Review: Aoki

August 22, 2010

Directed by Mike Cheng and Ben Wang 

First-time filmmakers Mike Cheng and Ben Wang, University of California, Davis, undergraduates at the time, met political activist Richard Aoki in 2002. The two went on to shoot over 75 hours of footage during the last five years of Aoki’s life (he passed away in 2009). Not a glossy film, but what’s lacking in production value is more than made up for in powerful interviews with Aoki and other activists such as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale. Aoki reveals that his political consciousness was informed by his early life — his family was interned at Topaz internment camp when he was 3, and he grew up in a predominantly black West Oakland neighborhood. Aoki ultimately played a prominent role in the Black Panther Party and also in the Third World Liberation Front Strike at the University of California, Berkeley, which helped establish ethnic studies on that campus. Though the film could be trimmed down, it offers indispensable insights into the role Aoki, and the presence of Asian Americans generally, held in the revolutionary politics of the 1960s. But the real joy of the film comes from Aoki’s speeches and stories, which are at once politically rousing and entertaining.

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