March is Women’s History Month and our highlights of Project Forte this month will focuses on bold and creative women in the field, working each and every day at their craft in an industry dominated by their male counterparts. This first installment also focuses on the perspectives of Asian/Asian-American experiences within the film industry, here in Philadelphia. As an underrepresented history retards progress and scope, it is crucial to inform, communicate, and educate ourselves and one another. Follow along this month with some of our treasured collaborators and creators!
Bianca Moon (she/her) is a freelancer in Philadelphia, working both as Grip and Electric on set, while charting a path toward Gaffing. Forced by risk to follow her dream, Bianca recognizes the necessity of hard work and initiative. She talks about setting goals and conquering them, quickly settling a foundation for her own place on set. Her resiliency and dedication inspire, even through challenging discussions on discrimination of race and culture. Bianca offers a sense of hope for her film community, urging professionals to make space, not only for marginalized stories but for the people, themselves, who work to represent and revive them. Acknowledgment and reflection are key to personal growth here. Delve into inspirations, motivations, and history to witness a mature but vibrant talent behind the scenes, Bianca Moon.
Written and Edited by Kate Feher
Kris Mendoza: How would you say you got your start in the industry?
Bianca Moon: I started going full-time freelance in 2017. I had been serving tables at that time, taking off whenever I could to PA [production assistant] and get whatever set experience I could. A lot of times, working for free. I did not know many people in the film industry yet.
My interest in lighting started at a young age. Early on, in my freshman year of high school, I was lucky enough to have a film class with a dark room and we made pinhole cameras. I remember making mine out of a Clue game box, and I was really excited when I saw the photo I took with it. It was a telescope or something, but just seeing the positive vs negative space, I became interested in how light can create and define shape.
21 Bridges came around during that time, and my friend had gotten me an interview to be a set PA. They wanted me to come on as a day player, which means you just come on for a day and try-out essentially. That wasn’t something concrete or permanent but it was enough for me to take that bet on myself. So, I quit my serving job, and I made a goal to be asked to work on the rest of that movie. And that’s exactly what happened. It was three months of overnight shoots and a lot of hard work. Ironically, it made me realize that I didn’t want to do production.
Bianca Moon: I didn’t want to do production.
Kris Mendoza: Got you. Because you were originally trying to be more production department, as opposed to G&E [grip & electric].
Bianca Moon: Yeah. I mean I had to PA just to network. I got to PA on Americano, which was such a great first experience with the Maestro crew. I did PA work for a year and a half before I knew anyone. It’s a lot about who you know which, historically in the film industry, is white men. We’re going to see a shift here, as the younger generation fights to be seen for their talents specifically. For me, at least in my experience, I would love to see more women of color in technical positions. They’re out there, maybe you have to look a little harder. I am sure more women would be interested in technical departments if they were more accessible to them.
When I first started, I got called to do more makeup and wardrobe stuff — I think as a female you tend to get profiled as those roles when you step onto set. I’ll still get asked if I am make-up or wardrobe by people I work with for the first time on set. More technical positions are male-dominated, for the most part. I would watch G&E all the time and found myself fixated on that department. I always found lighting to be one of the most important aspects of film. I would keep a notebook with light diagrams and stuff, it’s so funny looking back at it, because I was pulling from context clues and a lot of it was misspelled or the wrong unit. I was reaping knowledge second-hand because the practical experience was not available to me at the time.
That made me realize I was really interested in this work. The field was mainly men, so that was kind of intimidating to me. But when I started to see more women in G&E, I felt encouraged. Specifically, Ryan Perkins, who has since moved to LA to be a designer, at the time was an electrician, also a female, and she was so good at her job. She carried herself very well. I think that encouraged me. It taught me my goal was achievable in Philly. I found a great community in Expressway and the talented Philadelphia lighting technicians I get to work with today. Then, for the first time. I finally felt seen for my skills versus what people expected me to be.
