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Hughes student’s multiversal adventure

Beyond the screen: PhD student Lance Peng explores decolonising education inspired by the 2022 film Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Have you had the opportunity to watch the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once“? Have you ever considered a potential link between the process of decolonising education and this 2022 cinematic production? Hughes Hall PhD student Lance Peng recently published his creative piece in eTropic, drawing a parallel between the themes of the 2022 movie Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAAO) and decolonising education. Here, Lance invites us to consider a brief introduction to his interpretations by stepping into a ‘multiversal adventure’.

Lance’s creative article was published in eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the Tropics, in July 2023

The heightened skill in crafting media cultures, which encompass a variety of entertainment forms including television, film, and popular music, across Asia, has led to the rise of regional co-production, intra-regional circulation, and consumption of these cultural creations. The importance of cultural production and representation in fostering diversity holds immense significance for society and plays a pivotal role in the decolonisation process.

EEAAO plays a role in instigating a positive shift in the portrayal of Asians within the entertainment industry. It stands as a significant departure from the conventional Hollywood status quo, actively challenging prevalent stereotypes and defying the typical depictions of Asian actors. These actors have historically faced marginalisation and exclusion from substantial roles in mainstream cinema.

In the article, Lance explores the careers of the film’s leading actors, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, pictured here with the Oscars they won for their roles in the film.

Remarkably, despite their roles as Chinese immigrants in the film, both of the leading actors, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, were raised within Chinese minority communities in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia: Yeoh in the colonial tin mining town of Ipoh, Malaysia, and Quan in Saigon, southern Vietnam. These communities themselves form a part of the diasporas that emerged due to the influence of colonialism across the tropical regions. I adopt the established three-inquiries framework from previous research to analyse how Asian subjectivities are presented in cinematic texts:

Framework aspectQuestions
Identify Asian personaHow can we accurately define the Asian persona being depicted?
Depiction of Asian subjectivityHow is Asian subjectivity portrayed within the film?
Representation rationaleWhat are the reasons behind the chosen representation at this point in history?

When delving into the analysis of the use of warm moments as a prominent motif in EEAAO, I reference the soliloquy conveyed by Evelyn’s husband, Waymond Wang:

“Waymond Wang: [to Alternate Evelyn] You think I’m weak don’t you? All of those years ago when we first fell in love…your father would say I was too sweet for my own good. Maybe he was right.

[to verse-jumpers] Please! Please! Can we…can we just stop fighting?

You tell me that it’s a cruel world…and we’re all running around in circles. I know that. I’ve been on this earth just as many days as you. I know you are all fighting because you are scared and confused. I’m confused too. All day…I don’t know what the heck is going on. But somehow…this feels like it’s all my fault. When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything. I don’t know. The only thing I do know…is that we have to be kind. Please. Be kind…especially when we don’t know what’s going on. I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one too. This is how I fight.”

Demonstrating acts of kindness, especially in moments of uncertainty, can be interpreted as a rejection of colonial ideologies that prioritise dominance, hostility, and aggression as means of survival, often characterised by colonialist social Darwinism’s notion of “survival of the fittest”. In contrast, Waymond asserts that embracing a positive perspective and exhibiting kindness represents a strategic and essential approach for navigating the complexities of life. Within the framework of decoloniality, this embodies a form of resilience as it empowers individuals to navigate and challenge oppressive structures, all the while safeguarding their physical and emotional well-being, as well as preserving their sense of dignity.

I also suggest that the intricate and subtle notion of resonating space is a shared concept between Eastern philosophies and the multiverse portrayed in EEAAO. Rather than being perceived as empty and impartial, space is perceived as a intricate interplay of interconnected networks. It is intrinsically tied to physical objects and concurrently contributes to the shaping of spatial experiences. Moreover, space is intertwined with human beings, and vice versa. The multiverse underscores the necessity of viewing the cosmos in a dynamic manner, continuously oscillating, pulsating, and gyrating, asserting that the natural world isn’t a static entity, but an ever-fluctuating one governed by a state of dynamic equilibrium. This concept echoes the principles of Yin and Yang in Asian philosophy and the imagery of Indra’s jewelled net.

There are many more themes in EEAAO that resonate with the decolonising framework and which can be explored in more details in Lance’s article.

Further information

16.8.23