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‘My heart bled for them’: Director Justin Chon’s ‘Blue Bayou’ aims to change the fate of American adoptees facing deportation

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In a shotgun home in the Louisiana bayou, a Korean adoptee’s small-town world is rocked when he finds out that in the 30 years he’s lived in America, he is not considered a citizen and is at risk of deportation.

Justin Chon, the writer, director and star behind “Blue Bayou” plays the character Antonio LeBlanc, a financially struggling New Orleans-based tattoo artist who was adopted from South Korea when he was 3. The film peers into the lives of Antonio and his pregnant wife Kathy, played by Alicia Vikander, as parents of Kathy’s young daughter from a previous marriage.

The first scene opens with Antonio in a job interview that feels more like an interrogation as the disembodied voice of a motorcycle shop owner poses a familiar and microaggressive question, “Where are you from?” and then immediately presses with “What did you steal?”

Antonio is a flawed character and Chon intended for him to be that way. “I wanted to tell a story of a real person, not a perfect individual,” he told Vanity Fair. “This film represents what America feels like and looks like.”

The character sports a small rap sheet of two felonies for stealing motorcycles in his youth. He’s since moved past that and wants to continue living a quiet life with his family, but his story gets muddied after a racist encounter is escalated and immigration services are brought in. The couple are then left to deal with the titanic revelation of his possible deportation to South Korea.

It’s a devastating reality for adoptees brought to the U.S. and who’ve only ever known life in it. 

Chon spent over five years researching, reading articles and listening to stories from Korean American adoptee friends about the underbelly of a flawed and crushingly rigid adoption and foster care system that stranded thousands of adoptees without many options.

Between loopholes and faulty, incomplete paperwork from their adoptive parents, “these people, now adults, would find out that they were never officially U.S. citizens,” Chon told NextShark.

Specifically for Korean adoptees, the Korean War orphaned and separated around 2 million children from their families. In 1953, Congress passed the Refugee Relief Act, which would enable thousands of Korean adoptees to immigrate to the U.S. under visas. Two years later, it was when evangelical Christians Harry and Bertha Holt adopted eight Korean War orphans, and later facilitated the process for others through the Holt International adoption agency, that more Americans were racing to adopt these displaced children.

Treated like a hot commodity and like they were in desperate need of “saving,” the number of adoptions from Korea continued to grow until more than 160,000 Korean children were adopted into Western homes in the years following the war and required a lengthy naturalization process, NPR reported.

In 2000, a sliver of hope was given to children from other countries who were under 18. Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act that protected them and gave them automatic citizenship, according to NBC Washington. But this left out the adoptees who were brought over during the ‘70s and ‘80s and had already built established lives at the age of 40 or 50. They would be doomed to starting over and going back to a “motherland” they have nothing but birth ties to.

“I was absolutely appalled,” Chon said. “My heart bled for them and figured that people needed to know.”

“Listen to him, look at him, he’s American,” Kathy says in an impassioned plea to an immigration lawyer in one of the film’s released clips. Her husband speaks with a Southern drawl, has a large eagle tattoo defiantly emblazoned across his neck and is the father of two children. Yet the titanic revelation of a looming deportation to South Korea begs the elusive question: “Who gets to decide who is American?” and “What does it mean to be American?”

Chon wants the viewer to empathize with these characters, with the Asian community who are made to feel like perpetual foreigners despite their birth status and with these adoptees who represent an overlooked part of America. He said the film “represents the idea of who we choose as our families.”

It’s also part of the reason why he got attached to the script, wound up playing Antonio and cast actors who weren’t American. He wanted them to study what it meant to be one, to define it for themselves, and to “make more intentional choices” in their acting, he told Dig IN Magazine. Vikander, who is from Sweden, took extra steps to submerge herself into it—thinking of every detail, down to her hair and the scrubs she wears as a physical therapist in the film.


(Exclusive clip courtesy of Focus Features)

“As the country continues to grow and evolve I think it’s important to look at ourselves and become more tolerant of one another,” he said. “It’s the reason I placed the film in the South. It’s not a red or blue issue but rather a film that hopefully sparks honest conversations.”

As a filmmaker, he opts to use his creative strengths in storytelling to change this bleak narrative. By empathizing with Antonio’s story, he hopes to bring enough awareness to have it shared and eventually reach the eyes of a legislator, while also serving as a warning to the large number of Asian American adoptees who aren’t aware that they are undocumented.

“If the right people see it, the right people share it, maybe the right person picks it up and there can be some legislation change, and someone who is going through this can stay and someone who has been deported can come back,” he said.

He also believes that the community needs to take more creative liberties and “branch out of just our own Asian ethnicities and tell each other’s stories respectfully” to build more unity and cohesion.

“I feel like the conversation a lot of the time focuses on Koreans, Japanese and Chinese people. We need to use our platforms for our Southeast Asian counterparts as well. It’s the reason that my next film will focus on Indonesian characters,” Chon said, referring to the one he finished filming with musician Rich Brian a few days ago and features an Indonesian father and son.

