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Film Forum: 'After Yang'

Sci-fi drama film challenges what defines family and race, says Professor Mason Allred

Professor Mason Allred discussing in the forum.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee

To kick off the FAll 2022 Semester’s Film Forum events, BYU–Hawaii students and faculty gathered in the Little Theater on Sept. 14 to watch the film “After Yang.” This movie centers on a mixed family who adopts an artificial intelligence robot, Yang, as part of their family, said Mason Allred, assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts & Letters.

“After Yang” differs from mainstream low-culture films, which portray stereotypical happy endings and low-brow humor, shared Steven English, a sophomore majoring in communications from Morristown, New Jersey, who attended the event. He said the film deals with thought-provoking themes of loss and the human consciousness.

High-culture films, English explained, don’t expose the message too easily but requires people to pay attention to each frame, discerning what is important to the editors and directors. “It challenges you and can make you a more thoughtful, attentive movie-goer.”

After the film, Allred guided a brief discussion surrounding themes and insights people received from watching the film. The discussion centered around Yang managing to embrace his humanity, despite being a robot.

A female student talking among a group of students.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee

Yang’s “humanity”

English said the film discusses the theme of loss through Yang’s limited understanding of his own existence. He said Yang is programmed to not believe in life after death, yet, he is fine with it.

Elizabeth Wellman, a freshman majoring in communications from Germany, said she enjoyed the concept that the robot produces memories despite being programmed to not have certain beliefs.

Allred said he watched interviews of the film’s director, Kogonada, who shared his inspiration behind making the film. Allred explained Kogonada shared he finds himself questioning how Asian he is or if he is too Asian. It is interesting to the director to apply this concept of identity crisis to an Asian robot, said Allred.

A preview shot from the film.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee

“Grafting” families

In the film, Yang introduces the concept of “grafting” and tells his sister Mika it allows disbanded branches to continue growing from being grafted onto a new tree.

The film incorporates the theme of genealogy and “grafting” in families, Allred shared. In the Book of Mormon, he added, the scattering and gathering of Israel, conveys this concept of grafting. He said when people are “grafted” into the gospel, they become an actual family together.

Allred added the film envisions a sustainable future and the concept of living in nature. In addition, race and technology play a huge role in the film, since the audience watches the movie through the eyes of a robot, he explained.

The film would be great for a multiracial audience and one that’s steeped in technology, Allred said. In addition, he said the concept of living in nature is similar to that of living in Hawaii. “In the movie, nature is very much part of everyday life.”

The next Film Forum event will be held on Oct. 19, said Allred.