Chan had never done a movie before, but said after the 2021 shootings at three Atlanta spas in which six Asian women were killed, she felt frustrated, sad and hurt — and wanted to turn his anguish into action. Then she discovered “Spicy Village,” the Li-directed documentary about a Chinatown noodle shop struggling to stay open during the pandemic. Chan contacted Li to create something similar in the fashion industry.
“When you think of fashion ateliers, you often think of people in Paris, and it’s this very romanticized view of fashion design,” Chan said. “But when it comes to Asian seamstresses, there’s often this cliché of sweatshops and cheap labor, and the ladies I work with are just as good as their European counterparts.
Chan and Li said the women’s persistence in coming to work every day during a pandemic, and at a time when it didn’t feel safe for Asians, inspired them to continue making the film over a 16-month period. .
“What really attracted me to these women is that they work in the garment district here – which is in midtown Manhattan, where a lot of this crime or violence happened – and they have to go to work every day,” Li said. “That was one of the first questions I asked each of these women. And they all have different answers. Some of them are more affected than others. It’s interesting for me to see how everyone handles that.
This threat of violence continues to be a reality for these women and others like them. In June, a Florida woman allegedly attacked four Asian women in Manhattan with pepper spray and shouted racist comments at them. This woman was charged with hate crimes in July.
Chan and Li say they created their short film to show that the Asian community is populated by real stories, not just gruesome headlines.
“People don’t see Asian women,” Chan said. “They find them invisible. They don’t know their stories. They don’t know their life, and so they think it’s okay to push them back on the subway or spit on them, or spit racist hate at them. Part of the purpose 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.