And this is why I think representation is so important. Because even though I’m just a “normi” human being, and can be insecure about my capabilities… seeing someone else do it, who was female, made me feel like I could do it. I’m hoping that one day, I won’t be a female Gaffer, I’ll be a great Gaffer who is, coincidentally, a female, and also a minority. And I think that’s the goal, ultimately. In order to achieve that, there needs to be more exposure and more people who look like me.
Kris Mendoza: Overall, obviously G&E is pretty male-dominated….white male-dominated, specifically. For you, what are the biggest challenges, either walking onto a set and dispelling preconceived stereotypes in place before you even get on set?
Bianca Moon: I think I’ve always lived my life being second-guessed… people told me I couldn’t do this or that, especially in Korean culture. My mom was not trying to discourage me, I think she was just a product of the times… it seemed like she really believed women couldn’t do certain things that men could do.
It’s unavoidable that someone will question your intelligence because you don’t look like the role they expect. I mean someone literally Facebook messaged me, a person that I didn’t even know, a man in the Philadelphia film community, and was basically like, “Who do you think you are, trying to get these jobs? You’ve had an easier path.” and going out of his way to talk down to me. Stuff like that happens all the time. That’s why it’s important to find those in this community who are the opposite of that: people who see you for your work and what you’re doing and want to teach you more, for no other reason but to see you thrive.
Kris Mendoza: I didn’t realize it was as blatant as that…unprovoked, and no reason at all.
Bianca Moon: Yeah, totally. But hey, I’m a human being and I’m going to get into my own head about stuff, but the less I worry about what other people say or how other people perceive me, the more I can concentrate on myself and the complexities that my character has, and then also appreciate other people and how complex they are. That’s why I love the film industry. Everyone comes up in so many different avenues, and their stories are so different.
Kris Mendoza: You talk about some of the misconceptions or preconceptions people have about you on set, just based on looks: Are racist comments and/or sexual harassment comments something all too prevalent on set that women have to deal with and that white men don’t?
Bianca Moon: This job has definitely taught me a lot about ego. The fear of not being strong enough makes me feel bad when someone tries to help me. Through G&E, people offer to help me carry things all the time. This is my job and I want to handle it myself, which is my own ego, but in the end, if two men are going to carry something, two women can carry it. You’re never going to carry a 5k by yourself anyway, trying to break your back, even as a man. There’s this misconception that you have to be this physically strong person when really, it’s a technical role, and knowledge is your power. You should know your information and actively try to learn as much as you can. I love G&E because there’s not really a glass ceiling on how much you can learn. You can share different approaches and always see a different perspective.
I’ve been able to find a group of freelance G&E to be my community and we’re able to bounce ideas off each other and give suggestions freely. This was mainly through Expressway, who kind of took a chance on me. I was PA-ing and driving trucks (their shop was one of my stops). Going back to being a woman and being perceived a certain way, I would drive that truck and get so many weird looks.
Kris Mendoza: Asian lady driver comments….
Bianca Moon: Yeah, one time, someone came up to my truck, as I was at a stoplight and tried to hit on me. I thought, “This is wildly inappropriate, and if I wasn’t a woman, this wouldn’t be happening right now.” Another time, I was filling up the truck at a gas station, and there was a group of guys outside… and I’m short, whatever, so I had to jump out of the truck, and they literally laughed at me, these complete strangers.
Kris Mendoza: Does it motivate you?
Bianca Moon: That’s a good question. I feel like, most of the time, I end up brushing it off, but now I’m finding my voice more. When people say things like that to me, I say, “Okay, that’s not okay.” Or even if a project wants me because, incidentally, they have a prerogative to hire more women… I think it’s important to question “Okay, but do you think I’m a good Gaffer?” Because I want to be seen for my technical knowledge in lighting vs. being hired to fill a quota.
I feel like the thing about racism today, not just on set, but on a broader spectrum, is that it’s a lot of micro-aggressions, especially in a work environment. Socially now, there’s more pressure to be a respectable human being, I guess. Although some people are deliberately racist, I think that at the end of the day, most aren’t intentionally trying to be mean-spirited, they simply don’t recognize and lack exposure.
