Interview with actress, Rae Dawn Chong
Rae Dawn Chong:
an Interview with Yayoi Lena
Winfrey, Contributing Editor (AAV)
Regardless of "race", nearly all families
seem to do that dysfunctional dance.
In a new Urbanworld film
release, `The Visit', Alex
Waters (Hill Harper), imprisoned
discovers he's dying of AIDS.
After five years of shunning him, his
family finally comes around for a visit.
Leading the parade is his unforgiving
father, played by veteran actor Billy
Dee Williams, and his older brother
and mentor, Tony (Obba Babtunde).
Before long, Alex's childhood friend, Felicia
(Rae Dawn Chong) also stops by to lend
support and share the most poignant exchange
of dialogue with Waters in the entire film.
The film was directed, written, and
produced by Jordan Walker-Pearlman.
In anticipation of the film's early March release,
IMDiversity contributing editor Yayoi Lena
Winfrey spoke with star [Rea Dawn] Chong
Rae Dawn Chong
Most remember Rae Dawn Chong as the
daughter of comedian/actor Tommy Chong, one
half of [the] Cheech and Chong [comedy duo].
But while Tommy Chong tickled us silly, his
corkscrew-haired, dimply daughter dazzled
us with her dramatic onscreen debut in
`Quest for Fire' at the tender of age 18.
Since then, she has appeared in over 20 films
including `The Color Purple', `Soul Man',
`Beat Street', `Commando' and `Choose Me'.
In 'The Visit', Chong portrays a woman
who "comes from the depth of depravity."
"It's an incredible role," exclaims Chong.
"She's a survivor...She's been in
prison. and she pulls herself up."
Breathlessly, Chong continues,
"She comes to visit Hill's character...
a childhood friend who always sort of
cherished her... (to let him know) that
he can choose another way... (`The
Visit' is) about forgiveness...of the
self, a universal theme that's not
just indicative of our community."
Forgiveness is something Chong has
dealt with gracefully in her tumultuous life.
Born to a Cherokee / African-Canadian mother,
she was nearly given up for adoption before
her father's Irish mother and Chinese father
begged for the chance to raise her.
"We were very close," says
Chong about her grandfather.
"Pop Chong, we called him," she giggles.
Raised partly in Vancouver with him, Chong observed
that her grandfather "was ashamed of being Chinese
as he didn't have the support of family around him.
He was basically an orphan.
He didn't have that strong cultural pressure to
keep things Chinese--or Cantonese, in our case...
I feel that my grandfather never had an opportunity
to enjoy and be proud of his Chinese heritage."
As a child, Chong "just thought it was normal,
that everyone...had a Chinese grandfather
...(that) eats with chopsticks."
She laments that "Pop Chong" was unable
to "share with us. It's a big pain for me.
I know there was lot of persecution
in Vancouver at the time. Chinese
were quarantined... in a small
area for a very long time.
My grandfather was a victim.
It makes me sad...I can
feel certain things in me.
Isn't that funny?
I love all the Chinese movies.
I feel that's a part of my heritage
that I didn't get to explore."
In the `Otherness' of Life
According to Chong, her Irish grandmother,
"a really wonderful Chinese chef,"
taught her to cook Chinese food.
And, thanks to her dad, she was
endowed with a Multi-Cultural attitude.
"My Chinese-Irish father hung out only
with black people when he grew up," she says.
"He was Afrocentric...all of his
friends were black musicians."
About being Multi-Racial she says,
"We're sort of in the otherness of life.
It's a fascinating challenge...
It's wonderful the way that (Mixed) people
click and break off into subgroups from
the super Afrocentric to the Anglo.
The confusion when you're Multi-Ethnic
or Multi-Racial is that you have a tendency
not to have a place to call your own.
When I see other Mixed kids,
I say we're in the same tribe."
Chong has felt the sting of racism often.
"As a "black" woman, you have to be careful if you're
driving late night," she says referring to the practice by
some police of routinely stopping cars with black drivers.
"In my opinion...it has to do a lot with training.
"As far as the Chinese scientist (Wen Ho Lee),"
she continues, "if the ethnic press is saying
'you guys are racist', then listen to them.
I go to Washington State and Vancouver , Canada
and at Customs I have been pulled over more times.
If I was a White woman I know for
a fact I wouldn't get hassled with."
Chong can be seen playing Peggy
Fowler on NBC's ` Mysterious Ways '.
"She's a skeptic about miraculous phenomenon,"
laughs Chong who is, ironically, "a complete believer."
"My advice to anybody (aspiring to act) is to just
passionately, beyond all and everything, love acting.
If you want to be actress, you better love it....
(Feel like) you would die if you don't do it.
The truth is they don't pay me to act.
I would do that for free.
They pay me to sit in the trailer."
Note on Writer --Yayoi Lena Winfrey
Yayoi Lena Winfrey is a Japanese-African-American writer,
visual artist, filmmaker, metaphysician, free spirit, and vegan
yogaholic with a " New York soul living in a California body."
She attended the Art Institute of Seattle, and has worked
as a freelance writer and illustrator for International
Examiner, Northwest Nikkei , Mavin, Metropolitan
Living, Northwest Asian Weekly and others.
She is also the editor and publisher of the anthology,
Brothers and Others: An Esi Black Women Writers Anthology