UPLOADED: THE ASIAN AMERICAN MOVEMENT is a feature length documentary conceived and created by a team of recent graduates of UC San Diego headed by up-and-coming young director Kane Diep, UPLOADED is a product of, and celebration of, the generation of new media artists and activists that have sprung up in the age of social media and YouTube. The roots of this movement, as seen in director Diep’s film, go far deeper than simply a mass migration to YouTube. In the process, the netizens who have staked a claim to this new online environment share stories that betray a struggle with acculturation that eerily mirrors identity issues in the real world.
Locating the new rise of Asian Pacific American cinematic empowerment with the release of Justin Lin’s BETTER LUCK TOMORROW in 2002, UPLOADED races far ahead of most activistas’ accepted milestone of APA cinema’s coming-of-age — Wayne Wang’s 1983 CHAN IS MISSING. As actresses Amy Hill and Parry Shen (the lead actor of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW) are quick to point out, the mainstream public had precious few opportunities to see the “real” Asian America onscreen until director Lin’s breakthrough at Sundance 2002 and subsequent mainstream success. Even then, gaining traction in the mainstream arena remained daunting.
Thus, a newer generation of mediamakers —DIY filmmakers, musicians, performers, and casual cineastes — found a means of bridging their involvement between live and online arenas. Mike Song, a hip hop dancer who found fame via his viral YouTube dance videos and with the multi-episode web series THE LXD, recounts his first exposure to Asian American performing arts through attending an early iteration of Kollaboration, the brainchild of comedian Paul “PK” Kim, which gave budding Asian American singers and songwriters a space to grow their craft. Kevin Wu describes his use of YouTube to hone his persona as KevJumba as a means of breaking through teenage introversion, while artists such as Freddie Wong, Jon M. Chu, Paul Dateh, and many others began creating cinema for the web as a hobby, only to become so proficient at it that they all committed to a career in media and the arts. More poignantly, artists such as Christine Gambito (HappySlip) recount the impact of their video entries on their audiences; in Gambito’s case, a devotee dying of cancer asks to use one of her songs in a “celebration of life” ceremony, only to pass days later. The fan’s family, however, follows up the request, to which Gambito happily agrees. Episodes like these are what gives UPLOADED its soul. The movement hasn’t gone away. As the filmmakers discover, it has taken root in a new frontier environment and thrived.