Roger Ebert: Don’t Tell Asian-American Directors How to Represent ‘Their People’

The veteran critic was a longtime champion of film as an empowering force for self-representation.

By Channing Kennedy Apr 04, 2013

Roger Ebert, writer and film critic, has died. An unparalleled and conscientious figure in the field of film criticism, he’s owed a debt of gratitude by all of us who believe that pop culture is at its best when it’s critiqued and put in context with the society that produced it. He is survived by his wife Chaz Ebert.

Via Kat Chow, here’s Ebert at Sundance 2002, addressing a fellow audience member (and fellow white man)’s complaint that director Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow did an ‘amoral’ job of representing Asian Americans. "What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is, nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers ‘How could you do this to your people?’" yells Ebert. "This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be! They do not have to ‘represent their people’!" (Longer transcript here.)

Ebert is also remembered fondly by Ava DuVernay, the first black woman to win Best Picture at Sundance. As she tweeted today: