Tom Huang’s Why Am I Doing This?
by Molly Templeton
Tom Huang’s good-natured Why Am I Doing This? is a low-budget, easygoing exploration of the struggle faced by nonwhite actors in Hollywood. Tony (Huang, who also wrote, co-produced and edited the film) struggles with casting directors who want him to do an “Asian” accent; they mostly remember the actor for his commercial role as a sushi chef. His roommate, Lester (Anthony Montgomery), is an African-American stand-up comedian who favors observational humor but is forever being pushed toward being “edgier.” Both struggle not just with their career but with their relationships; Tony’s parents want him to get back together with his sweetly bland ex, and Lester pines for his good friend Nira (Sheetal Sheth), whose Indian father won’t let Lester get near the door of their home, let alone in it. Further complicating things are Lester’s needy, unstable mother (Valerie Pettiford); Tony’s younger brother, Danny (Dion Basco), with his put-on thug attitude; and Amber (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield), Tony’s frequently drunk friend who always needs a favor — and always turns up at the least opportune times … as when Katie (Lynn Chen), whom Tony meets while he’s working a kids’ birthday party dressed up as Spider-Guy (she’s in a pink bear costume), finally comes over.
If the plot of Why Am I Doing This? sometimes wobbles a bit as it moves from situation to situation — Tony losing a part; Tony getting a part; Lester bombing; Lester doing entertainingly awful karaoke with Nira — the point it makes along the way is solid: There aren’t enough roles for actors of color, and those roles that do exist are too often based in offensive stereotypes. What Why Am I Doing This? makes most clear is that Hollywood needs to start casting Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Indian-Americans and others in any role for which the performer is suited, not just those specifically written for a nonwhite actor. When Tony finally gets a shot, it’s in an all-Asian production of Death of a Salesman. When Lester gets a great opportunity, it’s not because he tried to imitate Chris Rock or Martin Lawrence. Right now, those opportunities might be too few and far between — but this warm, sometimes funny film effectively illustrates how absurd that situation is. Why Am I Doing This? screens as part of the DisOrient Film Festival at 2:45 pm Saturday, April 24, at the Bijou. $3. — Molly Templeton