Even last week, I was picking up some gear and a delivery guy turned around, not having talked to me before, and did a karate move to me. How am I supposed to react to that? It’s a weird thing to navigate around because he obviously did that karate move to me because I’m Asian, and micro-aggressions like that are something that I’m finding hard to approach.
Kris Mendoza: I like your word, micro-aggression, because it’s seemingly so small, to a point where if you say something, you start to look like the bad guy… But really, you wanna say “I don’t think you realize the implications of how racist that is…”
Bianca Moon: Yeah. And that really is the lighter side of what I’m regularly subjected to.
Kris Mendoza: So, you talked about the being outspoken bit, and it’s a double-edged sword… On one hand, they’re fully expecting a stereotypically subservient Asian woman to just take it and roll with the punches, but on the other hand, you want to be outspoken. You want to stick up for yourself, for your culture, but at what point does it hinder your cause? It’s so common for people to say “Here’s this person of color or this minority woman acting out again…” What’s that balance behind handling those conceptions?
Bianca Moon: I think that I would be lying if I didn’t say there were certainly times I let things go because I didn’t want to be the problem or because I was exhausted. Sadly, sometimes I am the only minority on set, and I feel, in certain situations, I can’t have a voice. That is something I am trying to work on and balance. I’ve become more confident, but I don’t really know where the line is yet. But being outspoken with those situations is ultimately the right course, in order to make film industry jobs more inclusive for everyone.
Racism as a whole can not be tolerated at all. How can we do that? How can we make those steps in such a white male-dominated industry? Speaking out helps people to acknowledge what is happening. My hope is they take responsibility to at least reflect and ask, “Hey, what can I do to try and see other people’s perspectives?”
Kris Mendoza: Let’s shift a little bit, you talk about how your mom expected you to act as a woman, but what was the level of support from her and the rest of your family, going into a creative field or more specifically, settling into a technical position? Do they understand and get what you do now? Because I feel like, from an Asian background, this is not on the list of ‘approved Asian lines of work,’ right?
Bianca Moon: My grandma is a huge part of my life as someone who raised me while my parents were working. They had a classic Korean immigrant story, opening produce stores in North Philly. She’s 87 now and has been through a lot. She went through Japanese incarceration, the home she grew up in became part of North Korean territory. She lost both her brother and sister in the process of separation between North and South Korea. They were taken in for questioning and never seen again. She has faced so much adversity, and she inspires me to do what I love because she fought so hard for us to be here.
I have the opportunity to be in this field because I’m American. I don’t think that I would be in this position if I was in Korea, at all. I’m fortunate that I even have the opportunity. We have a luxury, as Asian Americans, to build our own self-awareness and follow the route which calls to us. And I think that that is something that a lot of Asian parents are unfamiliar with because, during their time, they literally just had to survive.
Asian families and Asian parents, they love you and they want you to survive but also thrive, which means practically, they want you to be able to financially support yourself. I think every Asian parent is going to be skeptical about their child going into the arts due to the question of financial stability. I don’t blame them for doubting me when I chose this path.
My mom learned to support whatever I wanted to do, mainly because I was so stubborn at an early age. When I first became interested in photography, she bought me my first DSLR. She encouraged what I wanted to do, to a certain extent, but the main thing was “make money.” And I think that my family definitely worried about me at first. They’re probably still confused about what I do… But my mom got on board once I worked some network jobs on Netflix and HBO, which she was familiar with.
Kris Mendoza: It’s almost like they want to know that they worked hard to give you the opportunity and you didn’t blow it.
Bianca Moon: But I kind of interpreted it a different way. I thought, “You guys worked so hard for me to be American.. to have —
Kris Mendoza: —- so that you could have this freedom.
Bianca Moon: Yes, to be in this country. I have a lot of younger cousins, and I’m the oldest one in my generation, so I hope showing them what I’m doing helps them see their own potential as limitless. Even though my route was difficult…. because it was difficult, I appreciate where I am so much.
