Experimental, chaotic, and genuine all express the vision of “White Rabbit” in its exploration of identity, mental health and self-expression. “White Rabbit” encapsulates unabashed creativity on the part of an Asian-American performance artist, Sophia. The film premiered last Friday at the Sundance Film Festival. The Chronicle sat down with director Daryl Wein to discuss the film and what he hopes his work will convey in the current political climate. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Chronicle: What was your vision for this project, and what kind of story were you trying to tell?
Daryl Wein: I wanted to tell a story about an artist who is trying to find her place in the world through someone who is seeking connection and meaning in her work while trying to be seen and heard. This is not something that is particularly easy for someone to do in this current climate, especially for women of color — it’s even harder. So in that, this film is an exploration of identity politics and intersectionality. We touched on themes of LGBTQ issues, race, and marginalization, as these issues are pressing and are under attack in light of this current administration. So it was an opportunity for us to empower strong, interesting women who have different perspectives and, as a filmmaker, try to do my part in making sure those stories are heard.
TC: You did a good job of attempting to bring in representation in this film. Do you plan on furthering this in the future, and how would you go about it?
DW: I’m always trying to tell fresh and innovative stories that feel of the moment, that are relevant and timely, that speak to me, and that are progressive and seek to make a difference in individual lives and the world. That’s why I can’t predict anything yet because we’re still in the midst of “White Rabbit,” but I look forward to what stories we can tell in the future.
TC: Expanding upon that, in what areas do you feel Hollywood needs to “do better?” What do you hope for the future of Hollywood?
DW: I think Hollywood needs to focus on working with more people of color and diversify their slates. That goes for in front of the camera and behind the camera. Each individual has a unique perspective and story to tell and limiting stories to a single perspective becomes boring and one-sided. Everyone’s story deserves to be told. I support equal representation across the board for minorities and women and I think Hollywood simply needs to do better in reflecting the true makeup of our society and continue to push boundaries and be daring in the stories that we choose to tell.
TC: What aspects of your background influence and reflect in your work?
DW: I went to NYU but grew up in Connecticut in a very homogenous community, and living in New York for thirteen years obviously brought me into a “melting pot” of diversity, and I finally felt like I was home. I guess in a lot of ways I try to rebel against my more privileged, middle-class, white upbringing by telling stories about taboo subjects and topics that are not often investigated. I prefer to explore people who are different from me, because I am much more interested in other people’s perspectives and this film is a good representation of that.
TC: As a writer for a university newspaper, how could this film be relevant to college students?
DW: I think the film can be super relevant to college students because college is a time in your life when you begin to identify what your passions are and who you want to be. An artist’s journey is very similar, that’s what our film is exploring — how to find your way in the turbulent world in front of you while processing who you are. As an artist as well as a college student, you are continuously processing your environment in an intense, analytical and emotional way. So I think that our story is very universal to not only college students but to everyone that is struggling to be heard and seen for their true value.
TC: You spoke a bit about the Mukbang pieces in terms of its low viewership and its right to have a platform as “art.” Much of Sophia’s life revolves around the art she makes. I was wondering, what is your definition of art?
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DW: Is a creation that reflects an interesting facet of our society, people, and the world with a unique point of view. Art is a commentary on how we all live and sometimes art is just a direct reflection — it’s documentary, it’s photography and film. Art is a way to elevate issues that people may not pay attention to in their everyday lives as news feeds wash over people and there’s a lot of saturation in the marketplace. I think the role of art is to move, inspire and entertain people in an attempt to make the world a better place.
TC: In terms of the psychological distress Sophia was suffering, what were you trying to communicate to the audience and where does it stem from?
DW: I think it can be really difficult as an artist when you’re not getting any validation or income and you care so much about your passions and ideas. So, her fight for visibility really seemed to weigh on her and become painful with criticism. It’s very vulnerable and emotional to put yourself and your art out there at times. In the film, she’s coming out of a relationship that ended, so she’s fragile and not in a happy place with herself. She’s still questioning how she wants to progress in life and all of those things contribute to her psychological outlook.
TC: The ending of the film was Sophia’s performance piece of her stepping into the ocean. How did you know that was the end of the story?
DW: I don’t even see it as the end of the story, but just the place we had to leave off in the film. It’s up to the audience what their interpretation of the ending will be. We have to choose a place to roll the credits, and I like to leave the endings a little bit open-ended and try not wrap things up in a bow. Without giving too much away about the film, she is experiencing a rebirth of sorts in the end, and the water is a metaphor for that. I think she’s taking a moment to reflect on where she’s at and where she’s going.
TC: Is there anything you would like to add?
DW: I would love for people to see the film and check it out on social media under “White Rabbit Motion Picture,” and hopefully people will take away some varying thoughts on Vivian [Bang] and Nana [Ghana]’s characters in the film and what we’re exploring and hopefully it will inspire artists to continue creating and others to see people who are different from them as the same. We’re all in this together, we all belong and we are all just trying to do the best we can to find peace and happiness in this world.