Every year the Sundance Film Festival committee selects a group of filmmakers who usually have day jobs. These are the short filmmakers -- often first-time directors who had no reason at the start of their process to believe they'd reach the public at all, much less at the best-known film festival in the country. The HuffPost Culture series "The Sundance Diaries" will investigate the "short" path to Sundance with regular diary-style entries from many of the 32 storytellers, animators, and documentarians whose shorts were selected this year out of a pool of 4,038.
I wrote and directed a short film about a gay Korean-American man who goes to his baby nephew's dol, a traditional Korean first birthday celebration. For the dol scene, I needed a Korean family -- the baby, the grandparents, aunts, and uncles. For various reasons, I cast my family. I was not out to my parents at the time. They did not know that the film they acted in is about a gay man.
I made this film to come out to my parents.
I did this because I knew I wouldn't be able to say the words "I'm gay." I've tried many times; to sit my parents down on the couch and tell them. But by making a film, I'd have this train, this production pushing me forward. And by casting my parents in the film, I was forcing myself off the ledge. The filmmaking process both distracted and prepared me for the inevitable - that I would eventually have to show my parents the finished film.
I wanted to use the medium of filmmaking to tell them a story. I was relying on the medium to articulate something difficult. I wanted to show my parents a complex portrayal of a gay Korean-American man, someone they could sympathize with. And I needed them to sympathize with him so that they would sympathize with me. I wanted them to understand who I am and what I am dealing with: that I struggle with my gay and Korean identities, that I wish I could have a family the way my father had a family, and that despite all this, I am a proud gay man.
This, of course, put an immense amount of pressure on me. Suddenly, I wasn't just making a film. This was more. My future family life, my relationship with my parents hinged on how well I could craft a film. On top of all this was the fact that I was lying to my family left and right in order to keep up the ruse. I tricked my parents into being in the film, because I knew they would not have agreed to act in it if they knew it were gay-themed. The ethical dilemma weighed on my mind constantly.
After we wrapped the dol scene (my family completely unaware of what they did for me), I stepped outside. My friend and line producer asked me how it went. I cried inconsolably for 15 minutes.
Throughout the next five months, my parents hounded me to see a cut of the film. They were curious to know how they looked on screen. And every time they asked, I simply told them I wasn't ready. But I knew I had to show them before my graduation screening at CalArts. They were going to invite extended family and friends to see their big screen debuts. I had to warn them.
I popped in the DVD at home and sat there as my parents watched. When the credits started to roll, I couldn't control myself. I cried. I had built up this moment for so long. My parents consoled me; they listened.
My parents are at once both very understanding and very naïve about my gay identity. My father told me that night, "We're not going to force you to change, but be open minded." This, in many ways, is all that I could have hoped for. I understand now that coming out is not an event. It's a process.
When I got the call from Sundance, I immediately called my parents. They seemed unsure what it meant. I told my mom, "It's 10 times easier to get into Harvard." She seemed pleased. After they did their own research, they were ecstatic. My father texted me later that night: "Congratulations! I am very happy for you. I am very proud of you. I know you will do good and find the right way for you. Appa."
I hate to say it, but it's true. I needed the validation. My mother asked me the night I came out if making a gay film would hurt my career. This is why I'm so glad that Sundance took a chance on a young gay Korean-American filmmaker.
I signed up to do this blog because I don't want to be ashamed of who I am. I don't want to hide anymore. I made this film. I submitted it to festivals. I got into Sundance. Here's my chance: I'm gay.
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