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He Trashed Hundreds Of Films In His Career. But 13 Years Ago, He Angrily Stood Up For One.

Back in 2002, a tiny indie film called "Better Luck Tomorrow" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Financed on maxed-out credit cards, cast with (then) unknown Asian-American actors, and directed by a n00b just a few years removed from film school, "BLT" seemed destined for a life of obscurity.

"Better Luck Tomorrow" was a film about bored, high-achieving Asian-American high school students who get caught up in the thrill of petty crime and end up in a little too deep for their own good.

By all accounts, the initial feedback was positive, but in an industry fueled by hype and buzz, a "moderately positive" audience response is the kiss of death.


It was kind of like "Do The Right Thing," which director Justin Lin cites as an influence, in that what "BLT" does best is present reality without spoon-feeding the audience a moral conclusion. These kids are just bored suburban kids, making questionable decisions guided by very loose moral compasses.

If these were a bunch of white kids, it would have just been a typical, angsty teen movie. But with Asian-Americans in the main roles, this film was definitely bucking stereotypes.

So what happened at Sundance?

After a few unremarkable screenings, the cast and crew went into their third screening knowing they needed a strong showing. And here's the part that Sundance dreams are made of:

At the end of the screening, an audience member complimented them for a well-made film but proceeded to berate them for wasting their talents portraying Asian-Americans in such a poor light.

There's some back and forth between the cast members and the audience, and just as the staff are about to usher people out, an unlikely spokesman stood up from the crowd and went off on a mic-dropping rant. That spokesman? Roger Ebert.

Film critic Roger Ebert stood up and defended the film:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/embed/YT2LsWsw0bU?start=1750&end=1888 expand=1]
"And what I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?' ... Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people." — Roger Ebert

*mic drop*

Ebert called out a huge double standard in the entertainment industry.

When Justin Bieber acts the way Justin Bieber does, he's not considered a disgrace to white people; he's just a plain old run-of-the-mill teen popstar burnout. Ebert nails it on the head when he says that we never hold white filmmakers to the same standard, and Asian-American filmmakers ought to be able to make whatever the hell kind of film they want to make. Nobody slams Al Pacino or Robert De Niro or Steven Spielberg or James Cameron for making ALL white people look bad.

It's also worth noting Ebert pulls off one of the most epic executions of air quotes ever caught on camera. I mean look at that! Any kind of verbal smackdown should work in those air quotes at the end.


Instant argument-winner right here, folks.

All of this matters because Ebert's rant made "BLT" one of the most talked about films at the festival.

On top of that, "BLT" eventually became the first acquisition by MTV Films. And? That fledgling director Justin Lin went on to direct a bunch of other films you may have heard of — like "The Fast and the Furious" 3 through 6 — and was credited with reviving that franchise.

  • Justin Lin has entered the rarefied area of directors who have crossed the billion-dollar box office mark, and he's NOW DIRECTING THE NEXT STAR TREK. (Sorry, geeked out.)
  • John Cho went on to star in "Harold and Kumar," another stereotype-shattering role, and the unfortunately recently canceled TV series "Selfie."
  • Sung Kang starred in The "Fast and Furious" franchises as Han. (Which, incidentally, was the name of his character in "BLT"; many have speculated perhaps "BLT" Han grew up to become "Fast and Furious" Han.)
  • Justin Lin's assistant Evan Jackson Leong went on to direct the "Linsanity" documentary.

The branches spread far and wide. It's not a stretch to say this was a watershed moment in Asian-American film history.

Would Justin Lin's talent have risen to the top anyway? I'd hope so. But because of Roger Ebert's boldness, Lin opened the door for a new generation of Asian-American talent.

We have a long way to go, but it was a good moment.

And we're not out of the woods just yet.


More recently, the soon-to-premiere show "Fresh Off the Boat" is already getting blowback from white people on Twitter about how poorly it's going to represent the Asian community or how racist it's going to be. For what it's worth, watching the previews, it actually seems creepily close to my own experiences moving to the United States from Taiwan.


At the end of the day, it's about allowing our people to be represented in three dimensions rather than as shorthand for stereotypes.

Sure, I knew a lot of high-achieving, smart, well-mannered Asian-Americans. But I also knew plenty of thugs, jocks, beauty queens, math nerds, saints, and sinners. We should have the right to be who we are, and we should have the right to tell our stories, no matter how flawed. It's precisely in those flaws where life's most interesting stories are waiting to be told. Everyone else gets to tell theirs; we just want to tell ours.

So thank you Ebert. Two thumbs up from over here.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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