea now. So yeah, after crying for a good 20 minutes on the bus, I got an idea to write a scene that is related to this song into one of the new scripts I’m working on.
HY: Do you remember our exchange when we first met? We met at a Brooklyn dinner party at a mutual friend’s and we bonded over adoring Miranda July's work. In hindsight, it’s interesting that she's white. I take notice of that now, because I see race and color a lot more than I used to when we first met. Just having made my own work, struggling to be a working artist, and bonding with other struggling artists of color in New York has made me hyper-conscious and sensitive about DIVERSITY. And it’s also much more discussed lately in mainstream culture. How important is DIVERSITY to you and your work and could you share any thoughts and feelings about it? And has there been a shift or change in your thoughts about that since your move from NYC to NOLA? By the way, I’m beyond excited for your feature narrative Paper Chase, which you had an amazing crowdfunding campaign for a couple of months ago. Tell us about the next steps for Paper Chase, too.
AT: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how lucky I am to be a woman of color. I love having such a rich culture to draw from and, because we are so underrepresented, every time I make something, I am bringing a light to us in a way that hasn’t been done before. I love that my work tends to be inherently political because I come from a group so underrepresented. It gives me a drive that helps me.
There has been a lot of talk about “DIVERSITY” and I think the goal is for everyone to stop seeing diverse work as homework. We live in a diverse world. But I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We have a ways to go and progress is tied to us having a better understanding of one another. This lack of diversity on the Silver Screen affects our culture's ability to empathize with one another and empathy, as Derrick Bell mentions, "foreshadows reform." Cinema allows people to walk in one another's shoes and invariably, leads to empathy. People of color have been walking in white people's shoes for decades and now white people need to do the same.
In terms of my shift since moving to New Orleans, well I think I feel more focused on making projects that I am directing rather than producing. I still produce but it’s passion projects made by people I respect and specifically women or people of color. It was a practical move to be in a place a little cheaper so I can make work that is true to my ideals but the longer I am here, the more I see how New Orleans is a place that inspires such incredible work. There is such an appreciation and love for art and culture in a way that is a part of the culture and not about commerce, you know? Also, in order to stay in New York and live in an even somewhat comfortable way, I was going to have to take some shitty jobs and I kinda didn’t want to do that. I just turned 40 and a big shift I feel is that I’m more intentional about the choices I make about what I do and don’t want to do.
Hye Yun and Angela
New Orleans is also a place that has so rarely been shown in movies, other than a backdrop. I am excited to tell stories here. I was inspired to write Paper Chase with my friend and New Orleans native Lauren Domino. We wanted to tell a story that is specific to who we were as black women but we also wanted to tell a story that could only take place here in New Orleans. We are in development right now but moving quickly. I am getting nervous actually but I’m excited. Black Folk Don’t is coming back in September. I feel really excited about that and there’s more to come.
AT: Your work seems very connected to the body, not just in terms of narrative threads and body pride but also in terms of movement. Can you speak on that a bit?
HY: This makes me so happy that you noticed this. The main training in my craft is acting. I went to a great acting conservatory and kept studying with my mentors throughout the last 10 years. And the part of my training that I cling the most to is MOVEMENT. That isn’t to say that I am agile, a good dancer, or flexible.
Angela Tucker directing on the set of "Black Folk Don't"
My movements are extremely elementary when I’m on stage. But I love focusing on the movement of bodies, and how those movements coalesce and mush in with the space they’re in. I could be in the darkest ditch of my depressive moments in New York City, and what lifts my spirits up the most is noticing a bizarre gesture that a stranger on the subway makes, the way someone shimmies their hips as they walk, a certain note someone’s shriek hits, or the way a mother swoops up her child throwing a tantrum. I can’t explain it exactly, but when a movement happens when the person or creature’s heart, voice and body is in sync, it makes my heart beat faster and harder.
When I’m feeling blocked with writing, acting or living life, I try to take a moment to breathe and listen to what my vagina says, or try to speak from my vagina — not in a sexual way, well sometimes in a sexual way, but in the womb brain way. I am definitely not a book smart person, but I trust my emotional and instinctual intelligence. So yeah, movements that happen from the vagina, the womb, the root chakra, your essence, whatever you may call it, gets me all giddy and excited to create. And I try to incorporate that into my work. Thank you for noticing that.
HY: What are some of your biggest fears as an artist and as a human? Or are they not mutually exclusive? And what are your self-care methods to conquer or tame those fears? Also, what role does COMEDY play in your life as a writer and filmmaker? We have shared our love of stand up comedy and comics, the last few years. I think of Angela the first, when I spot a new comic I love to like or love to hate.
