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DAVID HENRY HWANG INTERVIEW
It's OK to be Wrong and/or It's OK to be Hwang
Presentations of idiosyncratic history pageants with a sense of humor and musicality
A Creative Soul, Successful Playwright, Screenwriter and Librettist with All the Work He can Handle

 

INTERCULTURALISM AND THE "OBJECTIVE TRUTH"
US ASIANS: Your non-acceptance of the common notion that the typical WASP can't understand "us," when there really is no "us" because of your belief that anybody should be able to understand anybody - though the specifies/skin color/life experiences might be different - our shared and basic humanity transcends these differences within a world of interculturalism - why haven't there been a greater number of talented playwrights of Asian descent achieving success within the American mainstream?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think this is as much a consequence of the general cultural poverty in America right now, as it is of the writers' Asian American-ness. A significant number of talented APA (Asian Pacific American) playwrights have achieved prominence within the not-for-profit theatre, where most of the important new work is done, but at the moment, very few playwrights of any race or persuasion are able to cross over into the "mainstream." Perhaps, one playwright a year in total achieves the sort of success that could even vaguely be considered mainstream. In recent years, a number of APA (Asian Pacific American) writers and directors have achieved mainstream success, but in the more populist medium of film, and working with non-Asian American subject matter. Since "M. Butterfly," even my own "successes" have been with works not based on APA (Asian Pacific American) stories.

US ASIANS: What qualities should we embrace to enter a world of interculturalism that exhibits a basic humanity that transcends the differences in skin color, life experiences, expectations, etc. that would allow all audiences to see plays from all ethnic groups with actors from all ethnic groups (i.e. non-traditional casting)?

 
GOLDEN GATE & M. BUTTERFLY EXPERIENCES
  US ASIANS: If these films were to be made today, would you make different creative choices/changes/modifications on who would direct the film (Asian vs. Non-Asian), the screen play and/or the actors?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In these films, the screenwriter was myself, and the ethnicities of the actors were as I had written them. Today, I would push much more strongly for an Asian or APA (Asian Pacific American) director, and, given that so many more are considered "bankable," my desire would probably be received much more favorably.

US ASIANS: Considering your experiences with these film, what would you do different upon the opportunity to participate in another high-profiled film production?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I am, in fact, working on a couple of other studio pictures. One of these is non-Asian in subject matter, so I feel like I'm working with the same set of issues as any other screenwriter. The other is a fantasy-adventure set in a mythical Japan, and here I am pleased to be working with a Japanese director.

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In choosing works to enjoy, the country in general needs to see past the the notion that a piece's "universality" has anything to do with the race and culture of its characters. Over the past 20 or 30 years, we seem to have crossed that Rubicon in the world of pop music. It's hard nowadays to remember that it was once considered daring to put Michael Jackson or Prince videos on MTV, for fear white audiences wouldn't watch them. We need to make that same transition in narrative-based art forms.

US ASIANS: As the very definition of what it means to be an American is changing and therefore the culture of America also is being reexamined - how can the arts (along with academia) provide the needed answers and leadership?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: The arts are, theoretically, a safe and creative arena in which the joys and tensions of this change can be explored. Rather than answers and leadership, I think the arts provide a forum and stomping ground for emotions to be aired, and issues debated.

US ASIANS: How important is it for artists to understand a definition of objective truth, whether or not we can define a universal standard of excellence?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think it's incredibly difficult to agree on a universal definition of objective truth, as exemplified most recently by the controversy over the anti-Islamic cartoons from Europe. On some of these most contentious differences, however, through rigorous examination and creativity, we may be able to find a peaceful means to agree to disagree.

NBC's "LOST EMPIRE"
US ASIANS: Could you share the history behind your participation of the NBC production of "The Lost Empire?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: "Lost Empire" was a total misfire on my part, and agreeing to write it was one of the few genuine regrets I have in my life. If given another opportunity to participate in a TV miniseries based on Asian/Chinese material, I think I would probably run the other way! If I agreed to get involved, it would have to be with a director and producer who I felt genuinely understood the underlying material, preferably of Asian origin themselves. (Note: For additional details regarding his experiences with this project can be found by clicking HERE.)

US ASIANS: Is it a correction assumption that it was mentioned that you were given a mandate from Robert Halmi that he "wanted the romance between Orton [the white male] and Kwan Ying [the Asian female] to be the most important element in the adventure."

DAVID HENRY HWANG: No. Initially, Halmi gave me a mandate to put a Caucasian lead into the story. After I'd agreed to write the script, the notion of bringing in Kwan Ying as a character came up. At the time, I remember joking with the development executives that we certainly couldn't play up a romance between our Caucasian lead and the Chinese equivalent of the Virgin Mary. Yet, as the development continued, notes from the network increasingly demanded a greater emphasis on that romance.

Side Note: The first movie Hwang worked on was an adaptation of M. Butterfly, for which he wrote the script. Hwang said the only place it did well was Taiwan. The second movie Hwang wrote was Golden Gate, another drama involving espionage, which closed after appearing on a limited number of screens for a few weeks.

Of his experience in Hollywood, Hwang said, "It's not anything worse than any other screenwriter has experienced. I've also worked on a lot of pictures that haven't been made, or haven't been made yet."

 
US ASIANS: Could you pin down the motivation for the inclusion of whites in ethnic (Asian) films such as Come See the Paradise, Year of the Dragon, Snow Falling in Cedars, Ms. Saigon, etc.?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think producers and studio executives feel that Caucasian audiences are better able to "relate" to a Caucasian character, that he/she becomes the stand-in for the viewer. This point of view, however, is increasingly less emphasized in recent years, as audiences become increasingly diverse, and foreign income represents a larger percentage of a film's total income.

