Yung Chang is the multi-award-winning director of Up the Yangtze《沿江而上》(2007), China Heavyweight《千錘百鍊》(2012), The Fruit Hunters (2013) and Gatekeeper (2016). In 2015, Chang was a Fellow at the prestigious Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Labs, where he worked on his first dramatic feature, Eggplant.. Chang’s films have screened at international film festivals including Sundance, Berlin, TIFF, and IDFA, and have played theatrically in cinemas around the world. His latest feature documentary, This Is Not a Movie, which follows the controversial Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, is now screening virtually and at select theaters around the country. (Photo by Richmond Lam.)
I went to the Oscars last month and I brought my mother! Photos by my mom, words by me. Here are the 10 things we discovered:
1. It’s OK to drive your Nissan Sentra rental. No need to waste your hard-earned money on a limousine. Plus there’s free valet parking! In the end, everyone walks the same red carpet, right? And if you can, borrow your father’s old tuxedo. The style never changes.
2. Your mother will be extremely excited and extremely nervous. She won’t be able to stop talking about “going to the Oscars!” And eventually that nervousness will infiltrate and infect your very core as a jaded independent filmmaker. And then you too will also begin to feel nervous and excited about “going to the Oscars!” Suddenly, Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack for The Grand Budapest Hotel will begin to play in your head as you drive through Oscar roadblocks that remind you of scenes from war-torn regions.
3. An Academy Award-winning filmmaker (who will remain anonymous) provided some crucial tips for enjoying the festivities. The most valuable: skip the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, even if Wolfgang Puck is catering. The organizers want you to get there earlier in order to avoid loitering on the red carpet. But this is exactly what you want to do.
4. Your mother will not recognize any modern-day celebrities but she will think she recognizes everyone. This photo of Rosamund Pike was actually intended to capture a person behind her who she thought was Martin Short. Martin Short did not attend the ceremony.
5. Here’s a cool snap of the Oscar-winning editor of Whiplash, Tom Cross, and his wife, Holly Ramos. My mother had no idea who he was but she thought he looked famous. Sixth sense, perhaps?
6. The longer we loitered on the red carpet, the more confident my mother became. In fact, I witnessed a specific transformation when she changed from Mama Chang to Mamarazza Chang. With no reservations, my mother stuck her smartphone into Travolta’s personal dianetical space and snapped this gem.
7. One of the more ecstatic moments was when my mother recognized Rene Russo. She absolutely adores Rene Russo. Here is a pic of her in the background. Unknown bearded man in foreground.
8. As we approached the end of the carpet, my mother began screaming at the top of her lungs because she had spotted NFL legend Michael Strahan. I had no idea she was a huge fan of his. It was at this moment that I had to turn around and pretend to look for my invisible agent. Graciously, Strahan turned to my mother’s beckoning and mugged for her camera. Unfortunately, my mother’s trigger finger was slightly delayed. She missed the shot. This photo was apparently taken just after he turned back around.
9. A personal highlight for me was brushing elbows with the inimitable Jennifer Lopez. In a frenzy, my mother managed to capture this image. You can see my shoulder and half of my face, but all of JLo’s cleavage. (Reminder: teach my mother “landscape format.”)
10. Everyone is probably dying to know what my mother wore to the Oscars. I’ll let her explain in her own words: “My goal when I was looking for a dress was to go to Brian Bailey’s store [in Toronto] because I’ve had success recently having worn one of his creations to [Yung’s] wedding reception last summer. I was very lucky there was a 50-percent sale. I walked in there and must have tried six different dresses. Started off with a really ‘bling-bling’ simple dress, which I really fell in love with right away. I really try to avoid black. Of all the ones I tried on, though, the black one was comfortable and easy to pack. I feel that it was elegant. And it was on sale.”
11. I’m so happy I brought my mother with me to experience the 87th Academy Awards. Her presence distilled the odd sensation of feeling like a fish out of water. It didn’t go unnoticed that I was surrounded by a largely white, male and older Academy of peers. The criticisms of the Oscars’ “whiteness” this year were not unfounded. The club is exclusive. Hopefully things will change. I wonder, when the non-white population in America reaches a majority by 2043, will the future of the Academy and their nominations reflect this landscape? My mother and I arrived a few days earlier, on Chinese New Year, in order to visit our relatives in West Covina, just east of Los Angeles. We passed through San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Alhambra, where there is a huge Chinese community. This was the highlight of my first trip to the Oscars.
Yung Chang was invited to join the Documentary Branch of the Academy in 2013. He does not fit its 94 percent white, 65-year-old average and 77 percent male statistics. Well, except maybe for the last one.
Mamarazza Chang is a retired Canadian government employee. She plans to take up celebrity photography in her spare time.