Kris Mendoza: There is no better segue to this next question because we’re talking about a true Korean-American dream: did you end up seeing Minari at all? When it was released, the Golden Globes came under fire for classifying it as a foreign film, even though it was shot in America, with an American cast, mostly, and a crew that was American. Quite frankly, it’s an American story. It mirrors what you’re talking about in terms of the Koreans coming to the U.S., searching for better opportunities and a better life for their family.
Where do these kinds of Asian American narratives or Korean American narratives, fit into the zeitgeist or into cinema in general? And why are we still dealing with this when it’s as clear as American of a story as you can get?
Bianca Moon: Yeah, right? It’s like the idea of always being “the other,” even though we are American. I personally think that just shows how narrow the scope is when it comes to the identity of an Asian American. It emphasizes the fact that we are still not considered as belonging here.
With Minari, I related a lot to the little boy because he’s first-generation American, and there were little things he said about his grandma, like, “How come you’re not like other grandmas?”
Kris Mendoza: Kind of embarrassed by her, but loved her at the same time.
Bianca Moon: Yeah. I felt the same way about certain things. Growing up, my mom would make me little “Dosirak” lunches, and I would literally hide it in my locker. I would save whatever money I could to get the American school lunches because kids would make fun of my lunch for the way it looked and smelled. I think that was something, at the end of the day, well, white cultural dominance instills in you. There’s a lack of diversity. Growing up, I played with white Barbie dolls. The most Asian thing I looked up to was Sailor Moon, who’s really still a blonde woman with blue eyes. Those Westernized beauty standards still hold power, especially in Korea, where plastic surgery is so normalized. When you turn 16-years-old, you don’t get a car, you get a nose job, or you get double eyelid surgery.
Members of my family would say “It would be so cheap to go get your freckles lasered off in Korea.” I think it’s due to a combination of over-dramatized stereotypes and the lack of honest representation in media. Also, an Asian person might only be a secondary character, the girlfriend of a primary character who only lasts a month you know? … these one-dimensional depictions.
I watched Gilmore Girls, with Lane – she was Korean. But, you didn’t really learn that much about her narrative, except for the stereotypical things, like her mom being really strict and demanding. When I was younger, at least seeing some representation was really interesting to me, but as I got older, I recognized, “Wow, those depictions are just so simple.”
Kris Mendoza: Yeah, one-dimensional, like you said, incomplete.
Bianca Moon: We are each a complex individual, just like the other.
Kris Mendoza: Is it important to celebrate the differences between Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipinos, and the like, but still come together for a cause like these that affect us all?
Bianca Moon: Asian cultures are wildly different from each other. You can’t just say-
Kris Mendoza: “You’re Korean? I have a Chinese friend!” It’s like, “Good for you, man.”
Bianca Moon: Exactly.
Kris Mendoza: I get that so much. “You’re Filipino? I went to Thailand last year. #thumbsup”
Bianca Moon: I hate it when I say that I’m Korean, and then someone says something in Korean to me. Because what am I supposed to say? Do you want to have a conversation in Korean or is this actually about you and the one phrase you know?”
I think it is really important to make a distinction for the differences of all Asian American cultures because they come from unique Asian countries that have vastly different histories, different backgrounds, and that’s obviously vital to our understanding. And I think the generalizations people make using culture are dangerous. We have certain features that are similar and therefore, we are deemed as one group in America. That in itself just shows how much work still needs to be done. One reason is the lack of Asian education, since education in America is extremely Eurocentric.
Kris Mendoza: No Asian American history classes.
Bianca Moon: Yeah, exactly. I remember, in college, I met someone who asked, “So, what’s the difference between North and South Korea? Is that part of China?” I didn’t even know where to start. At this point, there’s not really an excuse because we have the internet. Google is free! Everyone can google, so keep those thoughts to yourself and google it later, to educate yourself. You don’t need to say that to someone.
Kris Mendoza: Well, that’s the thing, I don’t think they know how ignorant it sounds because it’s just a lack of exposure to these kinds of cultures.
