Twenty-four-year-old Jessica dela Merced has been experiencing a little bit of unexpected fame recently. The Filipina American, San Francisco native is currently a second-year graduate student at New York University and her short student film, Bleached, has been the subject of much buzz on the Internet – and it hasn’t even been completed yet! We sit down with the rising auteur to get the scoop behind her film and its controversial topic, skin bleaching in the Asian community.
Audrey Magazine: What’s your reaction to the recent buzz on blogs and Twitter about your film?
Jessica dela Merced: The movie isn’t even done yet and the fact that the trailer alone is getting a lot of attention is crazy. Even this interview is insane! [Laughs] But I think that’s just indicative of how big of an issue this really is. Some people who’ve heard about my film have asked me, “So … those bleaching creams exist?” and I say, “Yeah! I didn’t make that up!” It’s crazy how some people don’t know about those products or the harmful consequences they can have.
AM: What inspired you to make the film Bleached?
JDM: With everyone they sometimes buy into that whole beauty thing, whether they want to change their weight, their appearance or their skin color. And it’s just started to really bug me. I’m guilty of falling into that whole thing myself, but it just really disappoints me that other people’s opinions of you can change who you are. It can make people second guess themselves and that’s a dangerous thing. I know it’s impossible to not listen to what other people say and we have a long way to go for men and women in terms of just accepting who you are and being happy with it.
Honestly, my mother never made me use bleaching cream. I don’t remember exactly how I became familiar with this topic, but I know that when I was younger I wanted to use the soaps and the creams myself. My mom introduced them to me, but like I said, she never forced me to use them. I just always had this weird desire to use the products and I really wanted to explore that with this movie. It’s not autobiographical at all in terms of my mom forcing me to use bleaching products. I hope no one thinks that about her because she’s a saint! [Laughs]
AM: How did you come up with the story and are any characters based on people you know in real life?
JDM: I’m Filipino so I know how most Filipino families work. [Laughs] The characters are loosely based on my family and friends who aren’t so confident with how they look. That really upsets me so I put that all into my main character [Lenny, played by dela Merced]. My film isn’t just about skin whitening cream. There are a lot of beauty issues that do come up. Overall, it’s a movie about a girl who knows herself, but she gets confused because of other people and she starts to lose herself. She’s forced against a wall and has to find herself again and I think a lot of people can relate to that.
AM: How was the filming process?
JDM: Filming is complete. We shot the movie in San Francisco this past November. I planned for this to be a half animation movie so I’m working with an animator right now. It was tough being the director and main actor of the film. I also had a small crew to work with because I had classmates from New York fly in and I had friends from Los Angeles come to help. It wasn’t as big of a crew I could have had if we had shot in New York, but I really wanted the film’s story to be authentic so we shot in San Francisco.
AM: What was your favorite part about filming?
JDM: We shot at my old high school [St. Ignatius] so I was able to cast students as extras. It was really cool to go back there and incorporate them into the film. There’s also a vomit scene that’s my favorite. It’s really hilarious and I can’t wait for everyone to see it!
AM: How did Henrietta Gard and Elaine Pinto get signed on to the project? How was it working with them?
JDM: I actually had a really tough time with casting. It was hard finding Filipino actresses in general. We did casting in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and couldn’t find anybody. I found Henrietta Gard and Elaine Pinto through SF Casting. They were pretty much the only two people who submitted for the roles and, luckily, they were perfect for the mom and grandma. This is Henrietta’s first film because she usually does print work, but she was amazing. I think the reason why she was so good for this role is not only because she’s Filipino, but she’s also very aware of the whitening cream issue. She has a really interesting back story. Her ticket to get to America was to become a flight attendant for Philippine Airlines, but they only accepted light-skinned Filipinos. Henrietta was dark so she stayed out of the sun for an entire year just to get that job. It was too perfect! When I heard that story I knew she was the right person for the role.
AM: Last I checked, on the film’s site more than $8,000 was raised. How did you feel when you found out the goal was reached?
