Asian Heritage Week Offers Rich Palette of Culture

Illinois State University's Asia Connect in April will offer "series of events where you can experience a variety of Asian cultures," in observance of Asian Heritage Week.

Monday, April 2, 5:30 p.m.
Chinese Calligraphy Demonstration and workshop
ISU Center for Visual Arts, Room 311
Enjoy warm Chinese tea, and learn the history of calligraphy and participate in the workshop.
Miranda Lin, Associate Professor, College of Education, ISU
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


Tuesday, April 3, 6:15 p.m.
Kannathil Muthamittal {a peck on the cheek} Indian {tamil} film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Room 139
Question and Answers after the film.
Archana Shekara, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU
Li Zeng, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU

Wednesday, April 4, 5:30pm
Bangla parbon: Celebrating Bengali poetry
Blangladesh Student  Association, ISU
DeGarmo Hall, Room 551
Refreshments, Question and Answers after poetry recital.

Thursday, April 5, 5pm
Indonesian Cuisine Demonstration and Workshop
Food Lab Kitchen, Turner Hall, Room 131
Learn authentic Indonesian cuisine and taste right after!
Rini Stoltz


Friday, April 6, 6:15pm
Cape Number 7, Taiwanese film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Rm. 139
Panel discussion after the film.
Wei-Zan Wang, Director, Overseas Community Affairs Council
Cultural Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Chicago
Hsiu-Ling Robertson, Assistant Professor,
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


Director/Writer Visits Normal to Celebrate 'Nollywood' Success Story

Director, writer, and producer Femi Odugbemi will travel to Normal to help celebrate the booming Nigerian film industry (known as Nollywood) October 30-31.

Odugbemi, whose works include And The Chain Was Not and Gidi Blues: A Lagos Love Story, will speak at three screenings of his films, and share stories of his films over a photography exhibit. All events are free and open to the public.

The events aim to introduce “Nollywood” cinema to Normal, said Assistant Professor of English Paul Ugor, who is helping to coordinate the events.

“Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world.” Producing nearly 1,500 films annually and estimated to be worth $3.3 billion, Ugor calls the evolution of Nollywood an incredible story of creativity. “This is the story of how artists in West Africa are adapting global media technologies in creating indigenous art forms that allow them to talk to their local audiences about the things that matter to ordinary people,” he said.

October 30

Noon – Jonathan Haynes of Long Island University will present “Trajectories of the Nigerian Film Industry” in Stevenson Hall, room 401, at Illinois State University. Hayes, a professor, is the author of the book The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres.

3 p.m. – Odugbemi will share photos and stories of his films at a photography exhibit at the University Galleries, 11 Uptown Circle, Normal. The Galleries will also host a photo exhibition of Nollywood posters.

7 p.m. – A screening of Gidi Blues: A Lagos Love Story at the Normal Theater in Uptown Normal. Odugbemi will share insights on his most recent feature, a buoyant romantic comedy set against the diverse metropolis of Lagos.

October 31

Noon – A screening of the documentary MAKOKO: Futures Afloat, written and directed by Odugbemi in Stevenson Hall, room 101, at Illinois State University. Divided by a bridge, the bustling economic part of Lagos stands adjacent to Makoko, a sprawling fishing community floating on the waste of a city. The film journeys in a world beneath the poverty line in the struggle for a better tomorrow.

5 p.m. – Screening of And The Chain Was Not at Capen Auditorium in Edwards Hall, at Illinois State University. Odugbemi tells the story of Freedom Park in Lagos, formerly Old Broad Street Prison. Once an instrument of colonial oppression, it has now become a peaceful place for contemplation and interaction.

The events are sponsored by Illinois State University’s Harold K. Sage Fund and the Illinois State University Foundation, the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, Visual Culture, Theatre and Film Studies, the School of Communication and Universities Galleries.

NIOT National Director To Frame Hate Crime Film Discussion

Patrice O'Neill, executive director of the national movement Not In Our Town is coming to Bloomington's Moses Montefiore Congregation Nov. 2, along with a timely documentary on hate in modern-day America.

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.

Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they openly address the underlying causes of the violence, work to heal divisions, and begin taking steps to ensure everyone in their village will be safe and respected.

