It was an exciting evening for Christine Toy Johnson and Bruce Alan Johnson who attended the Manhattan screening of their new film, TRANSCENDING, THE WAT MISAKA STORY at Tribeca Cinema on May 18, 2009. The award-winning husband and wife filmmaking team have traversed the U.S. showing the film to standing room only audiences, and received the Golden Kahuna Award at the Honolulu International Film Festival in March. To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, the Actors Equity Association’s EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Committee hosted this invitation-only screening for their membership.
The documentary tells the story of Wat Misaka, the first person of color to be drafted into what is now the NBA. A Nissei who was born, raised and is still living in Utah, Wat was the very first draft pick of the New York Knicks, in 1947.
Against the backdrop of the volatile national political climate following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II which resulted in the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps after FDR issued Executive Order 9066, Wat was a star player for the University of Utah 1944 and 1947 championship teams, taking 2 years off in between to serve in the U.S. Army. Playing for an entire community, his perseverance and loyalty to his teammates, other Nissei friends (including those interned at Topaz) and his family are a testament to the unflappable Japanese American spirit.
The film intersperses in-depth interviews with Wat and his family, teammates from his championship teams (including All-American star Arnie Ferrin of the Minneapolis Lakers) sports authorities (including Knicks Historian Dennis D’Agostino and ubiquitous New York sportscaster Spencer Ross), and many who continue to look up to him as both a role model and personal hero, along with video clips from his 1944 and 1947 college games, rare footage from a visit to the Topaz Internment Camp, and countless photos of his triumphant career.
For more information, visit www.watmisaka.com.
Click on the arrow below to see the multimedia coverage of the night.
The filmmakers received two consecutive grants from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program for the making of TRANSCENDING, THE WAT MISAKA STORY.
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As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden. Lia currently plays Nurse Lia on “One Life to Live”. She has appeared in Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and “New York Undercover”.
Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are now in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.
Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre, Broadwayworld.com, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle, Timeout.com, Villagevoice.com, Playbill.com, Theatermania.com, thelmagazine.com, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for AsianConnections.com. She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.