Tea & Justice: Defying Stereotypes, Changing Law Enforcement

Director's Statement

From the film's Prologue:

“Image is a powerful force. What is in the eyes of the beholder? What are his or her preconceived notions? I wanted to explore images of everyday reality. Images of those who look like me. This image [Asian women cops] especially grabbed me, intrigued me...But I have mixed feelings about cops. So I wasn't sure whether to make a film about them, even though they were Asian American women... [telephone: Ring! Ring!] “Hello, New York Police Department? I'd like to interview your Asian American female officers for a documentary?” The N.Y.P.D. was suspicious. They wanted to know if I was from Playboy magazine or some porn publication! I was amazed... curious... and hooked on exploring what was behind this image.”

I LOVE A GOOD STORY. Agnes, Trish & Christine had one good story after another. This motivated me to be a good storyteller, doing justice to their voice, highlighting their experiences artistically and drawing out the life-lessons.

I am also passionate about two subjects: the first is women's image in the media – especially for Asian-Pacific women, which is under-represented and mis-represented, stereotyped. Even in well-intentioned documentary films about Asian Pacific women – there is little diversity of roles and images. Our images are often limited to victims, like those in global sex trafficking or mail-order brides; and those who are social activists. Although these are worthy characters and stories, the lack of diversity is a problem.

The other subject I am passionate about is police abuse reform. Pairing this with the subject of Asian American women's image proved to be an epiphany. The startling image of Asian women cops led me to the phenomena of women's preventive policing style, which is less abusive and based on communication skills and patience. This is in contrast to men's more reactive policing style, based more on physical authority and force.

Connecting the two subjects makes "Tea & Justice" richer, more complex, more creative and entertaining. I meditated on this over many a cup of tea and over the images of strong Asian women, most of whom are unknown, especially in the West. So I was glad to briefly include such cultural icons in my film: Guan-yin, goddess of compassion, healer and protector who traveled from ancient India throughout many Asian motherlands; the Trung Sisters from Vietnam in 40 A.D. led a people's army of 80,000 and, like Joan of Arc, rid their country of foreign military occupants. Gabriela Silang, 18th century Filipina leader in the colonial revolution against Spain and others. Asian women in law enforcement aren't so strange after all!

It was a long and winding road of 10 years to complete "Tea & Justice". Fortunately, the stories of Detectives Chan and Leung and Officer Trish Ormsby inspired me to persevere. My editor, Sandrine Isambert also said that she never grew tired of listening to these women's engaging stories even though she was re-editing the same shots and segments over and over again.

I was also inspired by Margie Moore, a former N.Y.P.D. undercover cop who is now Director of the National Center for Women & Policing. Her passionate advocacy for more women on the police force to reform law enforcement, especially police abuse encouraged me to persevere until the film was completed. As a long-time civil rights activist (my own arrest at a political protest is featured in the film) I know that police reform is very difficult, complicated and at times, intimidating. Perhaps that is why some feel hopeless and have a knee jerk reaction against all cops, thinking: "We don't want women and minorities to become cops, to get corrupted and become repressive tools of the state." But I ask: should we abandon this profession to only straight white men only?

Although police reform and race-gender stereotypes are serious subjects, I wanted "Tea & Justice" to also use humor via cartoons and motion graphics for style and for fun.

I'm inspired by playwright Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues". Ensler's entertaining, enlightening and courageous stageplay and documentary-spin-off has attracted audiences who come away so profoundly affected that they have created an international campaign for protecting women from sexual violence. I hope my own more modest documentary will entertain, alert and inspire action too, on issues concerning women – not just as victims and survivors but as protectors and warriors, too.

I want what all documentary filmmakers want: a good distribution deal for theatrical screenings, TV broadcasts, sales or rental to schools and institutions like libraries – but I also want what a cultural activist wants: grass-root community screenings with Q&As and lively panel-audience discussions. I have received several foundation grants to produce these community screening events, plus a grant to produce Chinese subtitles so that "Tea & Justice" can have greater outreach to the immigrant limited-English Chinese community. Civic discourse and action prompted by cinema can lead to concrete action for progress. I want "Tea & Justice" to help change the face of law enforcement – and its soul around the country and the world. I want "T&J" to help reach the over-arching goal for women to rule the world in partnership with men – whether in high political office or at the street level as police officers serving and protecting the community.

I'm selling autographed copies of the beautiful & powerful "Tea & Justice" poster as a benefit for various women's and children's shelters. The film's stars – Agnes, Christine, Trish and myself signed the posters which raised over $500 at the film's NYC premiere and benefited the New York Asian Women's Center's shelters for women and children escaping domestic violence; more funds were raised at subsequent screenings. Wherever "Tea & Justice" goes, this benefit sale will go right along.

I'm also fundraising to make copies of "Tea & Justice" available for free to women's organizations around the world who cannot afford a copy of their own.

Photo credits: Ermena Vinluan by Rick Cook. Godesses by Frank Gimpaya. Artwork credits (top to bottom): Amaterasu, head of the ancient Japanese pantheon, watercolor on paper by Mika Oshima, 1998. Bolak Sonday, legendary Filipina warrior princess, pastels on paper, by Christine Ling Quisumbang, 1998. Guan-yin, healer and goddess of compassion, encaustic painting on linen, by Dr. Elaine Soto, 1996.