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Christine Choy
A trailblazing Chinese American filmmaker, educator, and artist. Find FilmS in this program
“I have always identified with the have-nots … my heart relates to voiceless people, especially if they are put in a situation which is completely unjustified.” Christine Choy in the International Herald Tribune, 1999.
Christine Choy dreamed of being a movie star when she was a young Chinese immigrant watching films in South Korea. But when she moved to the United States as a teenager and saw no onscreen Asian representation, she stopped believing that was an option. Like the documentaries she would direct in the future, however, Choy would find her unique way onto screens as one of the most influential documentarians of her generation.
While studying architecture at Columbia University, Christine became friends with anti-war students and joined Newsreel (now Third World Newsreel) – a radical progressive media organization dedicated to social and racial justice – as one of its first non-white members. Despite knowing little about filmmaking, she travelled to Attica prison during the uprisings in 1971 with co-director Susan Robeson to make Teach Our Children. Choy and Robeson filmed on-the-ground footage with prison inmates, providing a platform for them to give first-person accounts of the inhumane treatment they endured.
There is a righteous anger in Choy’s works, whether it is focusing on the plight of garment workers in New York’s Chinatown, the murder of Vincent Chin and its aftermath, the poor conditions of female prisoners, or the consequences of the Korean War. Her films have a directness in their approach. They create a space that allows her subjects to speak their truth or express the fullness of their grief, while her camera interrogates authority figures, not giving them space to retreat. It is the determination to expose injustice that makes her films so resonant even today, decades later, with a lasting power to spur people into action. “I’ve heard from so many Asian-American activists of a certain generation who say that Who Killed Vincent Chin? was the spark to their own work today,” says Brian Hu, Artistic Director of Pacific Arts Movement.
Choy is also a dedicated educator, having helped launch the School of Creative Media at City University in Hong Kong as Head of School in 1998, and having spent decades teaching at New York University as one of its first Asian faculty members. Her ability to inspire students to pursue truth and justice in their own work can be witnessed perhaps most vividly in the documentary The Exiles, directed by her former students Ben Klein and Violet Columbus.
Choy’s uncompromising conviction regarding what is right makes her endlessly compelling, and we are blessed with her huge catalogue of films, which will continue to serve as a rallying cry for social justice for generations to come.

Essay by Vicci Ho.

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