Angry Reader of the Week: Arthur Dong

"I was born in the same hospital as Bruce Lee..."

Greetings, good people of the internet. It is time, once again, to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Arthur Dong.

Who are you?

Arthur Dong, 曾奕田

What are you?

Father of a teenaged son.

Where are you?

In transition from four decades of media production into work as an author. Even so, I'm on the lookout for inspiration to embark on a new film.

Where are you from?

I was born in the same hospital as Bruce Lee, at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco Chinatown. My parents were farmers from the Toisan region of China; my father immigrated to America as a paper son and my mom entered as a war bride after World War II. I spent the first month of my life in a Chinatown apartment, and then we moved to nearby North Beach into a flat near the epicenter of 1950s beat culture. So I was around beat-era artists and poets, and heard jazz coming out of the coffee shops and bars in the neighborhood. Although my early upbringing was Chinese-centric, I was aware of this other world. And in the 1960s, I gravitated towards the civil rights and anti-war movements, and then the psychedelic counterculture that broke out in the city's Haight Ashbury. By 1970, I was immersed in the exploding gay community. That's where I'm from, for starters.

What do you do?

I've just published my second book, Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films. It's a coffee table book that's an expansion of my documentary film. It's also an illustrated companion to the film, jammed with over 500 images, largely from my archive of movie memorabilia I've collected since I was a kid. Yeah, I'm a film buff, starting from as early as I can remember when my parents took me to the five movie theaters in Chinatown every week to see Chinese films. As a teen, my tastes in films broadened to include Hollywood classics, including Busby Berkeley musicals, and I became a fan of Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo.

My first book, Forbidden City, USA: Chinatown Nightclubs, 1936-1970, was similar to the Hollywood Chinese book insomuch that it was based on another documentary of mine, and is also a coffee table book with over 400 images from my collection of Chinatown nightclubs ephemera. The origins of the Forbidden City film, and the book, started with a childhood memory of walking in downtown San Francisco, on the edge of Chinatown, and discovering the Forbidden City nightclub with its display of Asian American performers in full western-style nightclub costumes.

Prior to books, I made films that centered on Asian American and LGBTQ stories and issues; you can check them out, and my books and other works, on my website.

If you've read this far, you'll notice I collect stuff (academics call it research). It begins for personal pleasure, but I've also been commissioned to curate exhibits based on my collections, including Flower Drum Song-themed LPs from the 1960s, Chinatown nightclubs memorabilia, and Hollywood Chinese ephemera, some of which are now on display at the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood. Being a curator isn't something I'd imagine doing, so it's a bit of a surprise to me -- but maybe it's not totally unexpected: the creative process for exhibitions aligns with my penchant for stories, but instead of a flat screen or pages of a book, it's storytelling in a three-dimensional space where the audience is free to roam.

What are you all about?

Finding untold histories, with mindfulness for the oft-hidden intersection of LGBTQ+ and Asian peoples.

What makes you angry?

In alpha order: Dishonesty, hypocrisy, lies, religious dominance, and too many isms to list here.

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