“I think all women should feel free. Our bodies are vessels: it’s how we move through the world.”
“White Rabbit” is a beautiful celebration of the intersecting pathways of female, queer and Korean-American perspectives which is so rarely portrayed in mainstream media. In addition to the film’s comedic scenes and skillful acting, director Daryl Wein incorporates powerful social commentary about marginalized artists, making “White Rabbit” a must see.
We are first introduced to a woman dressed in a blonde wig and awkward white costume as she speaks into a microphone with a forced Korean accent. She stands in the middle of a grocery store, unconcerned that the shoppers are staring at her in disgust or cringing at her image. Soon after, we find that her name is Sophia (Vivian Bang), an Asian immigrant artist living in Los Angeles. Sophia struggles to find her niche and make a living through creating “art that people can’t buy”, but nevertheless, she continues to use art as her channel of commenting on racial disparities in L.A. After bumping into a photographer named Victoria (Nana Ghana) who shares a similar struggle of cultural identity, Sophia thinks that she has finally found a home in La La Land. However, her relationship with Victoria soon takes a sharp turn, and Sophia realizes that she must ignore her “inner demons”, trust herself, and let her loved ones bloom.
Vivian Bang in a film still from "White Rabbit"
The title of “White Rabbit” in itself is filled with irony. Wein and Bang’s ironic genius lies in the fact that Sophia is a racial minority working in a predominantly white field and living in a predominantly white city. Every time she performs, Sophia puts on a white costume that mocks cultural assimilation. Even more, the name “White Rabbit” not only evokes fond memories of an iconic brand of milk candy in Asian culture, but also refers to Sophia’s side hustle as a TaskRabbit housekeeper.
The importance of creative freedom is what makes this film especially compelling. It is evident that she struggles to find a strong financial foundation as an artist in L.A., yet it seems from her video call with her mother that she comes from a financially sound family. This disparity suggests Wein and Bang’s artful effort to indicate how Sophia sacrifices economic freedom to express her creativity. According to Virginia Woolf’s early 20th century feminist extended essay A Room of One’s Own, Woolf argues that “A woman must have a room of her own and money to create art.” In a society where men have always dominated the arts and media scene, female voices have always been suppressed. Sophia’s shared experiences with fellow artist Victoria demonstrate their need for creative “room” to attain their full potential. As Victoria beautifully noted, women’s bodies are canvases for personal creative expression, not sexual objects. This theme of the independent woman is extremely relevant to modern-day society.
Nana Ghana in a film still from "White Rabbit"
Victoria and Sophia’s complementary personalities and cultures highlight the importance of diversity. Victoria is calm, confident, and reassuring, while Sophia is impulsive and self-critical. Despite their seemingly contrasting personalities, they find joy in each other. Through their relationship, Wein suggests the value in appreciating different cultures, especially in today’s divided America. Even more, Sophia’s lesbian identity is a cultural breakthrough, especially in Asian culture, that is much needed to break the glass ceiling.
“White Rabbit” addresses the complex nature of Asian women in social media and pop culture. Scenes of Sophia stalking her friends on Instagram, creating quirky YouTube videos, and being fetishized by an ignorant white filmmaker are all essential to the raw experiences of Sophia who struggles to pinpoint her own identity. When the white filmmaker stereotypes Sophia’s identity by trying to acknowledge her “oriental” background, Wein creates a feeling of discomfort in a way that perfectly reflects the everyday experiences of immigrants. Similarly, Wein communicates the lack of substantial Asian American representation in media when the filmmaker tries to push her into the minimal acting role of an accountant.
Vivian Bang in a film still from "White Rabbit"
Sophia’s story not only relates to the struggles of many viewers, but also challenges stereotypes about the Asian American experience. Sophia’s curious, emotional, and quirky personality defies the model minority myth, the Yappie (Young Asian Professional) and boring, conformist personality traits that are attached to so many Asian Americans in modern day society. Bang ultimately conveys that being weird and socially awkward is a perfectly valid method of creative expression.
Ultimately, “White Rabbit” effectively takes moments of comedy and love to create a progressive film that captures the authentic experiences of women of color.
This review was written as part of the Fall 2018 Press Corps Intensive. It was edited by teaching artist and critic Ma'Chell Duma.
The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about other Press Corps programs including the Teen Editorial Staff or the TeenTix Newsroom, see HERE.