By Alexandra Hsu ’11
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker. However, it wasn’t until this past year—when the pandemic sent me, like so many others, on a journey of soul-searching and self-reflection—that I fully understood why: because I want to use the power of film to share stories that need to be told.
These reasons for becoming a filmmaker were solidified during my time at Scripps, which defined the issues and stories I cared about most. My education provided me with the tools to work on projects that are close
to my heart, highlighting the experiences of my family. One of my greatest inspirations has been learning about the lives of my renowned great-grandparents from China, who had what was considered the first modern and legal divorce in that country. My great-grandfather, Xu Zhimo, was one of the most important literary figures in twentieth-century China; he studied at Cambridge, socialized with the Bloomsbury Group, and became famous for incorporating both Eastern and Western influences into his poetry. My great-grandmother, Zhang Youyi, was the first woman in her family not to have her feet bound. She demanded an education that was as good as the one her brothers received, and she went on to become an influential businesswoman, serving as the vice president of the first Shanghai Women’s Savings Bank, all while raising her son.
I wanted to find a way to tell their stories, which was one of the reasons I chose to major in media studies and Asian studies with a focus on documentary filmmaking. For my Asian studies major, I took numerous courses around the 5Cs on East Asian history and culture. And I joined the Asian American Student Union (AASU) in my first year at Scripps.
When it came time to start my thesis, I decided to take my great-grandfather’s thesis paper at Columbia University on the status of women in China in 1920 and compare it to the status of women in China today. I received incredible critical feedback from my thesis advisors, Scripps College Professor of Art Kim-Trang Tran, Professor Ming-Yuen Ma from Pitzer College, and Professor Angelina Chin from Pomona College—and, later, I used that paper to create my thesis, a short documentary film, for which I conducted interviews and research with more than 20 subjects in Shanghai. With support and resources from Scripps and the China Insights Exhibit grant from the Pomona College Museum of Art, the film served as a springboard to more opportunities post-Scripps.
Everyone in our organization was passionate about making a difference. They taught me what it meant to be an Asian American woman.
As my career evolved, I came to realize that my fictional short films were frequently motivated by something truthful. As I studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for my MFA in film production and directing, spent two years as a resident of the SFFILM FilmHouse Residency, and developed my first feature film script, Queens, I was inspired by narrative and documentary filmmakers who were passionate about telling stories authentically. These experiences reminded me of the documentaries I made at Scripps and the family stories that had originally excited me about filmmaking. I recalled my Sundays at Scripps with AASU, where I met my closest friends—everyone in our organization was passionate about making a difference. They taught me what it meant to be an Asian American woman.
During the pandemic, I set up my home workspace next to a painting of my great-grandfather and 24 of his closest friends, family, and mentors. The sense that my great-grandparents were watching over me inspired me to write again. I started developing a feature film about my great-grandmother Youyi, The Poet’s Wife (냥槨蠟當老). I sketched out a summary of the story and, with encouragement from some of my close film friends, submitted it to Mexico’s prestigious Cine Qua Non Lab’s Storylines Lab. I was surprised and grateful when it was accepted into the program.
I find that inspiration often comes spontaneously, and we have to find it within ourselves to take action when it strikes. Today, each project I develop is inspired by truths I identify with: the untold stories of women and
girls. I am grateful to Scripps, the classes I took there, and AASU for opening my eyes to stories I didn’t know before. I hope the stories I’m telling will bring people together and challenge others to see the world through a different lens, and I encourage current students to find the ways they can turn their own passions into action. Although the world currently feels as if it’s on fire, I know that women from Scripps can be a part of the change that will make it a better place.