A-Town Boyz: A Feature-length Documentary


 

A-Town Boyz is a feature-length documentary about the growing up experiences of Asian American men in Atlanta, Georgia, and the lure of gang life for youths who struggle to integrate into society. This was the official website for the film.
Content is from the site's archived pages as well as from other outside sources.

 

A-Town Boyz gives a rare insight into the lives of second generation immigrants who do not fit into the privileged ‘tiger’ class, grappling with complex questions about ethnicity and assimilation, lack of opportunity and a life of crime. Delving deep into the underground Asian gang culture of Atlanta, the film shows how non-achievers turn to gang life to find a kinship they never knew at home or school, and a means to make money they never had. In so doing, it captures an edge of frame world that explodes popular stereotypes of Asian Americans as people who are ‘good at math and play the violin.’ It is a bold and provocative film that offers real intimacy of experience, forcing the viewer to think about these issues through a human lens.

 

 



A-Town Boyz (Pitch Trailer #1)
Asian-American men from Atlanta, GA give testimony to growing up in working class, immigrant families in the U.S., addressing the lack of role models at home, the difficulty assimilating in school, and the camaraderie they found in gang life.

 

 

SYNOPSIS

A-Town Boyz is a feature-length documentary about the growing up experiences of Asian American men in Atlanta, Georgia, and the lure of gang life for youths who struggle to integrate into society. It gives a rare insight into the lives of second generation immigrants who do not fit into the privileged ‘tiger’ class, grappling with complex questions about ethnicity and assimilation, lack of opportunity and a life of crime. Delving deep into the underground Asian gang culture of Atlanta, the film shows how non-achievers turn to gang life to find a kinship they never knew at home or school, and a means to make money they never had. In so doing, it captures an edge of frame world that explodes popular stereotypes of Asian Americans as people who are ‘good at math and play the violin.’ It is a bold and provocative film that offers real intimacy of experience, forcing the viewer to think about these issues through a human lens.

 

But beneath all this, A-Town Boyz is essentially a story of love, conflict and the search for identity. Shot in an observational style by the multi award-winning director Eunice Lau, and executive produced by Spike Lee, this is a story of the American Dream derailed. It navigates through the lives of two second-generation Asian immigrants and prominent members of Atlanta gangs. They are each at a crossroad in their lives, eager to break free of the gang, but struggling to find routes out. Over the course of three years, we follow them through a volatile and unpredictable period of their lives. Along the way, they talk about their past struggles, their present search for redemption and future aspirations for themselves and their children. Ultimately, the film is a vérité on the vulnerability of immigrant families in America - the problems they face due to poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers and the overt racism encountered at school.

 



 

PRESS

 

I Am Producing A Film About Asian American Gangsters Of Atlanta

Grace Jung November 14, 2013

I Am Producing A Film About Asian American Gangsters Of Atlanta
Grace Jung  November 14, 2013
Excerpt Testimonial from E.C.—A  Korean-American Gang Leader of Atlanta, GA
I was [originally] raised in Bensonhurst—a predominantly Italian neighborhood… My parents came here 40 years ago. The Italian people didn’t like us. Italian kids would run in and shout, “Chink,” break up the whole store and run out. My parents worked 14-hour shifts. My mom would sit there crying, “It’s just too hard out here.”
But as I grew up I started becoming friends with them. As I got older, when I was hanging out with my friends one day, one of my best friends, he said, “Why don’t you go home, you stupid Chink.” I remember hurting. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is messed up. I’ve been friends with these guys for a long time and they say something like that.”
I remember the first day I went to school, this kid Louie grabbed my hat. They started throwing my hat around and I remember I had a fight with this guy. I cracked him in the face and hit him a couple of times. And after that, everybody wanted to be my friend.
I want them to understand that Korean kids are no pushovers. There’s a bad stigma to Korean kids—that we are just a bunch of nerds who study all day.
I’m very proud of who I am, my culture, my people, and if I hear that people are just abusing them, I’m going to go fight. This country is not built on a bunch of us studying and becoming doctors and stuff like that. Not everyone respects that as a kid. When you get abused, [you] grow up really messed up.
I thought I was Italian since I was a kid. I only realized I was Asian when the Italian kids made fun of me. That’s when I realized what I was.
I was born in this country. I saw it for myself. You could push a couple of us around but not all of us are going to stand there. Some of us are going to push back. And I push harder than most. I wasn’t scared.