JDM: I pretty much cried, to be honest. I felt like George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life. [Laughs] I worked all this summer and saved money and thought, “I’ll just keep working until I make enough money for it,” so I was stressing about money a lot. The first donation was actually made by my friend and I could not stop crying! Friends and family members donated. Most weren’t even my family members! People I don’t even know donated. Just knowing that there are people out there who don’t know me but donated because they believe in this project is such an amazing feeling. I’m also thankful for everyone who’s been spreading word about the movie. It’s so great!
AM: What are your future plans for Bleached?
JDM: I’ll be submitting the film to festivals and I’m hoping it’ll do well in the film fest circuit. It’s a story that hasn’t been told yet so I hope it can make its way around film festivals.
AM: What do you ultimately hope to achieve with the film?
JDM: I want to open people’s eyes to this issue and for them to realize that it is a problem. It’s a problem not just for Filipinos or Asians, but everyone. It’s a big thing in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and India. The products are sold in the black market in the United Kingdom and are being sold here in the U.S., but called “blemishing cream.” I’m not saying that it’s totally wrong to use these products, but as soon as you try to change other people by saying they need to use them it becomes a problem and it needs to be addressed.
AM: What do you hope people will take away with them after watching Bleached?
JDM: Honestly, I hope that people don’t feel like I am lecturing them with this movie. I wanted to tell this story because I have been prone to feeling bad about how I look and even wanting to be Caucasian at one point in my life. I just think now, in retrospect, it’s just so ridiculous. I think people who use skin whitening products need to think about why they use it and why they feel they need to change themselves. I hope the film inspires people to look at who they really are. It’s hard to really see yourself because there are so many things that influence us like the media, friends and family. It’s difficult to really know who you are and to be happy with yourself, but if you can start earlier, the better off you’ll be.
If you’d like to know more about Bleached or how you can help support the movie, visit the film’s website www.indiegogo.com/bleached-the-movie or contact Jessica dela Merced at email@example.com.
We may be nearing the end of October, but that doesn’t mean breast cancer awareness stops here. The most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American women is something we have to be vigilant about year-round. Here, a personal story about one woman fighting for awareness in the Asian American community.
“Asian women don’t get breast cancer.”
What if you heard these words from a medical professional? Susan Shinagawa did in 1991 after finding a lump in her breast during her monthly self-exam. Today, it’s those words that drive the work she now does. Shinagawa wants to make sure that no other woman of Asian descent will hear these words and that all women regularly get screened for breast cancer.
A decade ago, Shinagawa was working as a program administrator at an academic cancer center in San Diego, Calif. She says that, at the time, she knew very little about cancer even though she worked at the center. A friend of hers was giving breast self-examination (BSE) workshops and asked Shinagawa to attend. So she went to support her friend.
At the workshop, Shinagawa’s friend mentioned several risk factors for breast cancer that caught her attention. She had a couple of those risk factors and decided that she should start doing BSE. She began doing monthly BSE and recorded what she felt each month on a breast map.
“After several months of doing monthly self-exams, I felt something completely different in May 1991 than I’d ever felt,” Shinagawa says during our phone interview. “It was really obvious and just underneath my skin. I could even look straight down and see this lump sticking out.”
Shinagawa was preparing to take a leave of absence from work to join her naval pilot husband in Florida for a year. Before she left, she decided to get the lump checked out.
Her mammogram came out negative. However, says Shinagawa, at that time, 40 percent of all pre-menopausal women had false negative mammograms. The diagnostic radiologist decided to do a sonogram, which showed Shinagawa’s lump to be a solid mass, and not cystic. So Shinagawa went to see a surgical oncologist, who told her that she had fibrocystic breast disease, a.k.a. lumpy breasts. He told her that she had nothing to worry about, that she was too young to have breast cancer, she had no family history of it and besides, “Asian women don’t get breast cancer.”
“At that time, I really didn’t know anything about breast cancer or cancer statistics. So his comments really didn’t hit me,” says Shinagawa. “All I was thinking was, ‘I’m young and this is what I want to hear.’” But a little voice inside Shinagawa’s head kept telling her that something was going on.
The Asian American Music Festival 2010 (AAMF) is an event not to be missed this fall. You’ll have October 15, 16 and 17 to choose from, so there’s no excuse for missing out on the international music festival featuring concerts, dance and educational programming. The festival will be held at Los Angeles’ Japanese National Museum.