Documentary Features Indigenous Americans' Musical Gifts

Rumble, a new film on indigenous American contributions to music, plays 7 p.m. Sept 8, 10, 13, and 16 at the Normal Theater.

Rumble tells the story of a profound, essential, and, until now, missing chapter in the history of American music: the Indigenous influence.

Featuring music icons Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, Redbone, Randy Castillo, and Taboo, Rumble shows how these talented Native musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives.

Against All Odds to Examine Black Pursuit of the American Dream

against all odds FB tease camille.jpg

AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Fight for a Black Middle Class, will be screened at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Normal First United Methodist Church, offering Twin Citians a chance to examine and discuss challenges to and efforts to overcome racism and discrimination in America.

“Have black Americans had a fair shot at the American dream?” acclaimed journalist Bob Herbert asks. The question is answered in AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Fight for a Black Middle Class, a documentary that probes the harsh and often brutal discrimination that has made it extremely difficult for African-Americans to establish a middle-class standard of living.

A panel discussion will follow the film, which is open to the public.

“Whites talk about working hard and playing by the rules. But blacks have always had to play by a different, hateful set of hideously unfair rules. Working hard has never been enough for black Americans to flourish,” Herbert says in the film’s opening. Then, through dramatic historical footage and deeply moving personal interviews, he explores the often frustrated efforts of black families to pursue the American dream.

Today many African American families are still digging out of the recession that followed the Great Crash of 2007-08, and although some are doing better, black wealth remains meager compared to the white middle class. Nearly 40 percent of black children are poor, and for every dollar of wealth in the hands of the average white family, the typical black family has only a little more than a nickel.

This revealing and sometimes shocking documentary connects the dots of American history to reveal how the traditional route up the economic ladder by attaining a job that pays a living wage and then buying a house — is a financial ascent that has been systematically denied to black families. Reduced educational opportunity, rampant employment discrimination, the inequitable application of the GI bill, mortgage redlining and virulent housing segregation are among the injustices that have converged to limit the prosperity of black families from generation to generation.

Bob Herbert has been covering and commenting on American politics, poverty, racism and social issues for over 45 years through his tenure as a nationally-syndicated op-ed columnist for The New York Times as well as work for other newspapers and broadcast media. Growing up in New Jersey, the son of an upholsterer whose prosperous business was hobbled by banks unwilling to offer loans to blacks, Herbert had an intimate view of the barriers that faced striving black families. His interviews with prominent African Americans, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabelle Wilkerson, Congressman Elijah Cummings, renowned psychologist and author Alvin Poussaint, and policy activist Angela Glover Blackwell, as well as other accomplished black professionals, uncover generational stories of profoundly damaging economic and social prejudice.

In AGAINST ALL ODDS, Herbert looks back at the uphill struggle facing black families freed from slavery over a century and a half ago and emerging from life as uneducated sharecroppers in the South. He traces the barriers to employment and housing designed to keep black people “in their place” both in southern states and in northern states as African Americans migrated throughout the country in search of opportunity and a better life. Shocking footage from the the 50s and 60s in Chicago shows how black families trying to escape overcrowded ghettos faced riots if they moved to a white block or a white suburb. Beryl Satter, an author whose father, a white lawyer, fought against discrimination in Chicago, tells Herbert, “This whole history of white rioting and white violence has been historically buried. When people think of violence and riots in the street, they always think of the 1960s when black people rioted, but when white people rioted, it doesn’t even have a name.”

For those blacks who have made it, and acquired a middle class lifestyle in suburban neighborhoods like those in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the foothold feels tenuous. Brent and Karla Swinton live there in a lovely home and both have good jobs. But Brent says, “We may have arrived to a degree but we just got here so it’s, it’s still not quite the same.” The reality behind that sense of insecurity was abundantly clear following the Great Recession when widespread foreclosures stripped wealth out of the black community.

Yet through it all, Herbert reports, black Americans have shown time and again a tremendous resilience in the face of cruelty and injustice and a determination to get their fair share of the American dream. Herbert says, “There are no barriers that can’t be overcome. When dreams remain unrealized, it simply means the fight goes on.”

