NATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION

The mission of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) is "to advance the ideals of cultural pluralism in America and to promote better understanding of the Asian Pacific American experience through film, video and radio." Since its founding in 1980, NAATA has been bringing award-winning programs by and about Asian Pacific Americans to the public through such venues as national and local television broadcasting, film and video screenings, and educational distribution services.

Through its programming, exhibition, and distribution of work by Asian Pacific Americans as well as its advocacy and coalition building efforts, NAATA actively serves as both a resource and a promoter for minority communities within the larger community. Essentially, NAATA coordinates many different realms related to today's visual culture--film and video making, critical writing and scholarship, distribution and television broadcasting, community and educational outreach, even legislation and lobbying--serving as a center of information and human resources. Located in San Francisco, NAATA is one of the three major Asian American media arts organizations in the United States. Its founding was a conscious and concerted effort on the part of filmmakers and producers in the San Francisco area who were concerned with equal access to public television and radio. With the guidance and commitment of the two older organizations, Visual Communications in Los Angeles and Asian CineVision in New York, both of which emerged out of the movements towards racial and social justice in the 1960s, NAATA was born out of a three-day conference.

NAATA works primarily in three programming areas: television broadcast, exhibition (namely, the annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival), and non-broadcast distribution, (more specifically, through their CrossCurrent Media catalogue). Through this effort, the organization seeks to support and nurture Asian Pacific American media artists in order to proffer a more accurate representation of Asian Pacific communities to the public. The representation of Asian Americans in American television and film, supporters of the group feel, has led to many false perceptions of them.

In the 1995 Catalogue of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, Stephen Gong (film history scholar and manager of the Pacific Film Archive) argues that the struggles in the career of silent film star, Sessue Hayakawa remain emblematic of the price Asian/American actors pay in order to get some screen time. Referring to the stereotypes of Asian Americans, he asks: "Do the commercial constraints that have apparently governed mass media from its earliest days still make it a given that public expectations must be fulfilled before artistic vision can be exercised?" NAATA attempts to respond to this question by presenting--and more importantly, integrating--alternative and self-proclaimed representation by "marginal" peoples into the mainstream media culture.

The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is NAATA's most dramatic effort to provide the public with self-determined images and stories about Asian and Asian American experiences. Soliciting new and innovative work from within the U.S. as well as from Canada and abroad, this festival is a collection of vastly diverse film and video programs as well as installations and panel discussions. For too long, many "cultures, faces, and stories have remained 'in the closet' or simply invisible," as the 1995 festival catalogue states. Therefore, the purpose of the festival is to acknowledge the worldwide industry of film and video which includes and represents many works from the Asian diaspora.

CrossCurrent Media, NAATA's film, video, and audio distribution service, has amalgamated a collection of film and video by and about Asian Pacific Americans that serve to challenge the construction and meaning of "Asian American." The intent is to challenge and hopefully change mainstream perceptions of Asian Pacific American identities through the distribution of their collection. Moreover, CrossCurrent Media strives not only to foster awareness, but also to facilitate discussion, sensitivity, and understanding of cultures that are not one's own. The uses of such a collection include corporate diversity training, high school and university education, and social and political activism. CrossCurrent Media has published a catalogue from which individuals and institutions can make orders or purchases of Asian Pacific American films and videos. The catalogue is skillfully organized by topics including: Media Representation, Land, Labor, Migration, Social Justice, Arts/Performance, AIDS on Screen, Personal Journeys, Choosing to Be Whole: Asian And Lesbian/Gay, Mixed Blessings: Multiracial/Cultural Identities, Culture Clash. There are also useful indices that list titles according to ethnic group and special interest, as well as that recommend titles for both elementary and secondary school students. In NAATA'S effort to share the work of Asian Pacific Americans and open up discussion on various issues, CrossCurrent Media is a helpful and well-needed resource.

 

NAATA publishes a newsletter which announces events such as screenings and festivals, reports their Media Grants awards which sponsor Asian Pacific American film and video projects, and interviews people working in film and television such as Margaret Cho who starred in the television program, All-American Girl. The newsletter also keeps readers updated on current legislative and educational efforts concerning Asian Pacific American programming. For example, an issue of great concern is the congressional cutbacks for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Through federal mandate, public television is the only venue on television that provides the opportunity for the voices of people of color to be heard. Public broadcasting allows communities of color access to the world of television, enabling their experiences to be acknowledged as part of the "American experience." Deann Borshay, Executive Director of NAATA, writes in a recent issue of the newsletter, Asian American Network, "Eliminating or privatizing CPB has the potential to shut out minorities from access to the airwaves."

NAATA, then, provides a wide range of public services. The organization simultaneously supports Asian and Asian Pacific American artists as well as reaches out to diverse communities. More importantly, the significance of NAATA within the media industry is that it sets up a series of connections: to link sponsors to media artists, to distributors, and to larger mainstream venues, all in an attempt to correct the misrepresentation and misperception of minority peoples and histories. NAATA is both an artistic and a political organization, currently working to ensure that the voices and experiences of people who are often unheard and unknown are made more public and better understood.

-Lahn S.KIM

FURTHER READING

Asian American Network. (San Francisco), Autumn/Winter 1994.

Asian American Network. (San Francisco), Spring 1995.

Leong, Russell, editor. Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc., 1991.

 

See also Racism, Ethnicity, and Television