The Grace Lee Project

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She was surprised to discover that nearly everyone she met had not only once known another Grace Lee, but they also seemed to have a similar narrow opinion of her. Each of these new acquaintances would invariably describe their Grace as modest, nice, quiet, smart, passive, accomplished and Christian.

It never occurred to Korean-American Grace Lee while growing up in her rural Missouri hometown that she might have a very common name. But then when she left the Midwest to live in New York and then California, she was surprised to discover that nearly everyone she met had not only once known another Grace Lee, but they also seemed to have a similar narrow opinion of her.

Each of these new acquaintances would invariably describe their Grace as modest, nice, quiet, smart, passive, accomplished and Christian. Intrigued by this strangely similar image of her namesakes as members of a virtual sorority of super-Asians, the aspiring moviemaker decide to track down some other Grace Lees to see just how much they all really have in common.

The upshot of her efforts is The Grace Lee Project, a full-length documentary, and as engaging a fascinating a film as you could hope to find. For she focuses her camera on about 35 extraordinary women named Grace Lee who are actually extremely different from each other, despite frequently sharing some of the same deep cultural roots. We learn that most had been pressured to be church-going, academic-oriented bookworms, raised under parental pressures to measure up to the Asian-American stereotyping as a model minority. Still, they blossomed into unique individuals, such as the Grace who tried to burn down her high school, the Grace who makes voodoo dolls of her enemies, or the director herself, who admits to being a relative underachiever and an avowed atheist.

Then there’s Grace Lee the CBS news anchor in Hawaii who says she would never have made it in television, if she had merely been meek and deferential. The same can be said of Grace Lee the L.A. car dealer, an extrovert who appears in her own TV commercials.

My personal favorite was Grace Lee Boggs, an outspoken octogenarian from Detroit. Known in the ‘hood as “Grace X� because of her decades-long commitment to the Black Power Movement, this fiery community activist continues to work with youth around the city, inspiring them with quotes from Frantz Fanon like, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.� Whether or not you knew a Grace Lee before, you’ll never be able to think of Asian females as a type again after getting to know the ensemble comprising this enlightening and enriching bio-pic.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 68 minutes
Distributor: Film Forum/Women Make Movies Productions


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