Production

For the last year and a half, I’ve been working on a documentary entitled A-Town Boyz, which is set in Atlanta, Georgia and follows the lives of young Asian-American men and their diverse lifestyles. I heard of the film in 2011, when it initially entered production with the generous help of filmmaker Spike Lee and his grant. The film is currently led by director Eunice Lau, a student Oscar recipient (region three, national finalist) for Best Documentary with her film Through the Fire, which documents women in leadership roles in Somalia. Eunice asked me to join her team Why Asian American Men?

Nobody ever asks for their point of view; Asian-American males are a neglected group in our society. The subjects of our documentary are all male, Asian American and either from or currently based in Atlanta. Our subjects have a diverse background but share some similarities: raised by immigrant parents who worked long hours (parental neglect at home) and lacked the knowledge to navigate the educational systems due to the language barrier (extra pressure on the children to figure things out alone at a very young age), and struggled with racism in their schools where Asian Americans were taunted for their looks, language, culture, etc.

Why Atlanta?

In Atlanta, where the most prevalent demographic is split into two—black or white—the Asian Americans often times fall through the cracks. There aren’t many documented Asian-American stories that come from the South, or even in general. Eunice initially got the idea to shoot this film after hearing stories about the Asian American gang life that exists in the South through a mutual actor friend—an Atlanta native. Her stories on the kinship and unique lifestyle of her peers during her former years as a gang member led the team to Atlanta with a camera. We wanted to document the stories of parental sacrifices, racism during childhood and adolescence, and what work is being done today for progress—all in the great city where American civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born.
as Producer in the summer of 2012. At the time, I was busy producing narratives, writing books, and my own feature script, but after seeing some of the footage she’d taken, I couldn’t turn it down. This movie isn’t about “Tiger” parents or their children. It’s not about stereotypes and successes. We’re filming Asian-American men who are coming of age, children to parents who admit to mistakes that came with their sacrifices, former and current gang members, and students who are looking ahead at their own future, uncertain of what’s to come.

Gang Life</h3>

Historically, many immigrants and children of immigrants have turned to the underground world for its communal and economic benefits (Italians, Irish, Israeli, Latino, etc.). Some of our subjects turned to gangs for a sense of kinship they never felt elsewhere. The upside to gang life was also the money. They preferred the ability to make large amounts of cash in just a day or two without the long hours at an undesirable workplace. Given the risks involved with this kind of lifestyle, a couple of our subjects have been in and out of prison. But over the course of two years of filming, some are now turning their lives around. One subject in particular has shown a tremendous change these last few months. (His story is especially compelling and we can’t wait to let the film show it.)
The main point we’re addressing with subjects like these is that they felt unheard and misunderstood by everyone. The lack of proper role models at home, school and in the media (a general lack of real Asian faces that are not embarrassing all of Asian Americans by perpetuating undesirable stereotypes that are easy to poke fun at or laugh at), these young men felt let down and alienated. Their introspective testimonies, and interviews with their parents, spouse, children and other members of their community show us a side of their identity that has gone unexplored up until now, and raise important questions on what we can do to make sure that the children and parents of immigrant Americans today make progress. The stories that our subjects tell are unique. They show us another kind of life and the wounds that led to it.

Hope, Progress and Support

In order to show the advances that educators and social workers of Atlanta are making, we’re documenting the younger generation of Asian Americans in Atlanta who come from immigrant and/or single mother households of low-income neighborhoods. One of these organizations is the Center for Pan Asian Community Center (CPACS) where staff members work with children and adults alike, including Asian and Hispanic families as well as with Burmese and Bhutanese refugees. Part of the great work that they do is provide counseling to children who have been touched by gang activity in some way, and advising immigrant parents on how to navigate the American systems for their children’s future. The nurturing aspect of CPACS is that the people who go there feel heard and that alone goes such a long way.
A-Town Boyz is currently in the final stages of production. Visit the website for more info: www.AtownBoyzMovie.com.

 



 

