While race relations in the United States seem to be tenser than ever, Japan is coming to a crossroads with accepting mixed race Japanese and immigrants into their mostly homogenous society. Japan is a welcoming country to foreigners, especially if you are a temporary visitor. The subtle prejudices only become visible to a foreigner once you have lived here for a while and experienced the day to day difficulties you face as an outsider when you actually try to become part of the society. Any foreigner in Japan who has been turned away from renting an apartment simply because they’re not Japanese, knows that experience.
An American filmmaker, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, from Texas, depicts this struggle to be accepted as a dark skinned black man in Japan in his award winning short film Born With It(生まれつき). Osei-Kuffour lived in Japan for six years, encountering numerous instances of prejudice and discrimination. The film follows a black elementary school child in Japan experiencing the cruelty of racism and harsh words spoken unfiltered in the world of children, who have not learned the impact of what they are doing or saying, or how to accept difference.
Osei-Kuffour notes “I wanted to tell the story from a kid’s point-of-view because I think its powerful to see someone’s innocence broken for the first time. This is ultimately a story about prejudice and it’s also disarming to see a child unaware of the scars of the adult world. Like most forms of discrimination, the most difficult moments I had in Japan are hard to convey convincingly. Most of the issues I encountered seemed to revolve around me, as a foreigner, not being perceived as an equal, normal human being. There always seemed to be the sense that since I was not Japanese, I would be unable to comprehend Japanese ideas or values, represent my given company in a meeting or share a space with other Japanese people.
Those moments seem small on paper but they begin to get under your skin when you’re trying to assimilate to the culture. I had — and still have — a strong desire to have a film career in Japan. So I’ve always wanted to live and work and get the same chances as my Japanese friends that were same age. But despite a strong command of the language, it became very clear to me that no matter how fluent I became, I had to either be famous outside of Japan or Japanese to really get the chances that I sought out in all Japanese environments. This is not the case for everyone but it is for most. ”
The seventeen minute film has resonated with many people in and outside of Japan, and garnered praise including The Best Film & Social Impact Award at the NBC-Universal Short Film Festival and Honorable Mention for Best Short Film at Toronto International Film Festival (Kids Section) and many more festivals.
“Born With It” will be airing on PBS KQED as part of the show “FILM SCHOOL SHORTS” in San Francisco 10/13 11pm.
Watch the trailer here.