Bianca Moon: And there is another stereotype, one of being passive or silent about things… which seems to give permission for blatant questions, there won’t be a backlash. I grew up in a time when I was openly made fun of for my packed home lunches. I’ve been called a “chink” before. I’ve literally had someone do the slanty eyes to me, as an adult, at a restaurant where I worked as professionally as possible. That’s not okay, and people need to know that. I think that it’s just taken me a while to become confidently outspoken because I mean, as an adult, there’s no reason for me to not be outspoken. At this point, I’m confident in who I am, and I need to make the situation better, especially with all these hate crimes currently. I just worry, every single day, about my parents because they fall under a demographic of people being violently targeted due to misconceptions about Covid-19. My parents have been robbed before and didn’t feel they could report it, due to the socio-political risks and the didn’t want to create a “problem.”
We need to lift each other up and encourage each other to speak out about these things, articulate them in a thoughtful way. A lot of Asian Americans think their own identity trauma is too hard to speak of, including me at times.
Kris Mendoza: It comes back to the same, “how much can we speak out?” You almost have to censor yourself, because anger closes ears, whereas the status quo can yell and bitch and moan about it. As Asian Americans, as minorities, we have to compose ourselves better than that.
What, in your opinion, fuels this violence and what is that a microcosm of? Do people fear and, therefore, hate?
Bianca Moon: I can’t really speak to where it comes from. I just can’t imagine having so much hate for someone I don’t know that I would physically harm them. That is so beyond my capacity. But I do think that specifically elder Asian immigrants, it’s that mentality of being scared or you’ll be targeted.
Right now, we’re in a pandemic, and there’s been more attention on racism.
Kris Mendoza: Everything else has slowed down, and these issues are magnified…
Bianca Moon: Yeah, definitely.
Kris Mendoza: Could using film and multimedia as a tool dispel any of this?
Bianca Moon: Yeah, media is a tool. You have to remember that film itself was created by white men, for white people, and tailored to them. There are classes on lighting standards/ratios which exclude darker-skinned people. So, growing up, you watch TV, and what you see is what you know. Your exposure to other cultures has already been controlled.
And not everyone is media-competent, especially people who live in small towns where they see the same people all the time. If representation on TV isn’t any different, then confirms their reality. So there needs to be more representation, more voices, more real-life experiences in media so we can finally acknowledge it and be less scared to talk about it.
Kris Mendoza: You just brought us from inequality back to film so eloquently. I don’t know if you’re at liberty to discuss, because I know the project is still in post or under wraps, but what project are you working on right now?
Bianca Moon: So I’m not going to say the title, it would reveal too much…but I’m working with Ayumi Perry, Eurica Yu, and Sophie Cécile Xu (and many other talented crew members) to create consciousness toward this lack of representation for Asian Americans. We’re trying to create something artful that also shows our perspective in a way that avoids the stereotypical American perspective of Asians. Specifically, I think that the piece touches on common struggles with identity and racism in America but through the lens of fashion and design. The Asian fashion story has so much abstract symbolism in it, touching on how we feel, not as Asian Americans, but as Asians and our experience in America. Yeah. I think that’s all I can say about it for now.
The project did a lot to encourage me to stand up. We just can’t afford to settle. We’re all one race of human beings… the challenge is helping others look past surfaces to see how similar we can be
Kris Mendoza: Well, for what it’s worth, I firmly believe you’re doing it, each and every day, just by doing what you do and doing it proudly. You hit it on the head, early on, because I hope that perhaps a younger female or younger Asian female sees what you’re doing and can release themselves from the stereotype.
Bianca Moon: I want to emphasize the people who encouraged me, and specifically women who encouraged me, like Ryan Perkins, Shawna Annable, who I consider one of my best friends now. They were both people who showed me what was possible. And Hilary Hanak, of course, was also someone that I looked up to – she was able to persevere in a demanding technical field. That encouraged me to be that representation for other people, even when I feel insecure or bad about my progress.
Kris Mendoza: I think that’s huge because, and obviously I’m not a female, but growing up there was no blueprint for me either. I think that’s huge for you to come into your own and realize that, but also to find communities and pockets of other people that are doing the same thing. ■