His biggest goal for his films is for people to “think about the characters one more time” as they lay in bed—that’s when he considers it a success.

“Blue Bayou” will debut in theaters on Sept. 17.

Featured Image via Focus Features (left, right)
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Celtics notebook: C’s at full strength, for a change

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Celtics notebook: C’s at full strength, for a change

Wednesday night’s game against Philadelphia kicked off a 12-game stretch that, peaking on Christmas in Milwaukee, promises to be the most contentious of the season.

Including a five-city western road trip that features stops in Utah, Portland, Los Angeles for the Lakers and Clippers, and Phoenix, every game will be against a playoff team.

That’s why Ime Udoka was at least momentarily appeased because, for only the sixth time in 21 games, he was able to put his full lineup on the floor against the Sixers. Now he can work on lessening the minutes load of players like Jayson Tatum and Al Horford — two Celtics, among others, who have probably played too many minutes.

“It’s a big part of it, especially with two back-to-backs on the West Coast trip,” he said of minutes management. “But we do get two days in between. As much as we’d like to shave minutes down of guys who have carried the load, it will be beneficial. In Rob (Williams‘) absence Enes (Kanter Freedom) has stepped up and that’s another guy we can rely on to shave some of those minutes down in certain situations. I feel good just to have some of the guys back, and seeing what Romeo (Langford) and some of the other young guys did as well, and feeling confident in any lineup or group we put out there. Any chance to help out with Jayson and anyone else who has carried the load, it will be beneficial for us going forward.

“We’ll still monitor Rob minute-wise with his wind,” the Celtics coach said of Rob Williams, who had missed six of the previous seven games to knee and illness concerns. “Obviously he’ll come out slow, same as we did with (Josh Richardson). Obviously (Richardson) played well so he went longer. But we have the full roster, the full complement of guys for the first time in awhile.”

Horford, for example, has averaged just under 29 minutes per game.

“He’s OK. He’s had some soreness at times, but when guys have been out he’s stepped up with some heavier minutes,” said Udoka. “It’s not ideal — we don’t want him to be the guy that takes on the brunt of minutes with Rob out. But Enes has been in there and done a good job as well. We’ve kind of done it tag-team-wise. Any chance to scale his minutes down, have less time out there, will be good going forward.”

Brown’s ramp-up

Jaylen Brown continues to experience a gradual increase in playing time as he continues to recover from a recurring hamstring strain.

“We’re still monitoring it. We’ve extended his stretches to eight-minute stretches now,” said Udoka. “Trying to cap it around the 32 number. He also has a leeway to go a little longer. Kind of went from 24 to 28, so we’ve gone from six, seven and now eight-minute stretches. But at the same time, he’s feeling much better and if need be, he’ll be out there longer if we have to and try to win a game.”

An old rivalry

Udoka, who spent a season on the Philadelphia bench during Brett Brown’s last season as head coach, got to view the Celtics/Sixers rivalry from the other side Wednesday night.

“Yeah, it’s a unique one that you don’t really realize until you’re in it,” he said. “Obviously, they swept us out of the playoffs a few years ago and just even before that, spending some time with Jayson, Jaylen, Marcus (Smart), Kemba (Walker) in China, they had talked about it, before realizing I was going to Philadelphia. So, made some jokes like we got mind control over Philly, and Philly said the same thing when I was there. It’s been something that is obviously pretty deep-seeded and has a lot of series over the last few years. It’s a unique one that’s not broadcast like the Celtics-Lakers one. But the teams are very competitive and a lot of guys have crossed paths with these two teams in light of it.” …

Udoka said he reached out to Joel Embiid, who has returned to action following a bout with COVID.

“Yeah, I just checked on him. Initially. He just checked back in when he was feeling better,” he said. “Obviously, somebody I got to spend a year with and a ton of time with before the bubble in Philadelphia with him. Got to know him a ton and consider him a friend and just happy he’s doing well.”

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

By HOWARD FENDRICH

The suspension of all WTA tournaments in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault, could result in cancellations of those events beyond 2022, the head of the women’s professional tennis tour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“We’re hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn’t been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region,” WTA President and CEO Steve Simon said in a video call from California. “This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that’s about what’s right and wrong.”

He said the move to put a halt to the tour’s play in China, including Hong Kong, came with the backing of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors. It is the strongest public stand against China taken by a sports body — and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars.

Peng dropped out of public view after raising the allegations about former vice premier Zhang Gaoli in a Nov. 2 social media posting that was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities.

In the month since, Simon has made repeated calls for China to carry out an inquiry into the 35-year-old Peng’s accusations and to allow the WTA to communicate directly with the former No. 1-ranked doubles player and owner of titles at Wimbledon and the French Open.

