Home Art David Ninh Is Fighting for Equity in the Film Industry

David Ninh Is Fighting for Equity in the Film Industry

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Producer and publicist David Ninh at the 2019 Academy Awards for Kino Lorber’s feature documentary nomination for Of Fathers & Sons (all images courtesy David Ninh)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.

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What’s your name?

David Ninh

Where are you based currently? 

New York, NY

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m a queer, Vietnamese New Yorker originally from Texas. I work in the film industry and am the Director of Press & Publicity at New York-based art house distributor Kino Lorber. Our company releases indies, documentaries, classics, and international films in theaters across the country, plus on home video and streaming. I’m deeply passionate about promoting cinema and strategizing to build buzz around our films. I also work as a producer on queer documentaries and help run a production company called Still Point Pictures. They released a major trans youth rights doc by Eric Juhola called Growing Up Coy that I was heavily involved with and I am working with them on a new doc that dives into the unsolved case of Rita Hester, a [Black trans] woman whose murder 20 years ago led to the creation of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Amplifying queer stories is very important to me.

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David Ninh and Nick Kemp (Kino Lorber Director of Marketing) with home videos at the inaugural Radical Film Fair in Brooklyn hosted by The Eyeslicer & Kickstarter

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

We are dealing with a reckoning across the board (especially in the arts) with white supremacy and the fight for justice of the Black Lives Matter movement, so one of the things I am passionately involved with at Kino Lorber is helping shape a new program where we will be advising and mentoring students on the curation and release of shorts by young filmmakers and showcasing them on our platforms. I am working on it with other team members, including my fellow queer colleague Nick Kemp, our Director of Marketing. We want to focus on untapped and diverse storytelling — all things already in our company’s DNA — but also figure out how we can help break down barriers to working in the film industry to help make it more inclusive. I also just helped orchestrate a New York Times story that hit newsstands this week on our re-release of important early queer German films called Pioneers of Queer Cinema. It made me happy to give these works attention.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

It’s really tough right now because my favorite ways to celebrate queerness revolve around getting together and connecting with friends and being social, which is still limited. I love going out to bars and being present with the community, going to queer film festivals, etc. So right now I’m trying to find ways to celebrate my queerness during the pandemic by diving into classic movies every night, fighting for causes behind-the-scenes, being on the streets protesting, and continually educating myself about what’s going on around the world by focusing on where my blind spots are with queer rights in other countries.

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David Ninh participating in a panel on Asian visibility in Cinema with filmmaker Andrew Ahn, Criterion Collection’s Andrew Chan, and others at the New York Film Festival

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Examining anti-Blackness in the conservative immigrant community and unpacking generational trauma. As a second generation American-born citizen from an immigrant family, I am working on combating racism in my community and educating myself about the bias of Vietnamese-American news sources, which are very right-wing and rife with sensationalistic and fake news. There are so many layers to why immigrants can end up aligning with a system based on white supremacy — writer Terry Nguyen did a great job covering this recently in VOX.

I’ve been very inspired by the engagement happening in the Viet Solidarity & Action Network — which only popped up on Facebook recently — and connecting with other progressive Vietnamese like myself who are all dealing with some tough conversations in our households and communities. Activist and editor Cookie Duong just started a news aggregator aimed at civic engagement and empowerment called The Interpreter that publishes translated English-language news to Vietnamese to combat fake news. I am starting to see politically active Viets infiltrating and seeding it out to Viet conservative Facebook groups where so much of this misinformation thrives. I’m trying to figure out how to contribute with the skills I have and engage more deeply on that front — I was their first Patreon member!

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

I draw support and energy from a lot of queers in the Asian community doing similar work in the film industry — particularly film editor Andrew Chan who does incredible work for The Criterion Collection, and indie filmmakers Andrew Ahn, Yen Tan, PJ Raval, producer Derek Nguyen, POV/America ReFramed producer Robert Y. Chang. They all inspire me with their work, but our friendships and eye-opening private chatter also help keep me sane, focused, and supported as a queer Asian in the indie film space. Right before the pandemic, I joined the National Asian Artists Project community chorus founded by Broadway legend Baayork Lee. We were in rehearsals and set to perform an all Rodgers & Hammerstein revue, but the pandemic forced us to cancel. It really energized me to be a part of that because I’m NOT a great singer but I wanted to push myself to try to participate with their super-talented members.

Last year, I also got to work with Ceyenne Doroshow, activist and founder of trans rights organization G.L.I.T.S., who participated in our Q&A for the Kino Lorber re-release of the landmark 1968 drag documentary The Queen. I am deeply inspired by the vital work she is doing right now to fundraise and provide housing to Black trans people. My friends who run the top queer film festivals (most of which I have served on film festival juries for or have had films play in) also just created the NAQFA: the North American Queer Festival Alliance which everyone needs to pay attention to.

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Connecting with other Vietnamese New Yorkers from theater & film at mixer for CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment)

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I plan to attend the Reclaim Pride Queer Liberation March in support of Black Lives and Against Police Brutality on June 28. I’m hoping that along with the marching, there will also be some outdoor dancing and eating involved. All with safe social distancing, of course. Join me!

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

While we’ve come a long way as an industry, queer filmmakers, just like artists from any other marginalized group, don’t get the same access to opportunities as their straight, cisgender peers. Until the gatekeepers who decide which art gets seen better reflect society as a whole, this will continue to be a problem at every level — from production to film festival selection to distribution. I also think access to financing for queer art has a long way to go.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

I really hope with this movement, immigrant communities can become more progressive and also have solidarity with Black people and their fight for equal rights. Black Lives Matter!

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

Get a haircut, go to the dentist, eat at some of my favorite restaurants, have a drink at a gay bar, go to parties and dance my ass off, and fly home to Houston and eat my mom’s Vietnamese food!

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here


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