Interview with Marilyn Fu, Screenwriter of The Sisterhood of Night

by Hanna Huang

A graduate of Columbia University’s Film program, Marilyn Fu won the Tribeca Film Fest’s Creative Promise Award for a script entitled The Sisterhood of Night. She is also the inaugural recipient of the William Goldman Screenwriting Fellowship. The Sisterhood of Night is a modern re-telling of the Salem witch trials, based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Steven Millhauser. It encourages teen girls and their parents to embrace what makes each of us unique. Catherine Huang, one of the main characters in the movie, was inspired by Marilyn’s experience growing up as the only Taiwanese American in her high school.

The film currently has until Saturday, March 10th at 9:00pm EST to fundraise $100,000 on Kickstarter, a site for people who like to “fund and follow creativity.” The way it works is that if the project doesn’t reach its goal, they won’t get any of what’s pledged. Visit their Kickstarter page here to support the film and find out how to get a limited edition Jeremy Lin T-shirt that Marilyn designed herself! (Available through Friday 2/24/12)

Guest correspondent Hanna Huang takes a moment to interview Marilyn Fu:

H: Hi Marilyn. It’s great to finally meet you after hearing so much about your project! After watching your Kickstarter videos and visiting the project page, we just had to learn more about it. I found it really interesting that the film, which is based on the Salem witch trials, is centered on a group of teenage girls. How did you decide to focus the main characters on that age group?

M: I took my cue from Steven Millhauser’s short story, that’s what I adapted the screenplay from. It’s really kind of perfect to do the witch trials with teenage girls—gossip, “BFFs”, insecurities, obsessive crushes on boys! Then add Facebook to that.

H: I also grew up in a community with very few fellow Taiwanese Americans. Can you tell me a little more about your experience as the only Taiwanese American in your high school?

M: That’s right, you’re from Texas! Well, I was teased. In not very creative ways. I had a badass bus driver and one day this kid was mercilessly taunting me and she stopped the bus on the side of the road and threatened to make him walk home if he didn’t stop. And he did! But mostly my experience was more subtle, just a feeling of being “different” in a broader way. I hadn’t explored my background or gotten to know my parents enough as people to be interested in what that meant on a deeper level. I definitely felt full of contradictions. I liked to party, I wanted to fit in, and I played the violin. I was a cheerleader (a bad one—couldn’t even do a cartwheel!), took all AP classes, but just did okay in those classes.

H: Taiwanese American is still considered a relatively new term. Did you always consider yourself Taiwanese American?

M: Yes! Both my parents grew up in Tofun, but they didn’t meet until they went to grad school at Kansas State. They met a lot of their closest friends there who also identified strongly as being Taiwanese—and this was all the way in Kansas! “Taiwanese-American” has complex meanings. Politically. To me, it’s a source of pride for having an awesome family, and for everything they stand for.

H: Since you and Catherine, the Taiwanese American character in the movie, grew up in different time periods, how did you translate your experiences growing up to Catherine’s experiences in the movie?

M: Catherine’s plot line has always been really classic, so not too much changed in the translation from me to her. She has super strong ties to her family. Her identity is deeply tied to her family. There’s the love, the guilt, the way your hopes and dreams are all wrapped up in each other. And Catherine’s into fashion like I was when I was a teenager. It was a way of being different, a quiet way, that I was comfortable with. I’d stay up all night trying to copy outfits I saw in Seventeen! I was voted “Best-Dressed” in high school (haha). I love all the Sisterhood girls in the script, but Catherine is really special because there is no Taiwanese-American character in Millhauser’s original story, she’s a character I created.

H: The movie also highlights the cyber bullying of one of The Sisterhood characters. Since cyber bullying is increasingly becoming an issue in schools, what advice do you have for those who are victims or bystanders?

M: That is a really tough question and I’m definitely no expert. When I was bullied it was face to face. I can only imagine the false courage it gives a bully, being able to hide behind a computer screen. My motto was always to turn the other cheek. To walk away. I remember this girl wanted to beat me up once over a boy and I just walked away. Maybe the equivalent of that is deleting a mean comment, unfriending someone who’s not really a friend, or just taking a moment to shut down your phone or your laptop and take a breather, get some perspective. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but that approach has gotten me by to the next day—and the next day is always better. As for bystanders my advice is, Don’t be a bystander!

H: I heard you are a speaker for the North America Taiwanese Women’s Association II (NATWA II) panel during the upcoming NATWA convention (April 20-22, 2012). What are your thoughts on the Love and Compassion theme in relation to the Taiwanese American/Canadian community?

M: I think it’s a great theme! I like the distinction of love and compassion as two different things. It takes a lot of compassion to love someone sometimes, and vice versa and I think in our community we do expect a lot from each other. The panel I’m on focuses on Exploring Parent-Child Relationships and how this ties in to my artistic work. A few years ago I produced a radio show with Jean Fang about Peggy Hsiao, Hsiao Mei-Chin’s mom, who has such an interesting life story. And it’s definitely very present in Sisterhood.

H: What makes you proud to be Taiwanese American?

M: My parents and my sister. And being surrounded by a community that is so loving, hard-working, and proud of where they came from. There is an irrepressible energy that seems to come from being Taiwanese. Taiwanese American feels like the best of both worlds!

H: Lastly, we just have to know—what is your favorite Taiwanese dish/snack/food?

M: Anything my mom makes! But especially loudan (魯蛋).

H: Thanks for taking the time to share your story and this project with us!

We encourage you to help support Marilyn’s project by:

– Contributing to the Kickstarter campaign and passing it on to your friends and family. Even $1 shows support and a pledge amount can be changed at any time!
– Liking on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thesisterhoodofnight
– Following on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sisterhoodmovie and retweeting about the project!

Hanna Huang is a book nerd with a passion for finding the works of Asian American and Taiwanese American writers. Hailing from a small border town, her Texan twang occasionally makes an appearance when she says “y’all.” After joining the Taiwanese American Students Association at UT Austin, she also joined the National Board of the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) and directed the first ever ITASA in Texas in 2010. She is currently involved with the Taiwanese American Professionals in Austin, Texas. As a future social worker, she has a passion for non-profit organizations and at-risk populations.

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