“Our approach to this and our request to the authorities are consistent and they’ll stay there. We definitely would like to have our own discussion with Peng and be comfortable that she’s truly safe and free and has not been censored, intimidated or anything like that,” Simon told The AP. “We still haven’t been able to have that conversation to have the comfort that what we’re seeing isn’t being orchestrated, to date. The second element of that is that we want a full and transparent — without any level of censorship — investigation on the allegations that were made.”

China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year, including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals, which are scheduled to be held there for a decade. The nation is a source of billions of dollars in income for various sports entities based elsewhere, including the WTA (headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida), the NBA (run out of New York) and the International Olympic Committee (Lausanne, Switzerland).

Simon said the suspension, announced Wednesday via a statement from him issued by the tour, means that tournaments could still end up being staged in China if its government follows through with his requests. If not, the events could be moved to other countries, as happened this year, when the tour’s Asian swing was called off because of COVID-19 concerns; the WTA Finals, for example, were shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico, last month.

“We haven’t canceled, as of yet, but we’re prepared to get to that point,” Simon said on the video call. “And that’ll be a point of discussion at some point: Where do you get to cancellation? Is it 2022 only? Is it for the future? I mean, those are all questions that will come down the road.”

Beijing is set to host the Winter Games beginning on Feb. 4, and IOC President Thomas Bach said on Nov. 21 that he spoke with Peng — a three-time Olympian — on a 30-minute video call. The IOC did not release video or a transcript of the exchange and said only that Bach reported that she said she was well.

The IOC said in a statement that Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and said she had requested privacy. The IOC did not explain how the call was arranged, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organize the upcoming Games.

The European Union said Tuesday it wants China to offer “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe.

A number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people have disappeared in recent years after criticizing ruling Communist Party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

A statement attributed to Peng two weeks and tweeted out by the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV included a retraction of her accusations.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said in the release announcing the suspensions. “Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

There was little immediate reaction in China, where repeated calls to the Chinese Tennis Association and the Tennis Management Center of the government’s General Administration of Sports rang unanswered on Thursday. On Chinese social media platforms, a few apparent references to the WTA’s announcement from fans were all very oblique with no direct references to the WTA or Peng in order to avoid censorship.

The U.S. Tennis Association commended Simon and the WTA, tweeting a statement that read: “This type of leadership is courageous and what is needed to ensure the rights of all individuals are protected and all voices are heard.”

International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Heather Bowler said the ITF Board would meet Thursday to discuss the matter.

“I applaud Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stand on defending human rights in China and around the world,” International Tennis Hall of Fame member and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King said. “The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”

Concerns about the censoring of Peng’s post and her subsequent disappearance from public view turned #WhereIsPengShuai into a trending topic on social media and drew support from tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova.

But news of the first #MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by the domestic media and online discussion of it has been highly censored.

“I can only imagine the range of emotions and feelings that Peng is likely going through right now. I hope she knows that none of this is her fault, and that we remain very proud of her extreme courage that she’s shown through this,” Simon told the AP. “But the one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

MARSHALL, Minn. — A southwest Minnesota middle school principal who lost her job after she displayed a rainbow pride flag in a school cafeteria filed a lawsuit this week alleging the district retaliated against her for supporting LGBT students.

A complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court claims Marshall Public Schools ousted middle school principal Mary Kay Thomas earlier this year after a heated disagreement in the community about a flag she displayed in a cafeteria in early 2020 as part of an inclusiveness campaign at the school.

According to the lawsuit, a small group of “anti-LGBTQ middle-school staff, parents, students, and local clergy” pressured the school to remove the flag, which is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride. In response to the push to remove the flag, Thomas began distributing rainbow stickers at the school.

The school eventually removed the flag in August 2021, after Thomas was forced from her position, the complaint said. She had been principal for 16 years.

Thomas claims the Marshall School District targeted her with an investigation, placed her on administrative leave, suspended her without pay and eventually drove her to quit after the district removed her as principal and placed her in a “demeaning” special projects position. She also claims school staff hostile to LGBT causes played a role in her removal and that Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams told her he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down.

In a statement, Williams said Marshall Public Schools has strong policies against discrimination to protect students and staff and is committed to creating a respectful and inclusive learning environment.

“While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct,” Williams said. “The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

Thomas had a long record of good performance reviews as principal, according to the lawsuit. In 2019, former Superintendent Scott Monson called her a “Champion of Students,” particularly the underrepresented and marginalized. But after complaints from staff stemming from the flag controversy, Williams in March placed Thomas on administrative leave pending an investigation into nonspecific workplace allegations, according to the lawsuit.

The investigation was supposed to last only two or three weeks, the complaint said, but lasted into May. Thomas, who remained on leave until the summer, filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Thomas’ lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the district and to reinstate her as principal of the middle school. It comes after a group of local residents, Marshall Concerned Citizens, sued the district in April, alleging school officials unfairly targeted a group of students petitioning for the removal of the pride flag. Their complaint claimed the school violated students’ First Amendment rights by suppressing speech in an environment “invited” by school officials.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright in August dismissed the Marshall Concerned Citizens lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the group cannot bring another lawsuit in the matter.

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