The AAMF is the world’s leading festival celebrating Asian American music, from jazz, pop, world music, hip-hop and electronica. AAMF celebrates the artistic and creative achievements of Asian American, Asian, and Asian Pacific Islander artists in all genres of music. This year, headliners include ukulele legend Jake Shimabukuro, groundbreaking hip-hop artist Shing02 (“Shing-Oh-2″), and international songstress Charmaine Clamor.
These superstars will be joined by an eclectic lineup of Asian American virtuosos including Jon Jang, Dana Leong, Kero One (we featured his amazing video “On Bended Knee”), Gary Fukushima, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., Noel Okimoto, Emi Meyer, Shanghai Restoration Project, and Sachal Vasandani.
“As a promoter, the only thing better than having a sold-out festival is having a sold-out festival filled from start to finish with music I love. And I really love this festival’s lineup!” says festival founder and director Paul Im. “I’m extremely proud of our programming this year. We’re presenting the most current, culturally relevant, and artistically engaging artists of Asian descent in the world today, all together in a cohesive format. ”
This year’s festival will be celebrated in five movements:
Movement 1 (Friday evening, 10/15): Urbanisms features west coast hip-hop star, Kero One, opening for Dana Leong’s Milk & Jade project which fuses electronica and hip-hop. Movement 1′s headliner is Japanese rapping sensation, Shing02.
Movement 2 (Saturday afternoon, 10/16): Generations is a direct tribute to the Asian American jazz legacy and the API consciousness movement with performances by two generations of leading Asian American pianists, Gary Fukushima and Jon Jang. Movement 2 closes with the world premiere of “Concerto for Jazz Orchestra and Taiko” composed by Jon Jang, performed by The New Asian American Jazz Orchestra directed by Gary Fukushima.
Movement 3 (Saturday evening, 10/16): Stars of the Islands is Hawaiian music night with international pop superstar Jake Shimabukuro headlining. Abe Lagrimas, Jr. and Noel Okimoto open with their vibraphone and drums quartet.
Movement 4 (Sunday Afternoon, 10/17): Angles features Japanese American pop-jazz superstar Emi Meyer opening for Undercover Culture recording group, Shanghai Restoration Project, in a multi-media hip-hop and electronic performance.
Movement 5 (Sunday evening, 10/17): Identity closes AAMF with two stars of unique artistic and cultural identities: singers Sachal Vasandani and Charmaine Clamor in two performances of jazz with world influence.
“This year’s Asian American Music Festival, an evolution from the Asian American Jazz Festival, reflects our decision to celebrate all expressions of music by API artists, no matter the genre,” says Im. “Asian American artists have had rich histories in hip-hop, jazz, world and electronic music. The festival celebrates diversity while focusing on Asian American cultural identity and the API artists who share this connection.”
October 15-17, 2010
Japanese National Museum, 369 East First Street, Los Angeles, CA
Online ticketing is now available through the festival’s website www.AsianAmericanMusicFestival.com
Whether you opt for black stripe or navy stripe, this is an outfit that would flatter any woman’s shape. What’s even better is that you can dress it up for a romantic dinner or dress it down for brunch with your girlfriends. What’s not to love?
This bracelet has a very vintage feel with a touch of punk flare. A 14k gold plated skull offsets the brilliant, faceted gemstones. It’s a little out of the ordinary, but who wants to look ordinary fashion-wise? Get this bracelet and you’ll probably never want to take it off.
Glee’s second episode of the season is on tonight! And this being the Britney episode, we know it’s going to be a good one.
However, it was last week’s episode that was an unforgettable one to our writer, Camelia.
Here are her thoughts.
As an admitted gleek I had been waiting all summer for last week’s season two premiere of the Fox hit show Glee. As a Filipina American I was eagerly anticipating seeing 18-year-old singing sensation Charice belt her heart out for the world to hear. Charice’s appearance on Glee is a huge deal for the Filipino/Filipino American communities, but it is also a huge deal for the Asian/Asian American communities as a whole because she is continuing to put Asians/Asian Americans on the map in big ways.
