Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Filmmaker to Document Asian History at W&M for Centennial

Behind the camera: Marissa Aroy, distinguished film fellow for William & Mary’s Asian Centennial, will create a documentary on the Asian Pacific Middle Eastern experience at the university. (Photo by Tony Gavin)

WILLIAMSBURG — Documentary filmmaker Marissa Aroy will be on campus in April to begin work on a video history of Asian people’s experiences at William & Mary.

Aroy is serving as distinguished film fellow for the university’s Asian Centennial. Roberto Jamora in fine arts and Rinabeth Apostol in theatre are also centennial arts fellows.

“I just feel a lot of privilege, and I feel like I just want to do everyone proud with the work that I do for the centennial,” Aroy said.

Aroy is co-founder of Media Factory video production company, which is based in Ireland where she currently lives along with New York City. She teaches filmmaking at Trinity College Dublin and an online class in documentary filmmaking at The New School in New York and has been a guest speaker in several W&M classes.

Aroy won an Emmy Award for her documentary “Sikhs in America” and received an Emmy nomination for “The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement,” which along with “Little Manila” aired on PBS. A Fulbright Scholar, Aroy previously worked as video producer and assignment manager at United Nations Children’s Fund. At W&M, Aroy was awarded the first Hatsuye Yamasaki Award for Visionary Leadership, which is named in honor of the first known Asian American woman to attend W&M and one of the university’s first Asian American students.

“I focus and found my wheelhouse in making documentaries about under-represented people in the United States,” Aroy said. “A lot of that is Filipino Americans and Filipinos in the United States, but also it’s been about Sikhs, Sikh Americans. And then in general, (I’ve been) looking at social issues in the United States with different documentaries having worked for other filmmakers and then for myself.”

Aroy grew up in Bakersfield, California, with a love of movies that came from her father. He had always watched movies while growing up in the Philippines and enjoyed the experience with his daughter both in theatres and at home after video cassettes came out, Aroy said.

“So I always thought that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” she said.

Francis Tanglao Aguas, professor of theatre and Asian & Pacific Islander American studies and co-chair of the Asian Centennial Committee, will serve as executive producer for the W&M video project. Aroy will create a documentary on the Asian Pacific Middle Eastern story at W&M along with Deenesh Sohoni, professor of sociology and co-chair of the centennial committee, who is heading up the research component, and Lisa Crawford, director of video and multimedia, as head of production.

“There’s been a great deal of help from the Asian Centennial Committee and particularly from some of the students at William & Mary who are helping with the research,” Aroy said.

Student research on Pu-Kao Chen ’23, who came from China to become the university’s first Asian student, is a starting point. His writings describe his journey, treatment by those around him and impressions.

“We’re going to use that a lot in this telling of the experience for some of the very first Asians to come into William & Mary,” Aroy said.

The project will likely take the rest of this calendar year.

“It will be sort of this evergreen piece that shows what it was like for Asians coming in, but also as a sense of opening up of William & Mary to people of color,” Aroy said. “It will also humanize for us now these black and white photos of people from the past and contrast that with some of the students that are there now, particularly the ones who are doing the research.

“We’re in a different place with how Americans, in particular, feel about Asians, how they’re treated. And I think it’s good to always be able to — during a centennial celebration and commemoration too — commemorate looking at what was the past and trying to understand what that looked like then but understanding that we’re looking at it through a lens of us now and that’s a very different lens.”

This story is brought to WYDaily readers courtesy of William & Mary.

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