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UPDATE 12/22/09:

CNN has posted a new article and video on Lou Jing, “TV Talent Show Exposes China’s Race Issue”:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/21/china.race/index.html

UPDATE 11/17/09 to original post on 10/1/09:

A newer article appeared in an Australian newspaper with an updated interview with Lou Jing. She says,  that she “was shocked by the thousands of web postings that followed, most of them negative and many of them expressing racist views.

“I couldn’t help crying. I felt hurt. I never meant to offend anyone,” she said.”

Read the full article here:

“Oriental Angel” triggers China race row

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Sharon found this fascinating article about a mixed race contestant in an American Idol-esque TV show in Shanghai. Besides being mixed race, the catch is that the contestant, Lou Jing, was not mixed with white, but mixed with brown. Here’s some excerpts from the TIME article. -JCD

Lou Jing

Lou Jing

Can a Mixed-Race Contestant Become a Chinese Idol?

…But there is one thing that distinguishes this 20-year-old from her peers, something that has made her the unwitting focus of an intense public debate about what exactly it means to be Chinese: the color of her skin. Born to a Chinese mother and an African-American father whom she has never met, the theater student rocketed into the public consciousness last month when she took part in an American Idol-esque TV show, Go! Oriental Angel.

The marketing gurus for the series could hardly have dreamed of a better promotional gimmick when they started to investigate the backgrounds of the dozens of pop-star wannabes to root out the competitors’ mushy stories of triumph over adversity that are a well-worn staple of the genre. Here was a tale guaranteed to attract eyeballs: a girl of mixed race, brought up by a single Chinese mother, struggling to gain acceptance in a deeply conservative, some would say racist, society.

The strategy worked — perhaps too well. In August, Lou’s appearance on the show not only boosted viewer numbers but also sparked an intense nationwide debate about the essential meaning of being Chinese. Over the past month on Internet chat rooms, where modern China’s sensitive issues are thrashed out by netizens long before they reach the heavily censored mainstream media, Lou’s ethnicity has been the subject of a relentless barrage of criticism, some of it crudely racist. Many think she should not have been allowed to compete on a Chinese show, or at least not selected to represent Shanghai in the national competition. She doesn’t have fair skin, which is one of the most important factors for Chinese beauty. What’s more, her mother and her biological father were never married; morally, the argument goes, this kind of behavior shouldn’t be publicized, so she shouldn’t have been put on TV as a young “idol.”

…As for Lou, she found the whole experience more than a little disturbing. She did well in the show, ranking in the top 30 contestants before she was eliminated. Now she’s back to her normal life as a college junior — with a little new insight into her home. “Through this competition, it’s really scary to find out how the color of my skin can cause such a big controversy.”

I’m bringing this interview back from the website archives. At the time, I even asked her about the possibility of Barack Obama becoming president. What a difference a year makes. -JCD

Q&A with Gabriella Callender

Interviewed by Jessica Chen Drammeh

Originally published April 2008

Gabriella Callender is a singer/songwriter/performer whose riveting story is featured in Anomaly. She grew up in Hollis, Queens, adopted by an African American family. Coming into adulthood, she made several attempts at finding out more about her biological mother, Winnie. During the film, Gabriella has a touching reunion with Winnie. The film also interweaves Gabriella’s original songs, such as “Black and White” and “It’s You.” At a screening, one audience member called Gabriella’s singing “the voice of an angel.”

Speak the Fire

Speak the Fire

Director Jessica Chen Drammeh caught up with Gabriella to find out where she is now, and about her upcoming album release, “Speak the Fire,” with Mahina Movement.

Q: Tell me a secret! (Or a little-known fact about Gabby.)

A: I absolutely love to cook, bake and I adore colorful fabric…There. I said it. Let’s please move on. [Gabby smiles.]

Q: What was the most fascinating part of being involved in Anomaly?

A: Capturing Winnie on film – to know that a small part of her huge story will be heard by your audiences… it makes me so happy because I know, even though she doesn’t say it – it means a lot to her. Also, your diligence in seeing this project through. Your commitment to excellence – it is inspiring.

Jessica: Well, thank you! One of the most fun and rewarding parts about doing documentary work is that you get to interact with people in their real lives. And to be part of your reunion with Winnie, and follow the many parts of your life, has been an honor.

Winnie and Gabriella

Winnie and Gabriella

Q: In Anomaly, we see your reunion with your biological mother, Winnie. What is your relationship with her like nowadays?

A: Just yesterday Winnie called me up, like she does once a week, with her joke for the week …

She really thinks they are funny and gets such a kick out of telling them that I have to laugh. Winnie and I have nothing hidden between us. We accept each other for who we are and where we are. Priceless.

Q: Do you have any mantras, mottos, or favorite quotations?

A: Honor your word – it’s all you have in this whole world.

Q: How did you first meet Moana and Erica (of Mahina Movement) and what has your process been like working with them?