The fact that Charice landed a role on an über popular primetime television show is a big deal to me, personally, because I grew up rarely seeing any Asian Americans on TV. However, when I did see an Asian American they were usually the bad guys beating people up with their karate moves; the nerdy guy or girl in the background; or the outcast foreigner with a thick accent and only speak broken English. What’s even more exciting to me is that on Glee Charice, a girl born and raised in the Philippines is playing the role of a Filipina girl born and raised in the Philippines who “totally” speaks English, as she told Rachel Berry.
As soon as Charice’s character Sunshine Corazon began singing her breathtaking version of “Listen” from Dreamgirls, tweets about Charice exploded on Twitter and people immediately updated their Facebook statuses to praise the young vocal prodigy. YouTube star AJ Rafael tweeted to the singer, “Charice, I love you. You make us singers proud. And most importantly you make us Filipinos proud.” Hundreds of Filipinos instantaneously retweeted Rafael’s message in support of their fellow Filipino.
The fact that individuals like Charice, Harry Shum, Jr., Jason Wu, AJ Rafael and Manny Pacquiao can become household names here in the U.S. shows the positive shift going on in our society right now. More and more people are recognizing the talents of Asian Americans and are no longer limiting them to just being intelligent and hard working. We’re slowly moving away from further perpetuating stereotypes about Asians such as being the “model minority” and it is FREAKING AWESOME. It’s awesome that young Asian Americans growing up right now can look up to musicians, dancers, fashion designers and athletes who may have similar backgrounds to theirs and look like them.
Glee airs on FOX Tuesdays at 9PM.
Femme Metale’s “Big Cinnabar” ring is the most dramatic in their collection. It features a real cinnabar bead cut in half and set in a smooth bezel and is cast in fine 925 sterling silver. To me, it also kind of looks like an old-fashioned ink stamp so it’s a piece of art and a jewelry piece all in one!
Treat your hand to this ring. You won’t be sorry!
I’m usually always running off from one place to another, therefore, I don’t ever feel the need to style my hair in the mornings. I just grab one of my trusty hair ties and throw my long hair into a ponytail.
I don’t often use hair accessories other than plain black hair ties and bobby pins, but I just might consider the Di Manno Designs ponytail holders; especially the “Python” one.
Some may say what’s the point, but I say, “Why not?” Putting her hair up in a ponytail is the easiest hairstyle a woman can do herself. Who says you can’t spice it up a bit with a little python skin?
After its success last year with “Le Fooding d’Amour Paris-New York,” Le Grand Fooding is back this year with a brand new event, “New York vs. San Francisco.” The best chefs from the rival coasts will engage in a friendly battle to showcase their greatest dishes representing their respective cities. All you have to do is peruse and eat. The two-night culinary extravaganza will take place on September 24 and 25 at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in New York City.
Among the featured chefs are Korean American David Chang (owner of the famed Momofuku restaurant in New York) and Thai American James Syhabout (of Commis in Oakland, Calif.). Chang, who will be presenting a dish called “Beets, goat cheese, walnuts,” provided this (good-natured?) challenge to his Bay Area rivals (as told to Anthony Bourdain in 2009): “Fuckin’ every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate with nothing on it. Do something with your food.” (I like Daniel Patterson’s comeback: “David who?”)
The more diplomatic Syhabout succinctly retorted: “To keep it simple, best rhymes with West.” Syhabout will be serving up “Scallops with smoked stone fruit emulsion, licorice herbs.”
During both nights there will be a pizza cook-off pitting two of the best pizza masters of each city — Charlie Hallowell for San Francisco and David Sclarow for New York — against each other. Foodies can also look forward to cocktails prepared by New York mixologist Jim Meehan (of Please Don’t Tell) and San Francisco mixologist Erick Castro (of Rickhouse). Heading up Le Grand Remix Grill is Japanese American hip-hop producer and deejay Dan the Automator.
Le Grand Fooding 2010, New York vs. San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art PS1
Jackson Ave./46th Ave., Long Island City, New York 11101
To purchase tickets, click here.
Do you like being the center of attention and turning heads wherever you go? Then you’ll probably love Dimepiece Designs’ “Hold Me Tight” dress (in black). With an exaggerated sweetheart bust, sheer mesh yoke, and four specially placed black faux leather hand appliqués you won’t have to worry about blending in with the crowd. This dress screams “Look at me!” and if that’s the attention you crave for, then you better scoop this little number up for your next night out on the town.