From the Archives...

Posted Tuesday 26 Jan 2016

Since it's summer and you still have time... we have this lovely interview with WIFT member Roseanne Liang done by another WIFT member Ruth Dunphy from 2011 for you to read...

1. After Banana in a Nutshell was released you received hate mail from white supremacists claiming that you are single-handedly threatening the future of the white race and now your first feature is about to be released. How do you possibly find the time for all of this?

Contrary to popular belief, it's surprisingly easy to be a worldly threat. Making a feature film, however�.

2. You are firmly established as an award winning writer and director. Were you presented with any obstacles getting to this place in terms of your gender?

No, I don't think so. If anything, my pre-conceptions of myself were probably the biggest obstacle. A lot directors and writers face self-doubt - 'I'm a fraud, I got lucky, I'm winging it, they'll see me for the fake I am' type of stuff - and for me the biggest problem is wanting people to like me. Is that a gender thing? I guess I do worry that people see me as this little girl who is sensitive and fragile, and getting worked up about winning approval doesn't help. Jane Campion said something about how there are less women directors because women are more sensitive to criticism, and we need to toughen up. I think there could be some truth in that. It's not about being more of an asshole and caring less about other people's opinions; it's about having greater conviction in my own.

3. Your name and occupation is often preceded by your Chinese ethnicity. Do you mind being defined like this or would you rather just be 'Roseanne Liang - writer and director'?

I don't mind being introduced as a Chinese New Zealander. I think New Zealand is getting to a point as a multicultural society that'll cease to be noteworthy. So far, a lot of my films have explored ideas of ethnicity and culture and diasporic identity issues, and I feel that while these things will always be an important dimension of who I am, I am keen to tell some stories that don't put those issues front and centre. The wonderful director Ang Lee springs to mind - he seems to have done that wonderfully in his career. His cultural heritage is always present but not always the focus.

4. 'My Wedding and Other Secrets' is based on 'Banana in a Nutshell' which focuses on your inter-racial relationship and the struggle to understand your traditional Chinese parents' less- than- positive reaction to the relationship. How was the process of transforming a documentary into a dramatic piece?

The first thing we did was change the names! I co-wrote the film with Angeline Loo because I knew I needed someone who could provide a sort of objectivity from the real-life events. Ange and I were at film school when I was making the documentary, so as an outside eye with an inside knowledge, she was the perfect person for this script.

We would be arguing about a plot point and I would say "But that would never happen!" And she would say something like " O.K but this character is not that person." It was an often difficult, but ultimately rewarding experience. Rachel Lang was our script advisor, and she would say things like " this is a story about a selfish girl who takes all the people who love her for granted, in the most well -meaning way". I'd say " Hey! Now hang on a minute!�" and then think about it. Interesting way to self-evaluate, for sure!

5. 'Banana in a Nutshell' seemed to me to be a documentary that was essentially about love. You and Stephen have been married for a few years now. How is married life?

Due to our liberal tendencies, I think Stephen and I underestimated the significance of a proper wedding, especially for my parents. It was almost as if the very act of naming Stephen my husband gave him a weight and importance that a 'boyfriend' could never have. My mum welcomed him into her house with a surprising enthusiasm (he hadn't really been invited in before). She would ask if I fed him properly, and found out what his favourite dishes were (peking duck, for the record), always ordering them when he was at the table. It was wonderful and a bit weird, the way it changed almost overnight !

Stephen and I's relationship is entering its teens now, and we are still pretty solid. Like any relationship it changes and grows and needs tending, but each new challenge has so far brought its own set of rewards. I'm so lucky to have him (soppy much?).

6. Your parents were initially disappointed with your choice of career, preferring you to keep up the family tradition and become a doctor. How do they feel about your choice now?

I think they've been worn down over the years, and hardly mention it these days! Kenneth Tsang and Cheng Pei Pei played the parents in the film, and they are well-known movie stars, particularly in Hong Kong. My parents had dinner with them while they were here, and Kenneth told them that he is at a point in his life where he can pick and choose the projects he works on. He said that acting is no trivial thing for him, he often gets so worked up about a character that he can't sleep at night. He told them that he felt this film was worth his effort. I snuck a look at my parents and while they would never say to my face that they were proud, I don't think they needed to.

7. You certainly are an inspiration - not only have you faced criticism from white supremacists but also from the Asian community who thought you were pandering to Western fantasies of cultural superiority. How do you remain impervious and focused when faced with such criticism?

I've been getting used to it. When it first happened, it was a real shock to the system. I had to keep asking ' I mean really? Is this for real?' Unfortunately one downside to the freedom of the internet is that the inner dick is unleashed in an awful lot of people. Have you noticed, online anonymity appears to aid a weird proliferation of death threats? A woman explains her style of parenting and gets death threats. A girl goes out with a cute pop star and gets death threats. It's a strange first- resort default of our times. Anyway, I guess it's hard not to be shaken or upset by such random and mindless criticism, but I can't do anything about it. People can accuse me of all sorts of made up things, but I know who I am and what I mean. Also, a wonderful family and quick-witted friends make all the difference. Bless em.

Ruth Dunphy