LAI - Multi-racial Jamaican Chinese Director of "Jamaica Farewell"
ASIANS: For those who don’t know much
of your artistic/entertainment credits - could you share some of your
many credits, training, and background.
grew up reading many fiction stories, particularly ‘Nancy
Drew’ books, which we were fortunate to have in our very
small prep. school library in Montego Bay. By reading, this sparked
my imagination and I became more of a visual artist. I’ve always
felt that vision in particular cannot be taught. It isn’t a technical
craft but more of a personal perspective, statement, and style that
is very individual. I have been very lucky that writers/producers have
asked me to direct their work or would love to collaborate with me.
I can only attribute that to the meetings, and perhaps they feel that
I would bring something unique to their project because of my sense
of style, wit, and voice.
ASIANS: What do you attribute to your passions behind
being involved with the entertainment industry and being a director?
The main reason
behind my being a director is to give hope and inspire. I meet many
people who have no fire or yearning for life, and I feel that is heartbreaking.
I feel that as a director, this medium gives us a broad advantage of
reaching people all over the world with stories that not only entertain,
and reveal our truths, but also lifts people’s spirits. Because
that difference can change a person’s path, it makes this difficult
journey worth it.
Could you share what is the difference between being a Jamaican
Chinese and a Chinese Jamaican – along with how you describe
Jamaican Chinese is a Jamaican–‘born’ Chinese.
That is how I introduce and describe myself. We have a lot of
Chinese who leave the mainland for Jamaica and have adopted the
culture and in that sense they feel every bit a Jamaican. They
would be described as Chinese Jamaican.
ASIANS: How would you describe
the relationships and history between people of Jamaican and Chinese
heritage in Jamaica?
were initially brought to work in Jamaica as slaves. The Chinese
got along so well with the Jamaicans that they stayed and settled.
Over the years, the Chinese from Canton and ‘hak-ka’
descent came to Jamaica with the prospect of opening businesses.
To this day, there are still many who leave the mainland to work
and raise their family in Jamaica.
US ASIANS: Does the ability of speaking Jamaican, Chinese
(Cantonese) and English (and any other languages that you
are able to speak) played a part in the ability to understand and
go between various cultures?
That is a great
question. I’m not sure if it has to do with me speaking different
languages but more of feeling comfortable in different environments
all over the world and with various cultures within a society. Jamaica
is a great training ground. Our motto is ‘out of many, one
people’. And so we live that. I grew up living with Jamaicans
of various backgrounds and nationalities, and because of that I am able
to mingle with various cultures and have a broad range of friends.
ASIANS: What are the many joys and pain of someone with
I feel lucky that
I able to ‘hang out’ with various groups and cultures.
I’m not sure if it is because of my background but more of being
comfortable within my own skin. I think the only pain that I have felt
would be meeting other people who are uncomfortable within their own
skin. What I love about directing and the arts is that it surpasses
international borders. It’s all about the story.
ASIANS: What brought you from Montego Bay, Jamaica to
Florida International University with a double major in Marketing and
from Miami Palmetto Senior High, I decided to attend FIU. I felt that
it would be a great learning experience not only as far as studies,
but also to meet more people of different backgrounds. I chose my majors
knowing that my goal would be in Film. International business and marketing
was very helpful to me for knowing how to market a picture (to investors)
and how to sell (international distribution).
Could you provide a brief background on
your parents and what invaluable lessons did they teach you to
be a successful artist and person?
My parents are amazing, I’m so very lucky! The lessons they
taught me were to really appreciate people, challenging situations,
and obstacles. As a person, I don’t judge nor do I take
anything for granted. I’ve lived my formative years in Montego
Bay, and by doing so, my dad instilled in us a sort of inner strength
and toughness. I am from a third world environment and I love
that part about me, because I can live anywhere. My family is
more business-oriented. I took the lone path to pursue the arts.
ASIANS: How would you describe
the many reasons behind your parents’ traveling (i.e. Jamaica,
Hong Kong, Miami) plans that provided you with diverse background
parents believe in living, and seeing the world. Immersing ourselves
in different environments will only make us better people.
ASIANS: What circumstances initially made you aware
I saw ‘Mango Mango’ and was very impressed with not only
her writing, and gutsy performance, but about her honesty with the material.
Debra is a risk-taker, and I respect her for going places that most
artists would shy from. From then on, we were friends.
ASIANS: Did the common experience/background with Debra
of having one’s parents exude great influences in who they are
made it easier to work with each other?
We both have a very different lifestyle and cultural background, but
we understood each other as Jamaicans. It was easy to work with Debra
because we have a mutual respect for one another.
ASIANS: What were the first things that attracted you
to being involved with “Jamaica Farewell?”
First, I loved the material! From the very first reading, I felt the
adventure and was happy to be introduced to a colorful range of Jamaicans
I know and love. The story about a young girl who chooses to not give
up, moved me. For some, the path is simple, for others, it is rough.
And I was happy to see that in this story the reference to illegal activity
is addressed, as no other choice. It is a common occurrence when one
lives in an environment where it is difficult for most to put food on
the table. As in many cultures, we have to do what we can with the little
that we have. In the end there is no judgment.
Monique Lai-directed production of Debra Ehrhardt's "Jamaica
Farewell" will be performing a special preview presentation
on Sunday: July 9, 2006 at Jamaica Cultural Alliance's 8th
Annual Tea Party. For more info, click HERE
and to download a flyer - click HERE
ASIANS: How important was it for the tale of survival
within Debra's play "Invisible Chairs" and the ability
to change what we’ve inherited to be communicated to audiences?
(Additional info on other upcoming Jamaican writers can be found HERE)
This was a very important aspect of the story. It is unfortunate when
people refuse to change the course of their lives for the better, and
instead choose the lone path of feeling safe than sorry, and holding
onto unresolved issues. This was a beautifully written story about a
girl who decided to take the plunge and learn to love again. I found
that brave and encouraging and important for audiences to see.
What prompted your interest in photography?
My love of being behind the camera stems from photography. Capturing
a still moment of time. To me, that is beautiful and poignant.
It is a great tool that not only voices one’s perspective
but also great for collaborators to see and understand my vision
as a director.
US ASIANS: What were the
factors that provided the opportunity to shooting a music video
for Compton rap artist, Sallie.B.?
I listened to his single ‘Baby Mama’ and loved it.
I pitched to Sallie.B and his manager and they were excited about
ASIANS: Did Debra's production of "Invisible
Chairs" provide invaluable insights, background and/or perspective(s)
in directing Debra in “Jamaica Farewell”?
It was a wonderful experience working with Debra on this production.
The opening and closing sequences were beautiful and rewarding. Seeing
Debra go for it, and giving me her trust, earned my undying respect
ASIANS: Who are your role models?
The filmmakers who
inspire me are: Patrice LeConte, Francois Ozon, Aditya Chopra, Karan
Johar, Mira Nair, and Deepa Mehta.
ASIANS: What three words would describe the following:
Yourself - Different, Interesting and Tough. Debra
Ehrhardt - Talented, Charming and Funny. Debra's play
"Jamaica Farewell - Honest, Original and Heart-warming.
an artist, I am curious not only about the different personalities
I meet, but also what separates this person from the next.