How the slam dunk became this director's metaphor for the Asian American experience
When is a dunk more than a dunk? When it's wrapped up in proving yourself to your entire high school.
Who are they? Jingyi Shao is a writer and director, whose latest project is the Disney film, Chang Can Dunk.
What's the big deal? Though the premise is pretty straightforward, the plot touches on many elements others may identify with: Chang trying to earn the respect of his peers as an Asian American and novice athlete; struggling to gain his single immigrant mother's understanding; and believing in himself enough to achieve his goal.
Want to hear more from Shao? Listen to the NPR interview by clicking or tapping the play button at the top.
What are they saying? Shao spoke to NPR's Ailsa Chang (who insists that she cannot dunk) about the process of making the film.
On the significance of ~the dunk~
From a screenwriter's perspective, you're always looking for a metaphor that's really simple and also universal. I mean, everyone that walks by a hoop wants to dunk. And the dunk is such a powerful, top three sports move. There's a home run, there's a knockout in boxing, and then there's the slam dunk. And it's like [an] athletic feat. It's not something a lot of people can do. And it brings all the attention to that person and it riles up the crowd.
And when I saw that, I think all these questions of Asian Americans coming into our own, discovering ourselves, trying to fulfill our dreams and reaching for this goal with all these obstacles in the way, the dunk seems to be just a super simple metaphor. Yeah, it's 10 feet, it's there, you jump up and you do it or you don't. But at the same time, you're weighed down by invisible things.
On his own relationship to the story:
When I create stories, I try to relate it to personal experience. And so Chang is Asian because I'm Asian. Growing up, I tried my hardest not to think of things that way. I tried to convince myself that I was just me and race didn't matter. But at a certain point, you do come across these things that people perceive of you, and you're running up against these barriers and you're trying to prove them wrong in different ways, not just to everyone else, but to yourself. So for this character to be Asian, I think that the whole thing of trying to disprove other people's beliefs of you, or you're trying to be cooler in school, is a universal thing.
So, what now?
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