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Seeking authenticity in a Chinatown built for tourists and Hollywood movies

Since its development in the late-19th century, Chinatown in Los Angeles has existed as an enclave of diaspora, displacement and elaborate Hollywood fantasy. Today, it’s a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, with streets that seem to flicker between past and future, artifice and authenticity. In her short film Street Angel, the multidisciplinary artist Michelle Sui (Chinese-born, Los Angeles-raised) highlights voices from Chinatown’s remaining working-class Chinese American population as she navigates its streets and intricate history. Throughout, she sings a refugee song from the Chinese film Street Angel (1937), attracting reactions of delight and curiosity from residents and passersby. Through her unique construction, Sui builds an exploration of Chinese American identity and culture that’s exponentially more sophisticated than the vast majority of media to have used the neighbourhood as a backdrop over the past century.

Director: Michelle Sui

Website: Nü House

28 October 2021

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