It’s not everyday you get to be cast as a lead in a movie. While the Hollywood industry is struggling to intermix more Asian-Americans into the media, I had the privilege and opportunity to work as a lead on La Petite Salon in the Bay Area. Not only was this film the start of my acting career, it also allowed me to have an official IMDB page that, yes, I do gloat about from time to time!
In the film, I play Quynh, a queer adolescent girl who loves modern dance but struggles with her mother’s rigid expectations to succeed as a doctor. Her tale unfolds in her mother’s salon as you see her interact with her mother, girlfriend, as well as the other customers.
However, this article isn’t about vanity and self-promotion. In fact, this article isn’t even about my experience working on the film. I’d like to take a moment to share an interview I had with the director of La Petite Salon, Caroline Le, who graciously opened her schedule and her heart about her experiences on the film as a queer woman of color.
JL: Hey Caroline, what’s your background in film like?
CL: Film background includes a BA in radio, television, and film from San Jose State University. La Petite Salon was produced in partial fulfillment for my MA in visual and media art at Emerson College with an emphasis in narrative filmmaking. Although the idea of the movie developed through the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Program (QWOCMAP).
JL: What inspired you to write La Petite Salon?
CL: In her short story, “Ma’s Salon Brings Me the World”, Huong Nguyen summarizes, “This shop’s four walls endure, preserve and hold in all the emotions of every woman who has ever walked in.” The text and image of the story inspired me to develop a short screenplay based loosely on the characters and conversations seen and heard in a hair salon. Immediately, I visited La Petite Salon, and was ignited by the surroundings. I should note that the film is not affiliated with its namesake hair salon in San Jose, CA. The remote space shed light on the multitude of Vietnamese images, characters, and dialogue that is evidence of the invisibility of Vietnamese Americans in American media. The objectives of the film were to challenge the controlling images of Asian women in mainstream films and increase visibility on cross-cultural issues within a marginalized community.
JL: What privileges or constraints have you faced as a queer woman of color in the arts?
As a queer Vietnamese-American woman, especially when I was younger, I got a lot of youth support in my earlier works, like though QWOCMAP. I made my first narrative through the program, and now I’m working for them. They’ve always been my platform. Film school told me how to tell stories, but QWOCMAP told me the best ideas are the ones that have been lived and the ones that we know. What do we know? That really pushed me.
Also, although I got support, it’s not as if people identified with the film. I had a market that I was going for. Ages 24 to 36 Asian-American women. I was the only Asian American in my cohort. I felt like I was the token Asian, but also the token queer Asian-American. The fact is I met other filmmakers that were queer-identified, and at some point we made films together, but never in the context of race.
JL: So what was your experience filming like?
CL: The process was arduous. The film was intentionally made for 6 days, but due to the budget, we shot in 4 days. I literally remember surviving on I think an orange slice and coca cola. I practically lived in the salon. I remember not leaving for a long time. One time I was trying to plan out the shot list, that’s where it got to me: things change during production, and that’s where we had to start making compromises. The film to me is like my baby. I’m putting in my heart and soul. I didn’t want to compromise for anything. But when it came down to it, time was the new currency. We didn’t have that much time.
I would say this film was the most pivotal, poignant moment in my life that defined my as a filmmaker. It broke me mentally physically. The support from friends and family meant so much.
JL: So I hear your movie is playing at Frameline 34. How do you feel about that?
CL: This is the world premiere, so I’m – I don’t even know. It’s a cliché but words can’t express how I feel. When I got the email, I called up the people close to me and told them about Frameline. There were two film festivals that I wanted to be apart of, Frameline being one of them. To justify me as a filmmaker, I wanted it to be in one of the two. The film was made in the Bay Area, and that was something I wanted to share within the community, and it was always for our community.
JL: Are you going to do any more films?
CL: Totally. I see a collection. It’s not just restricted to film, but also I want to start putting together a collection and be able to work with other artists, filmmakers and collaborate. Not just my work as a writer/producer/director, it’s also establishing relationships with other artists and making something beautiful and relevant to our community.
Take a peek at the La Petite Salon trailer below!