NBC News: A-Town Boyz, a Documentary on Asian American Gangsters in Atlanta


Mar 19, 2015  posted by Shirley L. Ng
A-Town Boyz is a documentary that will blow the Asian model minority myth to smithereens, according to NBC News.
It follows the lives of Asian American gang members in Atlanta, GA and their struggle to assimilate. It’s “a story of the American dream derailed,” as described on the film’s website.
In her interview with NBC, director Eunice Lau asks “What happened to those guys who didn’t take the ‘prescribed’ route to success?”
Many believe all Asian Americans study hard, attend good schools and get a white-collar job, but that is not always true as the film shows.
Lau spent three years filming two second generation Asian American immigrants and gang members. She points out that there is confusion with identity among the men in the film and in their search for better opportunities.
In the film, gang leader Eugene Chung speaks about the men, “There was no one to look up to. They saw someone like me who had a lot of money and a lot of power, and that’s who they wanted to be.” Read Chung’s testimonial.
Chung agreed to be interviewed for the film, but was later arrested by the FBI on charges of extortion, drug trafficking and firearms offenses during production in 2013.
The film illustrates how instability and not being able to assimilate ultimately led these men to gang life and how fellow gang members became their A Town Boyzclosest family. Poverty and language barriers are often the obstacles that prevent these men from assimilating, but the film does show how some were trying to turn their lives around.
During filming, the production crew was especially moved when they interviewed a mother of a gang leader who became emotional because she was never asked about how her life has been.
Filmmaker Spike Lee heard of Lau’s project and gave her a grant to suppport her film. After he saw some of the footage, Lee told Lau that the film is “not about the gang.” Lau agreed. “It’s about the struggle, to really understand what is the struggle and why they are angry,” she said.
A Town BoyzLau hopes her film will address the issues second generation Asian Americans struggle with and to share the stories of those gang members who are also “somebody’s friend, somebody’s father.”
The film will be available with English and Korean subtitles. It is currently in post-production and is expected to be completed in 2015.

 



 

Fifty years on, the overachiever stereotype is still hurting Asian Americans

Shalini Shankar
By Shalini Shankar April 6, 2015

As the cigarette smoke clears across the screen of the A-Town Boyz movie trailer, we see that Asian American men are the ones holding the guns. Not Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese men in subtitled gangster films that make the international film festival rounds, but Asian American men in a documentary set in Atlanta, Georgia. What happened to the American dream for this so-called model minority? This seems to be the question this forthcoming film’s executive producer Spike Lee and director Eunice Lau hope we will ask.

Featuring the often-ignored lives of Asian American gang members and their families in Atlanta, the documentary foregrounds a common struggle of immigrant life: finding a way into power structures and social networks that do not readily, if ever, open up to outsiders. A-Town Boyz is a timely reminder that across the United States, the “model minority” stereotype commonly used to understand Asian Americans is badly in need of a reality check.

Originally touting the economic self-reliance and social stability of Chinese and Japanese Americans, the term “model minority” was coined by journalists in 1966 as a way to praise Asian Americans for not engaging in civil unrest or advocating for state support, like African Americans were doing. Over the ensuing decades, the category of Asian American and the term model minority have widened to include immigrants from South Asia, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia due to their generally high educational achievement and representation in professional work fields.

The elaboration of the “tiger mother” phenomenon in recent years has further refined the stereotype of elite educational and professional success of this large community through popular psychology. Predictably, the trope has also created negative consequences, ranging from quotas set for Asian American college applicants to the “bamboo ceilings” that keep Asian Americans from advancing into the higher echelons of corporate America.

Nearly fifty years after the term was coined, we still see the model minority stereotype promoted in numerous contexts, including education, politics, and the media. The stereotype also remains a cornerstone of imagery produced by those in the advertising industry, who project Asian Americans as upwardly mobile and successfully assimilated into middle class America. While these representations are laudable for moving Asian Americans beyond crass racist stereotypes, as I discuss in my ethnographic study Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers, they also tend to forward an elite version of this population. Even some of the advertising executives I interviewed conceded that the wealthier Asian Americans they sought to reach did not encompass the full diversity of this population.

Enter the main characters of A-Town Boyz. Distancing itself from “tiger class” fixations on model minority success, the film’s website describes the documentary’s subjects as “non-achievers,” a counterpoint to those who are “good at math and play the violin.” To choose not to be model is more complicated than it would seem—in this case, the characters’ non-model methods of economic and social survival were borne of limited opportunity for social integration and economic advancement.

 



 

Asian 'Model Minority Myth

Shalini Shankar
By Shalini Shankar Mar.11.2015

What began as a documentary on Asian-American gang members has become a universal story about the pain and sacrifice of immigrant families in pursuit of better lives. A-Town Boyz, a new documentary currently in post-production, features the journeys of young Asian Americans in Atlanta, Georgia, whose struggles for acceptance and legitimacy have led them down difficult roads.

“A-Town Boyz really moved me as an idea,” said director Eunice Lau, a former journalist who left her job at Al Jazeera to study filmmaking at New York University in 2009. Through a Korean-American actress Lau met at NYU, in 2011 she made her way to Atlanta, a city that has seen a rapid increase in the Asian-American population since the start of the century, and met gang leader Eugene Chung, who agreed to sit down for an interview.

A few months later, production for A-Town Boyz was in full-swing with a small, but close, crew when acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee, artistic director at NYU’s Graduate Film Program, heard of the project and gave Lau a grant.

