Filmmaker Vicky Shen has just completed her first, narrative feature film called “Adultolescence,” which is also co-directed with Zoe Bui (“Three Seasons,” Triple Award Winner at Sundance Film Festival). This dramedy explores culturally-specific ideas, but delves into more satisfying, universal themes of family disconnection and alienation. It presents the psychological landscape of a first generation Asian American family (first generation Asian American children with immigrant parents), adding elements of selective memory, voyeurism, escapism, and magical realism, all as ingredients that constantly alter the character of a perceived legacy by the youngest daughter, Lea May.
The story begins when Lea returns home after a major career disappointment. She is catapulted back into her real but tainted memories of growing up under the scrutiny of her immigrant mother’s watchful eye (like a Tiger Mom) that turns into a silencing but damaging disownment. As she films her present-day family and learns what it means to become an artist, Lea must confront the variations of truth that has led her to her own stagnancy and blame. By turns, she realizes there is no escape, fantasy or otherwise, from the unconditional and almost insufferable love she shares with her mother.
More about Adultolescence from filmmaker Vicky Shen:
I would like to tell you why I feel so strongly about finding an audience for this film, especially within the female and Asian American community. “Adultolescence’” is a passion project but is also a film that embodies timely and provocative issues that should continuously be brought to surface. Although the issues of cultural conflict between immigrants and their American-born children have been played by films, “Adultolescence’” takes a look at the raw, emotional impact and inner-conflict Asian-American women face when they find themselves breaking stereotypes and going against the grain, not just in the home but in society. Asian American women have to come to terms with their multiple identities and define feminist issues from multiple dimensions. By incorporating race, class, and cultural issues along with gender concerns, a transcendent feminist consciousness that goes beyond these boundaries may develop.
It is perhaps surprising that Asian American and Pacific Islander women between the ages of 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Perhaps this is most surprising because of the stereotype of the model minority status that is placed on this group. However, because of serious global issues or even in light of what their immigrant parents had to overcome, many Asian-American teens and young adults, who may also be comfortably upper middle-class, most likely feel that the depression they feel is not important; and they do not have the right to seek help. Without their family to turn to because of the stigma of mental health issues, young Asian American women may also find it hard to find peer education and support, incapable of finding people who can relate to their specific cultural history and multiple identities. While depression is highly treatable, the pressures Asian American women sometimes feel complicate their ability to get help and only 27 percent seek help and/or treatment. The impact of ethnic minority women’s sociocultural context on help-seeking behavior is a subject that deserves attention.
I believe “Adultolescence” aptly and emotionally will resonate with this demographic and also open the Asian American community toward thinking about depression differently and identifying the symptoms. Although the therapy scenes I had filmed originally are now cut from the film to make the film work cohesively, I plan to include them in the educational DVD as featurette, incorporating a discussion with an Asian American Studies professor who has made the issues of depression among Asian American women her primary life’s work.
One way that “Adultolescence” deals with the angst of Asian American women with immigrant parents is that it shows both sides of the cultural conflict. I think this film could possibly act as a mirror into the soul, if not a glimpse into the future, for young Asian American women as if they have the perspective of being 10-20 years older. They are given a more objective perspective about the plight of their parental figures; and through this understanding, may alleviate some of the pressure they put on themselves. The last scene between mother and daughter explains to the youth the socio-political culture of immigrant parents, that they may simply be doing the best they can. Both children and parents’ perspectives collide, yet both are justified in their world views.
“Adultolescence” also creates a cinematic forum for discussion, in terms of the options for education, prevention and treatment within the community, addressing the causes behind the high number of suicides. Asian Americans often feel boxed in, as if they must live up to high standards and succeed in all areas, and the quality of life factor is not as emphasized as in American society. In some traditional cultures, females are supposed to succeed in all areas, job, education, and act as a family role model, playing nurturing roles and putting others before themselves. The pressure of this resonates heavily on the main character in “Adultolescence,” when the father asks what Lea does to help her family, and we see a breakdown, literally and metaphorically, of a family dynamic that depends on certain social constructs. The pressure of putting personal dreams on hold is not a new idea for Asian-Americans, especially the dilemma of knowing their parents sacrificed their livelihood to secure their children’s future, how do first-generation Americans reconcile fulfilling parental expectations and going after their own dreams? “Adultolescence” seeks to push the boundaries of this paradigm to the toll it takes on both parties, and to educate both sides through a personal story. Lea in “Adultolescence” plays out conquering her fears of pursuing artistic endeavors in the territorial world of surfing. Through filming her family, a camera lens voyeuristically and awkwardly seeks the truth for Lea, often revealing the self-consciousness Asian Americans feel when they seek an identity outside of the norm.
In summary, I would also like to offer a discussion after this film to incite dialogue about depression, the inability for young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to discern just how seriously depression is or even and how to identify it and seek help, which is rarely linked to cultural conflict. On a personal note, I was shocked to learn about the alarmingly high statistics. For many upward-bound Asians, with the opportunities given by their education to experience such depths of depression, indicates that happiness is not dependent on financial security and economics. Being an involved member of the Asian-American community and in artistic and academic circles, I wonder if I didn’t know how widespread this problem is, perhaps the new generation of Asian-American women is unaware as well. Those who experience depression would feel less alone in this struggle if we could openly communicate this issue through as many venues as possible.