Whose Streets? Recounts Ferguson, Reverberates Amid Charlottesville

The tragedy and aftermath of the August 2014 police shooting of Ferguson, Mo., resident Michael Brown reverberated again through the American psyche last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., as a march by white supremacists ended in the vehicular homicide of Heather Heyer.

Whose Streets?, a provocative film about Ferguson, MO, coming to the Normal Theater August 25, 27, 31, and Sept. 2, co-sponsored with Not In Our Town.: Bloomington-Normal. A public discussion will accompany the film, with opportunity for interactive input. Captioning options should be provided for the hearing-impaired.

Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice, Whose Streets? is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis. Grief, long-standing racial tensions and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy.

Empowered parents, artists, and teachers from around the country come together as freedom fighters. As the national guard descends on Ferguson with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new resistance.

Whose Streets?, by filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, is "a powerful battle cry from a generation fighting, not for their civil rights, but for the right to live." McLean County YWCA director and NIOTBN ally Dontae Latson, a former grad student in the Baltimore area, noted "the pain and frustration in neglected or over-policed communities and how it is unfairly labeled as 'rioting and looting.'"

"If you live in these communities, you don't 'own' anything," Latson added, citing the suspicion and tensions that can develop between residents and retail businesses owned by interests from outside the community.

Seventh Art Stand Offers Insights on Islamic Culture

Understanding Islamic People -- Not In Our Town and the Normal Theater are happy to promote The Seventh Art Stand, a nationwide series of films presented by movie theaters and community centers across the U.S. as an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia.

In May 2017, screenings across the U.S. will showcase films from the countries affected by Islamophobia and the travel bans. The Network of Arab Alternative Screens (NAAS) joins U.S. theaters in this coalitional effort to elevate the cinemas and stories of our friends and fellow filmmakers abroad. We believe it is crucial to build a tradition of sharing more stories, voices, and faces on our screens.


Asian Heritage Week Wraps Up With Indian Cuisine/Show, East Asian Films

Illinois State University's Asia Connect this week is celebrating the first annual Asian Heritage Week, running from April 10-15. All events are free unless otherwise noted.

Monday's celebration included “Iran: An Ancient Civilization,” a presentation by Amir Marmarchi, Department of Economics, and Elahe Javadi, School of Information Technology; and a Japanese tea ceremony presented by Jennifer Gunji of Japan House in Urbana,

Tuesday's events included “Korean Alphabet Design and Historical Context,” presented by Alice Lee, School of Art, and "The Battle for Human Rights in North Korea: Is There Any Hope for Change?” by North Korean policy expert and human rights advocate Suzanne K. Scholte. Wednesday's offerings were Asian Film Festival entries The Color of Paradise (Iran) and How to Win at Checkers Every Time (Thailand), at the Normal Theater

Thursday's observation featured “Vietnam: From Lotus Pond to Dragon Land,” presented by Tuyen Tonnu, School of Music, followed by Vietnamese cooking class demonstrations by Tonnu.

A Friday Asian dinner and show will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the ISU Center for Performing Arts, including Indian cuisine and the play Harvest by Manjula Padmanabhan. Tickets are available at $30 for paid AsiaConnect members and $35 for non-members -- payment can be made to Miranda Lin, School of Teaching and Learning, care of DeGarmo Hall, Room 212.

Heritage Week ends Saturday with the Asian Film Festival entries The Boy and the Beast (Japan), at 1 p.m., and Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (Vietnam), 7 p.m., both at the Normal Theater. The Boy and the Beast is a fantasy anime about a young boy named Kyuta orphaned after his mother’s death, who finds himself on the streets of Shibhuya in Tokyo and ultimately taken by Kumatetsu, a grumpy and lazy warrior beast as an apprentice to learn Kendu, a Japanese martial art. Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, set in Vietnam in 1989, explores the relationship between two brothers as they seek to uncover the truth about the myth of the princess of the enchanted forest and the man-eating tiger that guards her. It was the Vietnamese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.

Asia Connect, an affiliated group at Illinois State University, strives to promote cultural diversity across campus.

I Am Not Your Negro Completes Baldwin's Vision

The documentary I Am Not Your Negro is scheduled at 7 p.m. Feb 28, March 2, and March 5 at the Normal Theater, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the AMC Starplex in Normal.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Now, in his incendiary new documentary, filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material.

