The legendary tennis champion Billie Jean King famously said “you need to see it to be it” when she was asked what was needed to inspire more young girls into picking up the racquet.
Billie was told by her parents that tennis wasn’t “lady-like”, so she saved up to buy her own racquet, toiled away for hours on public courts, then rose to dominate Wimbledon, blazing a trail for generations of women to follow. In the fourth season of Malaysian-Australian filmmaker Henry Thong’s short documentary web-series, ‘Makers Who Inspire’, Henry seeks to do for Asian-Australian creatives what Billie Jean did for a generation of female athletes.
At just 22 years of age, Henry Thong already has a resume that many auteurs twice his age would envy. He’s been screened at film festivals at home and abroad, including the Melbourne International Film Festival and Fashion Film Festival Milano, taken home awards from many of them, been mentored by Hollywood heavyweights, and created a successful documentary series, ‘Makers Who Inspire’, that is an exploration of the creative process.
Henry, who was born in Kuala Lumpur, spent his childhood reading comic books, and his high school years shooting films on his mobile phone; there was never any doubt how he wanted to spend his life. The creative arts are not always viewed fondly by migrant parents, though, as he explains.
“[The arts] is certainly not a typical career for migrants or people from Asian heritage. When people move countries to get a better life for [themselves] or their siblings, what they want you to do is to get a job that they feel is safe and better off than where you guys came from.”
“So for migrants and Asians, most of the time, that’s law or business or medicine or finance. That’s what they want for you.”
To explore this migrant experience further, Henry decided to devote the new season of ‘Makers Who Inspire’, which is partly funded by the State Government of South Australia through Carclew, upon Asian-Australian creatives like him, including painter and celebrity chef Poh Ling Yeow, comedian Ronny Chieng, and sibling writers Benjamin and Michelle Law. Some common themes emerged, as Henry explains.
“What I found with all the artists featured is that all of them have found successful careers in the arts and bucked [the] stereotype because they’ve drawn from the way that they felt when they came over from a different country or because they looked different from the people that were around them when they were younger and that feeling helped them to make their work different and stand out from all the other people doing the same thing.”
“Poh said, while I was interviewing her ‘why would you want your kids to do something that they could do where they came from? You come to Australia, only in this country can your child pursue a career in something like painting or art or filmmaking.’”
By capturing creatives diligently engaging in the artistic process, Henry also hopes to dispel another myth that is prevalent not only within the migrant community, but society generally, as he explains.
“One of the purposes of the series is inspire people, but also to show how much work goes into an artistic career.”
While the series will be available to view on YouTube, it will premiere at Carclew on 9 May, and will feature a Q&A session after the screening, featuring Henry, Poh Ling Yeow and Michelle Law.