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Asian American Studies • Art History • Ethnic Studies • American History • Animation • Popular Culture Studies
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Educational Media Reviews Online | "Invaluable" - Journal of Asian American Studies | SPECIAL JURY AWARD - Los Angeles Asian Pacific International Film Festival
Date of Completion: 2017 | Run Time: 77 minutes | Language: English | Captions: Available with Streaming | Includes: Transcript | Director: Pamela Tom
TYRUS is Pamela Tom's tour-de-force documentary about 105-year old Guangzhou-born, L.A. based visual artist, Tyrus Wong and his breathtaking scope of work across multiple artistic mediums and his personal and professional journey navigating racial bigotry in 20th century America. Tom's film makes meticulous use of Tyrus Wong's exquisite art, archival footage, illuminating interviews and commentary from Wong himself to document how his unique style, melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art, helped the Disney animated film, Bambi (1942) specifically, and early Hollywood in general establish their signature visual styles. The film makes a critical contribution to the documentary tradition and to American society in correcting a historical wrong by spotlighting this seminal, but heretofore under-credited figure.
SMITHSONIAN ARTICLE: How Tyrus Wong's Christmas Cards Captivated the American Public
Journal of Asian American Studies | Ann Thuy-Ling Tran, UC Irvine
"Wong’s story reminds us that one can be excluded from the national terrain of culture even while being the literal hand in its very production. As much of the emphasis in Asian American cultural studies is on more contemporary popular culture, scholars who are interested in early twentieth-century Asian American popular culture will find this film to be an invaluable contribution to fields related to historic Asian American visual cultures."
"A fascinating and well-made documentary of interest to artists, art and film history enthusiasts, and students of Asian American and popular culture studies."
Andy Horbal, University of Maryland Libraries
Second, by detailing the specific consequences of the institutional and personal racism that Wong faced throughout his career and life, Tyrus reveals just how far-reaching the costs of such behavior can be to an entire society. To again focus on Wong’s career in the movies, the film conclusively establishes that racism was responsible for his being fired from Disney with a year to go in the production of Bambi and subsequently improperly credited as being merely one of many “background artists” who worked on it. In addition to resulting in many decades passing before his true role was acknowledged (and therefore understood), this incident also presumably figured prominently in Wong’s decision to decline an invitation to work on the 1998 Disney production Mulan more than 50 years later. This story and others told by Wong, such as one about a Japanese-American contemporary who never painted again after being interned during World War II, helps the viewer realize how hard it is to measure what is lost when an entire group of people is denied the right to participate fully in the life of a country just because of what they look like or where they’re from. It’s not just the art that Wong or his contemporaries didn’t produce that you have to account for, it’s also the work of the countless other artists they never got a chance to inspire or mentor. [...]"
Nancy Beiman, Professor of Animation
Dr. Amy Davis, Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education and author of Good Girls & Wicked Witches: Women in Disney's Feature Animation
University of Maryland, Baltimore County | Corrie Francis Parks, Assistant Professor, Animation
"I think students would get a lot out of the film and it would make a great interdisciplinary event on campus."
"He is such a magnificent artist. I lack the vocabulary to capture how much Mr. Wong's work moves me. His art, all of it, even the Hallmark cards, are so beautiful and powerful and profound. I just see this powerful artist trained in the Chinese brush coming to see and draw the world through the eyes of numerous great artists and traditions and then synthesizing them all in new and magnetic ways that are true to his own individual vision, life experience and personal inspiration. The film is a visual delight."
"While Tyrus is a film that puts a human face to our nation of immigrants, it is also a love story about family and art, from his father’s early encouragement to Wong’s own paternal instinct."
Otis College of Art and Design | Joan Takayama-Ogawa, Professor
"Tyrus is a beautiful film about resilience over racism, working hard, pursuing a dream, learning that we can't fix all things but can learn to carry them with us. Pam Tom and everyone related to the film did a wonderful job. I was completely engaged and transported. I am reminded that I need to bring more Asian American role models to Otis, as my Chinese and Korean students were deeply touched."
Special Jury Award | Los Angeles Asian Pacific International Film Festival
Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary | DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature | Hawaii International Film Festival
Audience Award | Newport Beach Film Festival
Audience Award | San Diego Asian Film Festival
REQUEST A GOOD TALK WITH PAMELA TOM
Director of TYRUS
Pamela Tom is an Emmy award-winning writer, director, and producer whose films have explored subjects ranging from art and religion to the Chinese American experience, social justice, and nuclear war. After meeting the Chinese American artist and Disney legend Tyrus Wong, Pamela worked tirelessly for over 17 years to bring his life to the screen. The result is TYRUS, Tom's multi award-winning film that premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, was distributed theatrically worldwide, and had its national broadcast on the Emmy-nominated season of PBS's American Masters. Pamela has toured extensively with the film and has been a featured speaker at the Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, and at numerous universities including Yale, Tufts University, University of Hull, Loyola Marymount University, and UMass Boston. She spoke on college campuses throughout the Deep South as part of the highly selective Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers.
Tom’s other work includes Finding Home: A Foster Youth Story, about four teens as they prepare for life outside the foster care system, which premiered on PBS, and won a 2019 Los Angeles Emmy and an LA Press Club Award. Her award-winning short film, Two Lies, about the conflict between a Chinese American teenage girl and her mother who undergoes plastic surgery to make her eyes rounder, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and New Directors/New Films. She directed legendary actor Sidney Poitier in a short to promote the Showtime film, Mandela and DeKlerk, and a feature-length documentary about Mr. Poitier's life in commemoration of his 90th birthday. Tom has filmed on location in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia.
Tom is a recipient of a Walt Disney Writing Fellowship, Dorothy Arzner Award for Outstanding Woman Director, and Asian Pacific Women’s Network Award. She is an outspoken advocate for diversity in the film industry and served as the Director of Diversity at Film Independent, where she ran Project:Involve, a diversity mentoring program that nurtures the careers of young BIPOC filmmakers, including director Jon Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and editor Harry Yoon (Minari).
Tom has taught documentary filmmaking at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount University. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and Film Fatales, an international organization of feature and television women directors. She received her BA from Brown University and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television.