US ASIANS: What were some of the differences between what was seen on television compared to your original vision?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: First of all, my version was a lot funnier than what eventually showed up onscreen. Furthermore, I was much more interested in examining the tension between fundamentalist and progressive cultural movements.

NEAL LABUTE'S "POSSESSION" W/GWYNETH PALTROW
US ASIANS: Describe the complicated process of participating in A.S. Bayett's film for director Neal Labute aimed at mature adults with a feel of Merchant-Ivory films?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I was asked to adapt the book by Sydney Pollack, who at the time was attached to direct it. I worked on the screenplay under Sydney's supervision for about two years. By the time he felt it was ready, he had to make the choice whether to direct "Possession" or "Sabrina." He obviously chose the latter. So "Possession" went back to development limbo for years, during which a number of directors came and went, each bringing his/her own writer. Finally, of course, Neil LaBute got a greenlight to make the movie.

US ASIANS: What were the difficulties as a writer (recognizing that there were many rewrites and writers involved with the project) to write a screenplay based on A.S. Byatt's 1990 novel and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" combined with John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman and Karel Reisz's 1982 film version?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Actually, I tend to be attracted to stories which take place simultaneously in more than one world or time period. The challenge of works that span periods is that the past is always more exciting than the present. Even in "Arcadia," perhaps the finest example of this genre, the period scenes have more vitality.

 
DAVID ON ISMAIL MERCHANT
 
US ASIANS: Noting that Ismail Merchant recently died, what are your thoughts on his film contributions, his influences on your creativity and his place as an acclaim Asian/Asian American artist?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: An amazing artist and businessman, truly a pioneer, whose talent and expertise transcended the racial barriers of his day.

US ASIANS: What did A.S. Byatt see/read in your drafts that captured the essence of the character "Roland" for the big screen?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I've never corresponded or spoken to Byatt, so I don't know. I do feel that Neil LaBute's great contribution to the screenplay was to make the contemporary scenes more alive, and therefore Roland a more credible character.

ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR
US ASIANS: What is the status of your screen adaptation of "Across the Nightingale Floor - a fantasy novel set in feudal Japan?"

DAVID HENRY HWANG: We had a draft that the studio was happy with. They began to discuss the logistics of actually making this movie with the producers, Kennedy/Marshall. Last December, Kathy Kennedy had some more thoughts about the script, so I am currently working on a rewrite, which I hope to deliver before TARZAN opens.

US ASIANS: What offered the greatest challenges, hence the greatest rewards - adapting your own works, adapting other writers' works and/or original scripts - of which many didn't explicitly related to Asian American themes (i.e. The Alienist")?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Every project has its own unique set of challenges and rewards. In general, though, I would say that adapting the work of others presents less personal risk, in that it's much more painful to see a personal work go bad than one in which I am simply a hired gun. For the same reasons, Asian- or APA-themed work is more risky than so-called mainstream work. If the latter fails, it's simply a bad movie; if the former, I feel like I'm contributing to the stereotyping of Asians.

US ASIANS: "I've had two movies made, neither of which turned out particularly well," he lamented. "Neither of the pictures was that successful artistically, and certainly not commercially."

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Well, at this point, I've had three pictures made, and I think "Possession" turned out rather well.

Success has provided opportunities to work on many projects, read about his future plans by clicking HERE.

Discover David's Viewpoints on the Wide Spectrum of Subjects by Clicking on the Below-Listed Links
AUTHENTICITY
CULTURE
CREATIVE PROCESS
DIVERSITY
MUSIC & MUSICALS

Applications
Authenticity vs. Stereotypes
Definition
Frank Chin Battles
Stereotypes - David's Views

THEATER
1000 Airplanes on the Roof
Chinese Railroad Workers
Dance and the Railroad
Family & Christianity
Family Devotion
FOB
Golden Child & Christianity
Origins of Interest
Rich Relations
Sound of a Voice
Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds
Trying to Find Chinatown

 

 

Critical Thinking
Cultural Symbol
Debating Issues
Ethnic Isolationism
Its Issues
Representations

PERSONAL INFO
2nd Marriage & Its Joys
David on Ismail Merchant
Henry Hwang (Father)
Kathryn Hwang (Wife)
Overview
Parents & Relatives
Parting Words
Personal Facts

SUPPORT
Financial
Needed from APA Artists
From Our Communities

 

Choices
Collaborators

Days of Education & Learning
Dealing with Expectations
Failure's Particular Lessons
Inappropriate Characters
Influences & Inspirations
"Lost Empire" Experience
Pressures with Success
Role Models
Working with Lucia Hwong
Working with Philip Glass
Working with Unsuk Chin

NEW & PAST PROJECTS
Chinese Mafia-type Films
Desired Projects
Hello Suckers
Inspiration of China
Status of Past Projects
Tarzan
Texas Guinan
The Fly
Yellow Face

 

APA Theater Organizations
Blind-Casting
Calvin Jung
Current Status
Daring Films w/Asian Males
Definition of an APA
Ethnic Theater
Life as a Librettist (Ainadamar)
Life as a Role Model
Ms. Saigon Protest
Perceptions
Proteges & Artists
Recognizing APA Artists
State of Asian Women Writers
Welly Yang Learning History

LIFE AS A SCREENWRITER
Across the Nightingale Floor
Experience with Hollywood
Golden Gate & M.Butterfly
Interculturalism & Objective Truth
NBC's Lost Empire
Neal Labute's "Possession"

 

Its Importance
M.Butterfly
Today's APA Communities
Working with Prince

FLOWER DRUM SONG
Anna May Wong
Arabella Hong-Young
Background Research
C.Y. Lee
Creative Choices
Its Importance
Original Version
Remembering Our History

REVIEWS
Yellow Face

       
       
       

 

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