Chan had never made a film before, but said that after the shooting spree at three Atlanta spas in 2021, in which six Asian women were killed, she felt frustrated, sad, and hurt – and wanted to turn her anguish into action. Then she discovered “Spicy Village,” the documentary Li directed about a Chinatown noodle shop fighting to stay open during the pandemic. Chan reached out to Li about creating something similar about the fashion industry.
“When we think about ateliers in fashion, we often think about the people in Paris, and it’s this very romanticized vision of fashion creation,” Chan said. “But when we talk about Asian seamstresses, there’s often this cliche of sweatshops and cheap labor , and the ladies that I work with are just as good as the European counterparts.”
Chan and Li said the persistence the women displayed in coming to work each day during a pandemic, and during a time when it felt unsafe for Asian people, inspired them to continue making the film over a 16-month period.
“What really drew me to these women is they work in the garment district here — which is in Midtown Manhattan, where a lot of these crimes or violence has been happening — and they have to go to work every day,” Li said. “It’s one of the first questions I’ve asked each of these women. And they all have different responses. Some of them are more affected than others. It’s interesting to me how everyone sort of deals with it.”
That threat of violence continues to be a fact of life for these women and others like them. In June, a Florida woman allegedly attacked four Asian women in Manhattan with pepper spray and yelled racist comments at them. That woman was indicted on hate crime charges in July.
Chan and Li say they created their short film to make the point that the Asian community is populated by real stories, and not just gruesome news headlines.
“People don’t see Asian women,” Chan said. “They find them invisible. They don’t know their stories. They don’t know their lives, and therefore they think it’s okay to push them aside in the subway or spit at them, or spew racist hate at them. Part of the objective of this film is to show people who they are and the fact that they have passions, they have families, and they have their own stories.”