Pockmarked alleyways and unpainted fences. Vinyl-wrapped houses and weathered wooden decks. Kids running through the neighbourhood, brought together by school and age.
It’s not often that a filmmaker captures such a vivid and romantic sense of what a quintessential working class Canadian childhood often looks like. While parents struggle to work and provide for the family, the struggles and burdens of their kids often reflect but also transcend these daily realities. One generation survives and provides, in hopes that the next generation can go after the dreams they never saw fulfilled.
What unites us is the idea that we all just want to be happy.
UBC alum Jason Karman, director of 2022 film Golden Delicious, explores this struggle for happiness through Asian-Canadian teenager Jake, who struggles with his basketball skills, sexuality and commitments to his loved ones. When new student Aleks moves in across the street, Jake joins the basketball team to get closer to him and is forced to reckon with a lot more than just his distaste for the game.
The Ubyssey interviewed Karman about the film and his work. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
So, I'm curious, why basketball?
I've always been attracted to how identity is formed in a competitive environment. Because in the real world, we have rivals and we have to survive and prove ourselves, so you know, I'm always trying to learn about myself and others. That aspect permeated into my work and my interest in sports.
Also, sports are very physical and hormonal. You get worked up and that unleashes unexpected attraction. Sometimes you get a high with somebody — you just feel attracted to someone when you work, when you play with them, when you compete with them in a very intense way. And so, I find that very intriguing as a filmmaker and as a Queer person. I want to explore that space more because I think a lot of people struggle to figure out their feelings. By showing a work that is positive, I hope I'm offering a path for them to kind of realize who they can be.
If you don’t mind me asking, how did your identity as a Queer person inform your role as director? Especially as this is your first feature film, how did you include your own experiences into the narrative?
My experiences as a Queer person, especially as a Queer Asian person, really informed my choices in the film. My first time with a person of the same sex, for example, was beautiful and I wanted the same thing to happen to Jake. When Aleks first undressed in front of Jake, I wanted him to have that sense of awe and wonder and not be scared or ashamed. In Hollywood cinema, sex is often quick, and we just launch right into it. So, that’s an aspect I’m just trying to think about.
We also flirt with our eyes. When Jake was staring at Aleks while Aleks was doing the lap dance, his gaze lingered. Yes, Aleks was shirtless, but I also wanted to drive home that perhaps Aleks also registered that Jake was gay just by looking into his eyes. That moment of connection with the two of them just looking at each other, when it’s both scary and exciting at the same time. That moment… I think a lot of gay men can appreciate that.
Can you talk a bit about how race and shame collide?
Yeah, absolutely. Where do I even start? Often in Queer cinema Asian men are not portrayed as sexy or desirable or leading or taken seriously. These were things that I am aware of, and I wanted to make sure that my characters were different.
I noticed that a lot of Asian people, especially first generation, they're just trying to survive and there's some shame with that. There’s some shame that they have and try to deal with because they’re in a foreign country and just trying to survive and be happy. And they have to make do. So, there's that shame element.
Can we explore the element of shame a little more?
The shame element [felt by immigrants and people of colour] also translates to Queer people as well. And, well, I love contrasts. I knew that Jake would have this double shame of being Asian and also Queer. And to make this film refreshing, I wanted him to be attracted to somebody who is opposite of him. And that's where you have Aleks — someone who is confident, openly Queer, sexy and unapologetic.
So, Jake in the end is going against many of the common tropes we see in cinema with Asian people, and that double shame felt by many.
Digging deeper into identity and conflict within the film, Golden Delicious revolves around Jake grappling with parts of himself that seem at odds with each other, parts he tries hard to suppress. How did you go about addressing that inner conflict?
As an Asian person, I wanted to save face but also do things that were fulfilling, and sometimes those two things didn’t merge. I know a lot of people who try to keep them separate because it's simpler. But how can you reach your maximum potential if you suppress an aspect of yourself? Especially when that aspect is what makes you, you.
So I'm openly Queer. I don't care what people think. And I think by embracing those two aspects, you become a stronger person, your identity becomes stronger, you're not hiding anything. There's no shame involved. I used to be more introverted and shameful of who I am and now, I don't care anymore. You can be really happy and stronger. Just don’t hide aspects of yourself, don’t suppress them, that’s all.
One last question, Jason — when the end credits roll, how do you want your audience to feel?
I want the audience to feel empowered and uplifted. When they walk out that door, I want them to feel seen. I’ve heard this from many Queer Asians who’ve seen the film — it’s moved them. And I think it’s because of the fact that it’s an underrepresented character up there. It’s not, you know, this blond-haired, blue-eyed man. We don’t need that type of man, or to be that type of man, to be happy.
I want them to feel like they’re not alone and that they deserve happiness and love and a good time. They don’t need to feel ashamed; they can be taken seriously.