Arthur Chu hacks the American institution that is Jeopardy! and wins big, garnering the attention of everyone from Diane Sawyer to TMZ. He leverages his newfound online celebrity to battle dark forces on the internet as a blogger and cultural pundit, tackling issues from misogyny online to racism in America.
Interview with Co-Director/Co-Producer Scott Drucker
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
When Arthur won 11 games of Jeopardy! back in 2014, there was something about the response on social media that was troubling. It was clear that there was more to the story than just Arthur bouncing around the board (aka "the Forrest bounce") and arguing with Trebek over a few clues. It only took a day on Twitter to realize that a lot of the backlash was racially charged. It felt like an under-documented moment in history that should be exposed. At the time I reached out to Arthur, he was also writing for The Daily Beast on issues such as race and misogyny in nerd culture – it was clear he was trying to leverage his 15 minutes of fame and do good in the world – and with that, I felt like there was a lot more to explore than just Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy! champion.
How did he end up on Jeopardy in the first place? Turns out it was a result of being a son of immigrant parents – just an attempt to fit in with his peers as a child. It had all come full circle. And why was his appearance on an American gameshow so divisive? Perhaps this was a microcosm of something greater happening in society today. So there we were, at the onset of making a character-driven documentary.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Because it's a parable for the future, both for how we interact with the internet and new media at large. The film explores how social media has shaped the way we share our stories and go about our lives. To unpack one person's path through viral celebrity – the public response at every turn, how Arthur attempted to leverage his online fame to have a voice and create change – felt essential. And I think for anyone who has struggled with their identity or who has felt marginalized (for any reason), this film is for you. And, of course, if you're a fan of gameshows, particularly trivia, there's still that too.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I've always tried to explore themes in my work that feel universal, to examine something that appears insignificant or banal, but in reality is a reflection of who we are, and the ways in which the world goes around. My great grandparents were Jewish immigrants, and while I can't entirely relate to Arthur and his path as an outsider looking in, I've always been interested in themes of identity and how our past influences our present.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The "script" evolved (so to speak) as Arthur evolved. We tried to maintain space from our protagonists and let them carve their paths, while we just witnessed the course of events as "flies on the wall." We didn't want to facilitate Arthur's growth nor help him spread his message, and that was never his goal for being the subject of an eponymous film either. We were just there to document the steps and turns as they happened. A lot of people thought that Arthur commissioned this film, which couldn't be further from the truth.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
It's a very divisive film because Arthur's divisive. He's either a hero or a villain, both on Jeopardy! and in this online space where he fought against misogyny in nerd culture (amongst a number of other social justice issues). This fight often mirrored what was happening in American politics, where tribalism reigns supreme and you have to choose a side, regardless of contradictions.
The main group that he offended as a "social justice warrior" were these "gamer gaters." It would take a much longer Q+A to unpack that and their mission, but essentially they're a group of people who say, "don't take my games away or change them even if they are racist and misogynist in their portrayal of woman", and they really hate Arthur and will do anything to make his life miserable. We're ancillary to that movement, but have felt the repercussions as a result of even caring enough about his life to document it in the first place. It's that extreme.
It's also interesting how the film is polarizing amongst race (amongst different races but also internally as well since Arthur asks a lot of hard questions as an Asian-American male). In general, people of color, particularly Asian Americans, will track Arthur's journey with greater empathy, whereas others might say, particularly critics, "what's the big deal? Nothing happens." Assimilation, identity, erasing and adapting, are events that happen over a long period of time and thus it's challenging to bring them to life in a 90-minute film… there's no one catastrophic event that makes the plot transparent. There's no true point of transformation where Arthur comes to some great moment of realization and understanding of the world. He's constantly trying to figure it all out, which can be troubling for a viewer. There's also no clear villain in the story either. Is it Arthur vs. Technology in the end? Arthur vs. Alex Trebek? Arthur vs. his Father? Arthur vs. The World? Or simply Arthur vs. Himself? I guess that's why he's been called an anti-hero.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
We were expecting much of it, but it has challenged my views in a few ways. I've re-examined how toxic masculinity has impacted my life and perspective. It's something we don't discuss enough. I give Arthur a lot of credit for entering that space, for facing it head on with a lack of affectation you don't often see. I can't think of a position that leaves you more vulnerable to attacks than that. I'm still figuring it out.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I've sort of always felt like we were underdogs. It felt that way in the edit as soon as we cut Ken Jennings from the film (a previous, and perhaps the most famous Jeopardy! champion of all time). We weren't trying to tell the story of this heroic Jeopardy! champion who takes on Alex Trebek and the world at large. There were nuanced themes in the film that we knew would not be easily consumable by a western audience. But when we premiered the film at Slamdance, there was a young Asian-American man in the audience who got up during the Q+A, in tears, and said, "I've never related to a film in my life more than THIS film. Thank you." No, thank you, dude. That made my whole year.
