I recently had the pleasure of experiencing and reviewing director Bobby Yan’s short film Marz. Yan has said how important it is for him to “write and direct truthful stories that reflect my experience as an Asian American and on a broader level, as a person of color – exploring and giving light to underrepresented communities.” As a strong advocate for Asian-American creatives, I was going into this with high expectations and was not left disappointed.
The opening of Bobby Yan’s film Marz begins with us sitting across the front of a stereo as the infamous radio host Sway (Sway in the Morning) announces he’s about to cut on an exclusive track. Shortly after the word Marz in deep red type fills up the screen, we see a father teaching his son how to DJ. Throughout the film, themes of family, loss, and sexuality are interwoven to give us a different perspective of the world of hip-hop.
Up-and-coming rapper Chris Mars, played by Jade Yorker, struggles to balance his career and his identity. His childhood friend Mel, portrayed by Devale Ellis, ultimately ends up confronting him on his authenticity. With this relationship dynamic, we start to see director Yan introduce us to the tone of sexuality in hip-hop culture.
As the film continues, the lines of Chris and Mel’s relationship become blurred. I ask myself, is there something more than friendship? At one point, Mel becomes instantly enraged with Chris, screaming accusingly, “Are you calling me a faggot?” Several flashbacks reveal the importance of being masculine in both Mel and Chris’ upbringing and community. Young Chris is seen being told to stay out of “man business.” Even when Chris and Mel try to address what transpired between them, they never directly use the term “gay.” It is what is left unsaid that defines this unspoken, forbidden moment. It leaves the audience wishing for some sort of reconciliation for all of these pent-up, complicated feelings between Chris and Mel.
The viewer is fed different snippets of Chris’ past throughout the film that help paint the bigger picture. Most of these moments highlight the heteronormativity Chris was raised in and “should be” falling in line with. The loss of his own father pushes Chris and Mel closer together at a very young, vulnerable age. The chronology of these flashbacks helps the viewer realize just how tantamount Mel is in Chris’ life. By making the decision to move away to work on music, a strain on their relationship develops between the two. To avoid any spoilers, go ahead and see the film for yourself by looking up the upcoming viewings and screenings on the Marz website.
As for the director himself, Yan is no stranger to the entertainment industry. While he is a five-time Emmy Award winner, Marz will be his first narrative television series pitch. While he may have the accolades to back up his work, Marz is Yan’s first narrative project that he hopes to grow into a series. Yan says, “using the main protagonist as a rapper was very important for me to build around a character that young people could relate with. With hip-hop being so prevalent and influential to today’s modern culture, a rapper was the best candidate to create this narrative around, especially capturing his conflicted feelings after his first experience with his best friend.”
Marz is geared to turn into a series that wrestles with topics such as struggling with homosexuality in homophobic settings, which often go unaddressed in mainstream media. “The juxtaposition of Hip Hop culture and homophobia that surrounds it allowed me to dig deep into the internal conflict of the main character of Chris, getting into his head and exposing some of the deeper emotions he goes through. Ultimately, I want the broader story to be a tale of self-acceptance, loving oneself for who she or he is,” Yan says.
For more information on Marz, head over to the film’s website: https://www.marzmovie.com/. Need more? Not to worry, there’s way more in store for director Bobby Yan, as he has been working on two films, his first Chinese language film, The Interview and a 1970s period piece called Loreen’s Gotta Boogie. Yan describes The Interview as “a hilarious satirical film about the crazy lengths that a Chinese mother puts her daughter through to prove that her new boyfriend is good enough for the family.” I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Loreen’s Gotta Boogie since it’s about a “young Filipino American woman whose dream is to be a dancer on Soul Train.” As a Filipina myself, this movie sounds like it’s gonna just my cup of tea. Stay tuned for these two highly-anticipated projects from trailblazer Bobby Yan!