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Paul Bui On 'Othered, The Queer Future of Asian American Identity'

Milk Fam Paul Bui is a creative director, stylist, and consultant who has worked on several creative projects with artists such as Kelela, Grimes, Shirley Manson, and Laverne Cox to name a few. 

Shot at Milk Studios and co-presented with Document Journal, his new short-film Othered, The Queer Future of Asian American Identity, explores the intersection between queerness and Asian American identity, with a cast of captivating individuals in NYC. Bui dropped by Milk to tell us all about the finished project; why it’s important to create visibility for the queer community,  and the inspirations behind this uplifting film. 

On his film, Othered, The Queer Future of Asian American Identity:

This video project was inspired by growing up in Australia and as an Asian, queer kid, not really seeing myself reflected in any visuals or media, whether that was in film, music or magazines. I kind of felt a little isolated. Moving to New York 8 years ago I encountered a lot of other people similar to myself. They might not be within the same scenes, but I met magical characters that were unapologetic about who they were, whether that was in regards to their Asian American identity, their queerness, their gender identity or sexuality. Growing up, I noticed that Asian men were never leading characters or always portrayed as subservient and not strong enough to be in leading roles. And Asian women were kind of overly fetishized and sexualized. In terms of non-binary, gender non-conforming or trans Asian people in media, I never saw any sort of representation. Having met people in NYC that defied these reductive portrayals and misrepresentation  I wanted to create a video to celebrate certain individuals and show that we’re more than one monolithic group and we deserve to be seen and heard. 

On media representation: 

Mainstream media is really skewed towards white ideals and dated notions of gender. When you don’t see yourself reflected in any sort of imagery, you tend to dig deeper and search for this elsewhere, or more importantly from within. That’s why communities and collectives like Burdock Media are doing such great work on this topic.  I feel like we’re at a tipping point, where this conversation is opening up more platforms for these marginalized voices to be heard. But a lot more can be done.  

On searching for the perfect cast:

I worked closely with my fantastic Creative Director Andy Boyce on this project and he really helped lead the casting for this and worked with me to shape this film. His eye and vision were monumental for this project. The cast is people we’re both fans of.  Sammy Kims is an amazing dancer. Nicole Kim is a phenomenal DJ who puts on ‘Hot ‘N Spicy’, I am a huge fan of her work. Vivianne Yi is a talented Korean actress- you should check out her hilarious Instagram as well. We also have Shaobo Han who has an online store Syro that sells fabulous heels for men, it’s amazing. And then West Dakota who is a super gifted and a gorgeous drag queen. These are people from all creative pockets of New York- some from fashion and some from nightlife and music. The one thing they have in common is that they are unapologetic about being their authentic selves, and I find that quite inspiring.

On career paths and the importance of being yourself:

When I was younger at school, I wanted to be an art director or stylist.  My family convinced me to pursue something else and because I didn’t see or hear of many other Asian stylists or art directors in Australia I didn’t think this was a viable career path. So I ended up studying software engineering and then later economics. I ended up finding my way into doing something creative by accidentally falling into it. As a teenage raver studying in Canberra, Australia I used to review breakbeat, techno, progressive house and drum n bass gigs for the local street press for this now defunct dance music website, Inthemix. I remember seeing Theo Parrish, DJ Godfather, Derrick May play intimate shows and interviewing scratch legends like Grandmaster Flash and Q-Bert when I was 17. This lead to a copy editing and writing job at a cult fashion magazine in Sydney, where I worked my way up to become the Editor. At this magazine, the first shoot I styled was with M.I.A when she was touring her Kala album. Anyway, eventually, I think you end up doing what you were always supposed to do. But I do believe that in some ways if I saw more creative queer Asians in the field I’m in now, it would have inspired me to pursue my career in a less roundabout way.  That’s why visibility and authentic representation is so important. We need to create space, physical and otherwise, for marginalized bodies to thrive.  

On the importance of personal work:

Some of the best stories are personal stories, whether you are a writer or director or stylist or filmmaker. The best work you do always comes from a personal experience. Most of them don’t have big budgets but that’s why it’s important for people to get behind them and support them. 

You can watch the film here:

Stay tuned to Milk for more artists we love.

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