AT: My biggest fear as a human … wow, that’s a big one. I’ll be honest and say probably my biggest fear is dying young. My parents and brother all died at relatively young ages and death looms large for me.
In a strange way, it’s a blessing because I truly understand how short life is and that it can end at any moment. I think I understand that in a way that many people don’t because they haven’t experienced that much death at my age. However, it can bring a dark cloud that I fight to shed.
I have a life coach who is amazing. She and I are working on some personal goals I have for myself and I have had to look at this fear of death a bit more in the eye. One day she asked me what would actually happen if I died like tomorrow?
And I’m like well, I would probably regret not having enough sex and love in my life! And she was like, “Yeah but you’ll be dead so like will you really be thinking about that in the afterlife?” And I was like, “Yeah you’re right.” These thoughts are just thoughts that consume you in this life so stop thinking about them and do the things you want to do.
Still from "Hey Yun" - Season 2, Episode 4 - "Calling Card" (2015)
I am big on self care! Meditation, life coaches, yoga, red wine and yes comedy! I love stand up comedy and have been a fan since I was little. My brother was a standup comedian so my Mom and I used to go to clubs all over NYC and see him. It was really painful at first because it took him a long time to get his act together but I developed such a love and respect for the art form. Now I watch all of the comedy I can consume. I like just listening to stream of conscious talking in general. It relaxes me. I also love that comedians aren’t afraid to go to dark places.
AT: What made you want to get into the web series space? What do you like about and what do you hope to do in the future?
HY: When I made my first short film before making HEY YUN, I was so shocked at the endless costs that went into trying to get the work seen. The submission fees to film festivals were overwhelming, and even after you get selected, you have to design and print postcards, posters and drop several hundred bucks? Say WHAAAAT? Now I know that you can reach out to festivals and ask for a waiver and stuff, but back then I was just flabbergasted and angry that my already poor wallet had to suffer so much, just to show my work to people. When my first short film did the festival circuit, I was seriously suggesting my producing partner, that we should write our film title, our names and info on a sheet of paper towel. We’ll color it nicely. It’ll be cheaper and original. : )
Angela with family
I’m still working my way towards becoming a career artist, which means, I don’t yet get paid for all of my creative endeavors. So I live very much hand-to-mouth working odd jobs. After that experience with film festivals, I swore to myself that the next time I create any film content, I’m posting it online, so I can share my work more immediately and not worry about overdraft fees in my bank. And let me tell you, I love the internet. It has worked for me since I can share content so immediately. My show HEY YUN hasn’t ever gone viral nor does it have a large fan base, but it’s been seen by a bunch of great folks I admire and adore. It brings me so much joy when I get emails from young queer Asian women, who resonate with it and thank me.
I love what’s happening with digital content platforms these days. I mean, even shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent are technically WEB SERIES. There are so many brilliant, clever, authentic web series out there, like your "Black Folk Don't," and I just want to keep making good shit and put ’em on the internet. For my next web series BKPI -- a dramedy with 3 women of color as private investigator’s in Brooklyn — I’m working with some amazing folks at Super Deluxe (Turner Broadcasting’s digital incubator studio). Hell yes, one day, I want to have a show on HBO or Netflix, but who doesn’t?! I’ve been shy about saying this ambition out loud, but I want to be a show runner, who makes funny and raw stories with people of color and queer folks smack in the center. I want to be the Asian Shonda Rhimes.
Angela Tucker is an Emmy-nominated producer, writer and director. Her directorial work includes(A)sexual, a feature length documentary available on Amazon and iTunes; "Black Folk Don't," a documentary web series featured in Time Magazine’s “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life” that will be returning in September 2016; "The Older Fish," a short documentary for Time Inc.; and "Just the Three of Us," a short fiction film starring Leslie Uggams. She is the Series Producer for the PBS documentary series, "Afropop," and a Co-Producer on "The New Black." She is currently directing Paper Chase, a feature length comedy written by herself and collaborator Lauren Domino. She received her MFA in Film from Columbia University and teaches screenwriting at Tulane University. Visit her at tuckergurl.tumblr.com
Hye Yun Park is an actor, writer, and filmmaker based in New York. She has written and performed in several short films and made 2 seasons of the award-winning web series "Hey Yun," which she writes, directs and stars in. The pilot episode was invited to American Cinematheque's 9th Annual Focus on Female Directors screening and season 2 premiered on Wifey TV. "First Kiss NYC," a viral video she made in March 2014, has been written up by The Huffington Post, Daily Mail UK and many more. When not making films, she is prancing around town taking pictures of toys, clowning around, or acting in other people's films. She is currently in post production for her new web series, "BKPI," a comedy about 3 working-class women of color private investigators in Brooklyn. Visit her at hyeyunpark.com