I Am Not Your Negro is “a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.” It questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges “the very definition of what America stands for.”

ISU Screens Exploration of Campus Sexual Crimes

Join Illinois State University Women's and Gender Studies Program and ISU Health Promotion and Wellness for the screening of the powerful documentary, The Hunting Ground on Sept. 19 at 5:15 p.m. in the Prairie Room of the Bone Student Center.

The film, which debuted at Cannes Film Festival is gaining strength through campus and community screenings across the country. As the conversation around campus sexual assault has been pushed to the forefront, this powerful film documents the rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.

The Hunting Ground presents multiple students who allege they were sexually assaulted at their college campuses, and that college administrators either ignored them or required them to navigate a complex academic bureaucracy to have their claims addressed. The film implies that many college officials were more concerned with minimizing rape statistics for their universities than with the welfare of the students, and contains interviews with college administrators who state they were pressured into suppressing rape cases. The film chiefly criticized actions (or lack thereof) by university administrations, including Harvard, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amherst College, and Notre Dame, but it also examines fraternities such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

The narrative features Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, students at the University of North Carolina, who became campus anti-rape activists after being assaulted. In response to what they saw as an inadequate response from the university, they filed a Title IX complaint against The University of North Carolina on January 16, 2013 (along with three other students), and co-founded the group End Rape on Campus

A panel discussion will follow the screening.

Kiki's Delivery Service August 17 and 21 at Normal Theater

Kiki's Delivery Service, a Japanese animated film, is scheduled for 7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Normal Theater.

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki comes the beloved story of a resourceful young witch who uses her broom to create a delivery service, only to lose her gift of flight in a moment of self-doubt. It is tradition for all young witches to leave their families on the night of a full moon and set out into the wide world to learn their craft.

When that night comes for Kiki, she embarks on her life journey with her chatty black cat, Jiji, landing the next morning in a seaside village, where a bakery owner hires her to make deliveries.

The 103-minute film is in Japanese with English subtitles and is rated G.  It will also be presented on Sunday, August 21, at 1 p.m. with an English language track.

Blackness: A Beauty Screens Sunday at Normal Library

The anti-racist short film, Blackness: A Beauty, premieres at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Normal Public Library.

Inspired by #BlackLivesMatter, this short film follows the story of a local Indian-American Bloomington teenager as he goes to Africa to explore the power of black culture but instead is confronted by his own emotional insecurities about growing up brown in America, as well as his own inner racist qualities.

This comedic, yet thoughtful short film explores the ago-old spiritual question of "who am I?" in our modern day, racially divided world. Racist qualities live in our society, but have they been transferred to us?

Snack on hot double chocolate brownies and watch the short film followed by a workshop and group conversation on confronting racism.

Man Who Knew Infinity Studies Knowledge, Colonialism

The Man Who Knew Infinity, an autobiographical film about an Indian mathematician that explores early 20th Century colonialism, opens June 3, 5, 8, and 10 at the Normal Theater.

The 2015 film, based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel, stars Dev Patel as the real-life Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematician who after growing up poor in Madras, India, earns admittance to Cambridge University during World War I, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons).

The PG-13 film is part of the Beyond Normal Films Series promoting foreign, American independent, and documentary films with the Normal Theater and the Bloomington-Normal community.


2016 Asia Film Festival Offers Quartet of Acclaimed Works

The 2016 AsiaConnect Film Festival kicks off April 14 with four nights of acclaimed international hits examining life and struggles in Korea, India, Japan, and China.

Here are this year's offerings:

April 14, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Treeless Mountain

Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) and her younger sister, Bin (Song Hee Kim), are left by their mother (Soo Ah Lee) with Big Aunt (Mi Hyang Kim). The girls' mother is trying to hunt down their father. She gives them a piggy bank, telling her daughters that when it is full of coins she will return. Big Aunt is an alcoholic who neglects to look after the children. By selling roasted grasshoppers, the two girls manage to take care of themselves over the summer, waiting all the while for their mother's return. Unrated / 89 min. In Korean with English subtitles.