Mahina Movement: Moana, Gabby and Erica

Mahina Movement: Moana, Gabby and Erica

A: I first met Moana at Bluestockings Bookstore on Allen Street. She was doing a reading from her then play, “Tongue In Paint.” She got so involved during her monologue that tears came and snot began to run out of her nose – she never wiped the snot off her face, she just let it stay there…I was like “Man! That’s someone I’d love to work with.”

 A few months later I came on board and met Erica.

A lot of people ask us about our process. Well, you know, we never factored it in as a formula or anything. We show up with our pieces, then we break out the food. We warm up, go over line-ups, perform them for each other, then we are really honest about what we think works and what does not work, then we take it to the next level. We collaborate our pieces together, get them into our body through different exercises, tweak, tweak, tweak, take turns directing each other, call each other out on our shitskas and then we break out some more food. We cry a lot, laugh a lot, yell sometimes, get on each others’ nerves, have each others’ backs, and then we come back and do it all over again. If I had to sum it all up in one sentence I would say the strongest, most valuable quality of our process is that we persevere – we keep showing up for each other week after week, month after month, year after year – everything else falls into place.

Q: Mahina Movement is a trio or trinity. Do you find any symbolism in that?

A: We know, as do our spiritual followers, that we have been chosen by the Almighty God to be Her disciples….ok…ok…I’m just kidding! [big laugh] These kinds of questions make me want to make jokes. [another big laugh] Well, we each have our own meaning and personal symbols for the word Trinity – mine is this – at the end of the day we are one. Our energies are different, our personalities are very different. If you met us each individually you might not think the three of would even know each other – that’s what makes us special. When we perform together our individual ways of being fuses into something all its own –it is its own life force and for the most part it seems to work.

Q: On your new album, “Speak the Fire”–if you could make it into a food analogy, what kind of food dish would it be?

A: It wouldn’t be a food dish– it would be an entire entrée of delicious food dishes to choose from …fried chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, corn bread, enchiladas con mole, tortas, candied yams, yucca, fish with coconut, potato salad, octopus, stuffed peppers, mmm, yum, chocolate chip cookies, flan, chocolate layer cake, coconut and mango ice cream…lots of different juices to drink and of course…sparkling water.

Q: You have one night only for a jam session to play with any four musicians or vocalists, living or deceased. Who is in your fab five?

A: Just one night? Well, Omari Brown (3 years old), Imani Brown (5 years old), Angelique (3 years old) and give me two more 3 – 5 year old kids who love music ….If I only had ONE night I would definitely jam with the kids – the talent is off the hook, they are waaaaaaaayyyy fun and I can’t tell you how much I learn about being open, vulnerable and having fun when I jam with kids.

Q: If you could go forward/backward in time (or be in the present), to have dinner with one person, who would that be and why?

A: It would absolutely be the person who cooks the best food in the entire world, wouldn’t mind me with cooking with her/him, knows good wine, loves to eat, knows the art of a great conversation, and knows how to have a ton of fun without being weird.

Barack Obama at the DNC 2004

Barack Obama at the DNC 2004

Q: Barack Obama is probably the most visible mixed race person in the U.S. today. Is America ready for a black, multiracial president? (or Latino/a, Asian American, Native, Arab American, etc.)

A: We are ready for Blacks, Multiracial folks, Transgender people, Queer folks, Lesbians, Gay men (well, we’ve actually already had a few of these), Latinos, Asian Americans, Indigenous Peoples, Women, Arab Americans, Pacific Islanders, Physically impaired people, even People with piercings and tattoos – it doesn’t matter as long as they can listen to the people and get our job done. That’s what George Bush did – he got us READY. We have been eating crap for years. We are now READY for a real meal. The only people who aren’t ready are the people who aren’t ready – but they have never been ready and they might never be ready…we can’t afford to wait on them anymore.

Q: Say that in the next lifetime, you had to come back as someone of a completely different ethnic background. What would you be?

A: When I come back I’m coming back as a Gabican from the planet Gabulous …yep by that time we’ll be mixing with beings from other planets …you know, get things a little more interesting cuz lord knows those census questions could use some more flava.

Thanks so much, Gabby, for getting us up to date on your work! If you are in New York, come to the CD release party of “Speak the Fire” on Saturday, April 12th. Or, visit the Mahina Movement website to sample songs and get your very own copy of the CD! www.mahinamovement.com

For details on hosting a screening of Anomaly and having Gabriella perform live, email info@anomalythefilm.com

Jessica and composer J. Armen

Jessica and composer J. Armen

The original score for ANOMALY, as composed, recorded and mixed by J. Armen, is finished! What a joy it was to put back into the film, creating a thoroughly original sound for the scenes. Temp music is well, just that, temp music. Sometimes it’s too long, too short, too busy or too distracting.

J. Armen made some neat musical motifs that tied the score all together, drawing on vocal percussion, blues, a capella, improv, and broadly speaking, “world music.” In musician-speak, “pentatonic” and 9 part harmonies on some pieces. Check out the attached mp3! It’s a short sample from part of the end credits piece with vocals by Gwenviere Mann. (Click on and follow the link, and then play using the pop-up WordPress Snapshots.) To hear everything you have to come to a screening in 2009! 🙂 -JCD