Huay-Bing Law Talks June and Being ‘Othered’ in America



Filmmaker Huay-Bing Law, submitted his film June — about a Chinese immigrant attending a college party in 1955 Texas — to the 2018 HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition. The second annual showcase provides Asian Pacific American creatives the opportunity to feature their work on HBO’s streaming platforms. Law, who’s one of three 2018 finalists, was interested in exploring a story about the marginalization of people of color living in the south during the Jim Crow era.

Here, he discusses what inspired him to create June, and how the thoughtful short — now available to stream — came to fruition.

HBO: How did you first get into filmmaking?

Huay-Bing Law: I started out studying biomedical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin because I had no idea what I wanted to do. Upon taking some filmmaking and photography classes, I got addicted. I changed my major because I wanted to keep making movies.

After undergrad, I freelanced and did some camera assisting while shooting as much as I could on the side. When I decided I wanted to tell my own stories, I went back to school to get a masters in directing at UT Austin. My thesis film was June, and the timeline for submission to HBO’s APA Visionaries Competition lined up perfectly.

HBO: What was the inspiration behind June?

Huay-Bing Law: My uncle told me a story a couple of years ago about the experience his family had when they first came to America in the late 1940s. He told me about his first day in the U.S. when his mother didn’t know which bathrooms to use. She had never heard of segregation. The day they stepped off the ship, they were confronted with this. I thought it was an awkward, accurate introduction to America and the Jim Crow laws, and I wanted to unpack it in this short.

HBO: Can you talk about your score and how you cast this short?

Huay-Bing Law: I was put in contact with a local Austin pianist who’s comfortable with improvisation, so I had him improv a bunch of different songs — blending different styles from the era. We collaborated over the months and eventually landed on the score. There are about six or seven tunes in there, all from the same pianist.

As far as casting, Ching Wang and Joe Lee are both good friends of mine. We spent several months casting as wide of a net as we could to find native Mandarin-speaking Chinese and Taiwanese actors — but there weren’t many [to choose from]. Ultimately, I forced Ching Wang and Joe Lee, who have natural chemistry, to audition, and they agreed to do the film. They were non-actors at the time, but I was really happy with the collaboration.

HBO: What do you want audiences to take away from this story?

Huay-Bing Law: It is an immigrant story, but I’m an ABC [American-born Chinese]. I was born in Texas and have lived here all my life. It’s more about feeling othered and marginalized in a predominantly white society, questioning your place as a Chinese person or Asian-American in this country, and really feeling the color of your skin. For every person of color growing up [here], there comes a moment where you go, “Hey, I’m different.” You really feel othered. What June goes through in this story is the moment she feels how different she is based on the color of her skin.

Huay-Bing Law is a writer, director and cinematographer.