“It’s pretty amazing to have Spike’s support,” Lau said. “I brought back some rushes to show him about Eugene and the gang, and he looked at me in our first meeting and said, ‘It’s not about the gang.’”

“I started the project looking at them as characters and saying, ‘OK, he’s a gangster, he’s a rap artist,’” Lau said. “I had a certain idea of how I wanted to tell the story and along the way I realized they’re not just gangsters. They’re not just rap artists. They’re somebody’s friend, somebody’s father.”

"What happened to those guys who didn’t take the ‘prescribed’ route to success?”

A-Town Boyz looks at several Asian-American gang members and their stories, and what led them to become who they are today—from Harrison “Vickz” Kim, a father and aspiring rapper who turned to God and is trying to break free of gangs, to Eugene, the gang leader Lau met first, who was arrested by the FBI in 2013 in the midst of the documentary’s production. Through each encounter, Lau found a common thread: confusion about identity.

“There’s the big question of this myth of the model minority: we all go to school, we get our straight A’s, and we take a certain path and end up as law-abiding Ivy League college graduates who get white collar jobs,” Lau said. “But the truth is that the majority of our community did not take that path. What happened to those guys who didn’t take the ‘prescribed’ route to success?”

Director Eunice Lau hopes her film will broaden the conversation about Asian-American identity.

Director Eunice Lau hopes her film will broaden the conversation about Asian-American identity.Michael Rubenstein / for NBC News

As Lau began to focus on the journeys of the young men she met and of their families, the three-year shooting process also became a journey for herself and the crew. She recalled an interview with the mother of a gang leader who broke down and cried when asked how she, as a parent, had suffered in her own journey.

“She said nobody had ever asked her, ‘How have you suffered?’ and all of us behind the camera were holding back our tears because her story resonates with us,” Lau said. “It was the story of our parents, what they went through to put food on the table, working 14, 16, 20 hours a day and us growing up without them very much present in our lives because they had to work so hard.”

Lau and her team, who are currently raising funds to finish the film, hopes A-Town Boyz will open up a dialogue about how to address the problems second-generation Asian Americans face, while also giving young men and women the opportunity to see stories they can identify with on screen—something the documentary team feels they never saw when growing up.

“Being of a lower middle-class household, both of my parents worked full-time during the week and on Saturdays,” Grace Jung, a producer on the film, said. “I was often lonely, and in my social circles, I never once felt completely accepted for who I was. I thought I was the only one but as it turns out, feelings of instability and insecurity are typical for many Asian-American kids growing up in the U.S., and the subjects of this film illustrate it for us, along with the choices they've made in reaction to that pain.”

Jung added, “This film is very close to who I am as an American.”

 


 

CREW

 

DIRECTOR - Eunice Lau

Eunice Lau, a Singaporean filmmaker based in New York City, is a recipient of the Spike Lee Fellowship 2012 and a graduating MFA candidate at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her story “A.I.” was shortlisted for the Sundance and Sloan Foundation Commissioning Grant in 2012, and she co-directed a TV pilot that was nominated at the New York TV Festival 2012. In the factual film genre, her documentary “Hero” on Thailand's political conflict was nominated for two awards at the Watersprite International Film Festival in 2012. More recently, "Through the Fire" a documentary set in Somalia and directed by Eunice, was awarded Best Documentary at the 2013 region three AMPAS Student Academy Awards in New York and was thereafter a national finalist.

CREATIVE PRODUCER - Grace Jung

Grace Jung (Creative Producer) is an award-winning writer and film producer. She's the creator of "Billo," an animated short film directed by Catherine Min, which won the National Board Review of Motion Pictures Student Grant Award in 2009 and screened at the First Run Film Festival. She is a published author in fiction, essay, poetry and translation. She is a former Fulbright scholar, and currently working on a feature narrative.

 

PRODUCER - Sarah Winfield

Sarah Winfield (Producer) is a filmmaker with a background in business, research and the arts. Her devotion to documentaries is formed of a longstanding belief in the power of film as a means for encouraging cross-cultural and inter-generational understanding. As co-founder of Delphin Films, Sarah’s media work has been featured in the Guardian, The Times and the BBC. She is also a founding member of the Cambridge Media and Film Academy (CAMFA) and Watersprite Film Festival. Most recently, she produced Through the Fire, an award winning documentary shot in Somalia and directed by Eunice Lau.

EDITOR - Yasu Inoue

 

Yasu Inoue is an award winning editor who has worked from feature film, documentary to film trailer. Although based in NYC, he often travels to where the work is.

 



 

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