Re:Orientations is the diverse queer Asian documentary we needed

Director Richard Fung explores the continued relevance of queer Asian issues

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Asian person appears to be in the middle of a dance performance on the floor with their back arched, while holding up a white mask to their face and a rope tied loosely around their neck and waist.
The documentary returns to chronicle Queer Asian Narratives across generations. PHOTO: Richard Fung / Re:Orientations (2016)

By: Meera Eragoda, Features Editor

On July 20, Love Intersections, a queer arts collective, hosted Yellow Peril: Reimagining Queer Asian Futures with sponsorship from Vancouver Pride Society and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. The event was named after Kendell Yan’s, aka Maiden China’s, film of the same name. The event also incorporated an hour-long documentary titled Re:Orientations which presented a diversity of Asians.

In 1984, director Richard Fung filmed Orientations which followed 14 Asians in Toronto as they navigated their race and queer identity. Re:Orientations followed seven of those in the original film, 30 years later, to see how their experiences had changed. Fung and assistant Nathan Hoo also interviewed younger members of the queer community.

Watching this, I was struck by how much this film captured Toronto’s diversity of Asians including brown Asians. I moved from Toronto to Vancouver when I was 14 and I remember implicitly understanding that I had gone from being Asian in Toronto to being “brown” in Vancouver. To this day, I still have to explain to people here that, yes, South Asians are indeed Asian. Seeing brown Asians being represented in Re:Orientations allowed me to feel seen in a way I haven’t in BC. 

I haven’t watched Orientations, but Re:Orientations featured clips from it along with the reactions of participants watching their younger selves on screen. It also included more recent interviews with returning and new participants. In an article for CBC Arts, Fung wrote his purpose in making the film was to represent contradictions and to open up questions that face our communities in the future.” This was reflected in the embarrassed and disbelieving reactions participants had about what their younger selves had been thinking. Many reflected on how much they’d grown in the intervening decades and how their opinions had become more nuanced.

The film explored issues such as the understanding that younger generations of queers don’t really recognize how difficult it was to be queer and Asian in the 1980s and how much fight had to be put in. One participant explained how even the activism around HIV/AIDS excluded Asian men who had to fight against the gatekeeping of access to treatment. Towards the end of the film, Re:Orientations paid tribute to four participants who had passed away as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. We now know that while HIV/AIDS was stigmatized as a gay disease and used to justify not providing treatment, it does not in actuality only target gay men. So it was surprising to me to see parallels to how monkeypox is being spoken about today, and while treatment is being provided this time, once again, an infection that does not see sexuality is being used to further anti-queer conservative beliefs.

The film covered lots of ground. A few of the other topics addressed were navigating dating and Asian stereotypes, marriage and the idea of homonormativity, the need for adequate supports for aging queers, and having conversations about queerness within Asian communities. This remake and the continuity of concerns the queer Asian community has to contend with makes Re:Orientations a film worthy of further discussion.