I think Arthur's story is a lot of people's story and that hasn't been represented in the media or on the big screen… oh yeah, underdogs. I guess I just feel like we have a picture that works toward a lot of relatable themes and we're just trying to get it to people who may be moved by the experience, and just don't know it yet. I think that's the beauty of cinema, like there's probably some film out there that will change my life forever, but I don't even know it exists. We're hoping to leverage this page for visibility, and it's important to find sources that cover meaningful content like We Are Moving Stories.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Always more journalists and press! We are still looking for international distribution. We have digital distribution for the U.S. and Canada. But I think getting people to our I-tunes page and Vimeo on Demand page is essential since it's how we survive. We're currently on Amazon Prime right now, but they only pay $.06 per hour!! That's absurd and I think we should be talking about it more as filmmakers and standing up for ourselves. We'll never recoup our budgets with this sort of payout structure, which is why we're taking it off Prime in January. You'll still be able to rent it from Amazon, but Prime should be killed.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
As with all things I make, I'd like the film to build empathy, first and foremost. If we can understand where we're coming from and who we are (perhaps more alike than we are different in the first place), I think the world would be a better place.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Oh, let Jeopardy! debate commence: Was Arthur cheating or ruining the game with his style of play? Or a more nuanced approach to that question: Is it more strategic to go from top to bottom so you get a feel for the category (as Alex Trebek recommends) or to bounce around the board as Arthur did, hunting for the Daily Doubles? There's another question in there about family and marriage that has sparked a lot of debate, but I don't want to spoil anything. So go watch the film first and then let's chat!
Would you like to add anything else?
It's just a gameshow.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Yu is working on a film called A Woman's Work. I work for an advertising agency, FCB. I always have ideas for my next film, but taking precautions before leaping into the next one, since it's such a labour of love, and not sure I'm ready to sacrifice personal relationships in my life all over again. Yu is in the middle of a Kickstarter right now so I'm sure she can relate to said sacrifices: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/awomanswork/a-womans-work-the-nfls-cheerleader-problem.
Interview: November 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Who is Arthur Chu?
Arthur Chu hacks the American institution that is Jeopardy! and wins big, garnering the attention of everyone from Diane Sawyer to TMZ. He leverages his newfound online celebrity to battle dark forces on the internet as a blogger and cultural pundit, tackling issues from misogyny online to racism in America. Arthur stands up to a society that has sought to erase him and marginalize him as an Asian American, while attempting to balance married life with work. He also begins the painful process of purging himself of his own demons, bred from the traumas of immigration and familial expectations. WHO IS ARTHUR CHU? is the story of a tragic hero who realizes he can only create positive change in the world if he first heals his own wounds.
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Scott Drucker and Yu Gu
Producer: Scott Drucker and Yu Gu
Executive Producer: Mark Jonathan Harris and Rocque Trem
About the writer, director and producer:
SCOTT DRUCKER is a documentary filmmaker based in Toronto. He currently works for FCB, where he has created two award-winning campaigns for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, and one global campaign for BMW (made in collaboration with graffiti artist Omen). He has also created content for Vice, Hulu, ESPN, and VH1, and has shot 4 feature films to date, including Who is Arthur Chu?, which he co-directed and produced along with Yu Gu, and was executive produced by three-time Academy Award winner Mark Jonathan Harris.
YU GU is a filmmaker and visual artist born in Chongqing, China and raised in Vancouver, Canada. She explores themes of identity, migration and artistic freedom. Yu’s hybrid documentary A MOTH IN SPRING premiered at Hot Docs International Film Festival and was licensed and distributed by HBO. Her second feature documentary, A WOMAN’S WORK, is supported by the Sundance Institute, ITVS, Tribeca Film Institute, Firelight Media, Film Independent and the Rockefeller Foundation. Yu is directing INTERIOR MIGRATIONS, a multi-platform project documenting the memories of migrant workers in Canada. The first 3-channel short documentary from this series premiered at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s “Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood” exhibit in 2017. Yu received her MFA in film production from the University of Southern California.
Key cast: Arthur Chu, Eliza Blair, Alex Trebek
Looking for: still looking for International distribution, and always looking for additional press coverage of the film's release.
Facebook: Who is Arthur Chu? film
Official Website: www.arthurchufilm.com
Funders: Dadada Films/Rocque Trem, Center for Asian American Media
Made in association with: Transient Media
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? It's on a number of streaming platforms, particulary Amazon Prime and Kanopy at your local library for those looking to watch the film for free. Linked here: http://bit.ly/watchchu