‘Lingua Franca’ on Netflix + Chinese UC Davis researcher bids for release: Your AAPI newsletter

It is Thursday, Aug. 27, and this is The Sacramento Bee’s AAPI weekly newsletter.

Here’s a recap of the stories and issues I’m following:

Lawyers are calling for Dr. Juan Tang, a former UC Davis cancer scientist accused of lying about her ties to China’s military, to be released from jail. Tang was arrested by the FBI on July 23 after seeking refuge inside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.

Tang’s lawyers argue that she is not a flight risk and say Asian American community leaders, business members and attorneys have come forward to help house and support her.

“The charged offenses themselves certainly are not crimes involving a danger to others,” Sacramento attorneys Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson wrote in a motion seeking her release from the Sacramento County Main Jail. They also noted that Tang “has a pre-existing asthma condition” that could put her at risk if she contracts COVID-19 in the jail.

Federal prosecutors have opposed her release, arguing that she lied on her visa application about not having ties to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and China’s Communist party, and producing photos of her in military-style uniforms.

Her lawyers say if she is released on bail she can be housed at the home of a well-known civil attorney — whose identity has been filed in court documents under seal — and spouse who both speak Mandarin fluently. And they say Tang would have no reason to flee a prosecution that a federal defender has said would likely result in a six-month sentence if she is convicted.

“She has a professional career and enjoys a professional reputation that she is motivated to protect,” Segal and Johnson argued. “There is no indication she has ever previously been accused of any offense, and she has been entirely cooperative with authorities; it would be contrary to her established character … to become an international fugitive.”

In other news

  • Advocates: Aggressive action needed amid ‘sub-epidemic’ in Pacific Islander community [Hawaii News Now]

  • Fujio Matsuda, first Asian-American president of a major US university, dies at 95 [Hawaii News Now]

  • Don’t use Asians to maintain white privilege, critics say after DOJ letter to Yale [NBC News]

  • Nikki Haley claims ‘America is not racist,’ later says she ‘faced discrimination’ [NBC News]

  • COVID-19 exposes how Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders face stark health care disparities [UCLA]

  • Hard-hit Pacific Islander, Filipino communities in Hawaii receive targeted help [Honolulu Star-Advertiser]

  • Dartmouth Accused of Anti-Asian Bias in Varsity Team Cuts [Bloomberg News]

  • A Refugee From Vietnam Has Been Named The New Leader Of ICE [BuzzFeed News]

  • The First Chinese-American Woman to Vote in the US Fought For Immigrants [KQED]

  • For Japanese-Americans, Housing Injustices Outlived Internment [The New York Times Magazine]

  • Fullerton’s large Korean American community likely to elect first council rep in decades [The Orange County Register]

  • Food Truck Owner Mashes up His Laotian and Southern Heritage [U.S. News and World Report]

  • Before he hits the big screen, here’s a first look at Marvel Comics’ new Shang-Chi miniseries [Syfy Wire]

  • Opinion: Asian-Americans and the Bias Suit Against Yale [The New York Times]

This week in AAPI pop culture

On Wednesday, Netflix released “Lingua Franca,” a film about an undocumented transgender Filipina woman named Olivia working as a caregiver for an elderly Russian woman, Olga, in Brooklyn, New York. Olivia’s main priority is to secure a green card, but when she unexpectedly becomes romantically involved with Olga’s adult grandson, issues around identity, civil rights and immigration threaten Olivia’s very existence.

Isabel Sandoval, who wrote, directed and starred in her film, made history last year when “Lingua Franca” became the first film directed by and starring an openly trans woman of color to screen in competition at the Venice International Film Festival. The film was picked up by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, ARRAY, and released through Netflix.

This is Sandoval’s third film, although it’s her first set in the United States and her first since transitioning. Stories about the Filipino community are rarely depicted onscreen, and seldom with such nuance and complexity.

Sandoval said in an interview with Refinery29 that she wanted the film to be an immigrant story “at its core,” and to subvert audience expectations of stories told by transgender folks and people of color. Olivia is trans and Filipina, Sandoval said, but isn’t defined by these traits.

“I wanted to prove myself,” Sandoval told Refinery29. “This is really the first film where I’m consciously giving the view of a minority to American film industry and Hollywood. I wanted to feel like I’m able to be both the talent in front and behind the camera.”

Got a story suggestion? Please reach out to me at [email protected]

Ashley Wong, The Sacramento Bee’s Report for America reporter on Asian American and Pacific Islander news.

That’s it for this week’s newsletter. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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