Saturday, March 13, 2010

Loni Ding, Social Documentarian

Loni Ding, Social Documentarian

Loni Ding was a pioneering Asian American documentary filmmaker, university educator, and media activist. She worked to create public institutions that showcased under-represented voices in American life, mentored hundreds of emerging Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Latino and other filmmakers, and created films that broadened the historical narrative, re-defining what it is to be American.

Loni was one of the first women and people of color to break into the all-white, male world of U.S. television in the late 1960s and early '70s. She and a handful of pioneers produced the first "minority"-made TV shows on American television; they went on to train a generation of minority and women producer/directors, camera people and engineers with the skills to demand a place in the industry.  By the late '70s the barriers that had kept women and people of color out of broadcasting, and their stories and perspectives off the air, were falling.

Loni was a tireless organizer and advocate for democratizing television and making it accessible and accountable to communities.  She played a central role in creating NAATA (now the Center for Asian American Media), the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.  As a professor of filmmaking in the Ethnic Studies department of UC Berkeley for over 30 years, she trained and inspired hundreds of young people of color and women to enter the media field.

Loni's own films helped re-write US history and turn the lens on previously invisible American heroes.  Her documentaries "Nisei Soldier" and "The Color of Honor: The Japanese-American Soldier During World War II" were screened to both houses of Congress as well as then-President Ronald Reagan, and were instrumental in helping pass the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, which granted formal US reparations to American citizens of Japanese descent interned during World War II for the color of their skin.

Loni's "Ancestors in the Americas" series -- taught in classrooms across the country -- is a main reference on Asian American history that offers an epic scope of Asian migrations to North America, South America, and the Caribbean from the 1700s to the early 1900s and uncovers the role of Asians in building the United States.

Diversifying U.S. television -- who makes it and whose perspectives are seen on it, thereby diversifying America's image of itself -- was a profoundly anti-racist struggle and the theme of Loni's life.  In an interview she once said "If you stare at someone long enough, you could fall in love with them. The camera can and does do the same, depending on how you frame people and how much time you give them and the attitude with which you approach them."

Loni knew the power of television, and she worked to make it open to the real scope of American society.  She was a leader who spoke truth to power and believed media was a tool for communities to realize the power within them.

We will miss her.



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