April 15, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM


A young Delhi woman from a traditional family goes on a solo honeymoon when her wedding is canceled in this Bollywood coming of age hit. Unrated / 146 min.

April 16, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM


Soon after buying an expensive cello, Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) learns that his orchestra is disbanding. Daigo and his wife move back to his hometown in northern Japan, where he answers an ad for what he thinks is a travel agency but is, in actuality, a mortuary. As he learns and carries out the rituals used in preparing the dead for their final rest, Daigo finds his true calling in life. PG-13 / 131 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

April 17, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Coming Home

A former political prisoner (Chen Daoming) tries to help his wife (Gong Li) regain her memory and rediscover their love for each other. PG-13 / 109 min. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

For details, visit

Illinois State University AsiaConnect is an association of faculty and staff members who work together in the interest of the Asian community. Its purpose is to:

  • Promote the various cultures of the Asian community to Illinois State and the Bloomington/Normal community
  • Represent the interests, needs, and concerns of Asian faculty, staff, and students
  • Promote communication and support among the Asian community
  • Develop cooperative relationships in the academic community and with student organizations
  • Assist the University with the recruitment and retention of Asian faculty, staff, and students


NIOTBN Production Becomes Mission for Student Filmmaker

It may be no major motion picture. But to an Illinois State University student team currently working to bring Not in Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s story to the screen, the project’s significance is “huge.”  

ISU senior and mass media major Cory Herman is helming a documentary about NIOTBN’s efforts toward building awareness and helping affect change in the Twin Cities. The yet-untitled project is an end-of-the-year production for his team’s Non-TV Production course, focusing on local non-profit  activity.

The team currently is interviewing NIOTBN leaders and volunteers and compiling footage from recent NIOTBN-involved events including the December interfaith vigil in downtown Bloomington, NIOTBN’s participation at the Bloomington Donald Trump visit, last spring’s Breaking Barriers police/community dialogue, and the summer vigil for the Charlestown church shooting victims.

The film – and Herman -- were inspired by a meeting between students and NIOTBN Education Chairman Camille Taylor.  As Taylor “passionately” outline the group’s community efforts and Not In Our School’s reach into elementary, junior high, and high school classrooms, Herman and his colleagues quickly realized that the project was “bigger than just ourselves; bigger than a grade,” he related.

“Listening to (NIOTBN’s) vision and its values, it really became a mission to show what Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal has done and the positive impact, the positive message that it stands for,” the Metamora student said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, this is huge.’

“We want to make sure our film does justice for the organization – to make sure we’re doing everything we can to honor what they’re doing and the people who give the time to make sure that everybody feels safe, that no one feels afraid of being discriminated against or being persecuted for anything.”

The film is set to premiere in a late April screening for the NIOTBN Steering Committee before being submitted for the group to use in its activities. Herman’s production team also includes students David Hohulin, Kyle Bartolini, Sophia Hart, and Kristen Koukol, under the faculty direction of School of Communications Prof. Brent Simonds.

Herman’s own vision and values were forged in part by his parents – his father was a long-time youth pastor, his mother an active community volunteer. The family traveled extensively from church to church, “and my parents told me always to judge people based on who they are – how they act around you, how they act around adults – and to always have the capacity to forgive and to understand,” Herman said.

The Hermans lived for five years in a community a half-hour outside Charleston, S.C., where, according to the student documentarian, many of the residents “were very sweet and truly were looking for change” but others had clung to a “begrudging mentality” with roots in the Civil War era. Herman enjoyed a diverse circle of friends, but the population was divided somewhat by a largely white prep school and a predominantly black public school as well as lingering social sentiments.

“I didn’t realize until looking back, years later, that, wow, what I believed in – what my dad and my mom stood for -- wasn’t necessarily going along with the popular current,” said Herman, whose family returned to the Peoria area 14 years ago. “We never got harassed for it; nothing bad ever came from it. It’s just sobering, looking back and seeing that mentality.”

Herman is slated for a summer internship with a small production studio in Los Angeles. He hopes ultimately to use film, fictional  or documentary, not only to entertain but to push his audience to learn and “question” – to challenge previous social perceptions or recognize societal issues and concerns.

“I want to come back and be able to film in Peoria, in Bloomington-Normal,” Herman maintained, however.