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NAME:
Lee Mun Wah
WHAT HE DOES:
Oakland-based grassroots filmmaker
LATEST TRIUMPH:
An invitation by the Department of Defense to give a weeklong training on racism in the workplace
IN HIS LINE OF FIRE:
Negative images of minority men

Asians really need to act pushier and more aggressive, a lecturer told Lee Mun Wah at a conference on diversity last year. For the 48-year-old Lee, the advice smacked of the same type of stereotypes he’s trying to counter.

Ultimately, it wasn’t pushiness that opened the door to the Defense Department, NASA, and 20 other government agencies for Lee. It was his film, The Color of Fear, which is the centerpiece of a diversity training program Lee has given for 9,000 federal employees.

Completed in April 1994, the documentary shows eight men of diverse ethnicities talking openly about racism. “Why do these guys have such a problem being a color?” asks a white man. “Why can’t they just be individuals?” An African-American responds: “People of color are spilling their guts and doing education to white people, and then we get cross-examined. Racism gets looked at as a person of color’s problem. And it’s not.”

Lee focused on men because he’d “never seen a film where men of color were just talking to whites [about racism].” On a personal level, the Chinese-American Lee hoped to confront his own negative feelings following his mother’s 1985 murder by an African-American man.

Lee worked 25 years as a school teacher and community therapist until 1992, when he and a friend scraped together $18,000 to make a film, Stolen Ground, in order to challenge myths surrounding Asian-Americans’ vaunted status as the model minority.

As might be expected, both Stolen Ground and The Color of Fear played well at benefits for Bay Area nonprofits. Federal employees, however, make up his largest audience. His organization, Stir-Fry Productions, has been invited by the Department of Defense to give a weeklong training this summer, and has shown the film on five different occasions to U.S. Forest Service employees. “Some have been angered by the film and simply walk out on it,” says Isaac Williams, a civil rights manager at the Social Security Administration. “Not one person has left the film unaffected.”

You can rent or purchase The Color of Fear from Stir-Fry Productions, 1222 Preservation Park Way, Oakland, CA 94612.

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IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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