CAAM is incredibly grateful to have a group of amazing board members. We’d like to introduce you to Brent Hall, who first came across CAAM (NAATA then) as a student at UC Berkeley. Since then, he’s been involved with CAAM in various roles. Hall joined our board over a year ago, and has been key in working on projects such as our VR initiatives.
Below, Hall shares more about his background and passion for media making, and what he looks forward to in future years with CAAM.
Can you tell us a little about your personal background. Where you grew up and how that has shaped your understanding of the world?
Mine is a quintessential Chinese American story. I’m third generation, descendant of an Angel Island paper son, son of a teacher and an engineer, grandson of a laundryman and butcher.
I grew up in suburban Los Angeles taking honors courses, on the volleyball court, and in the theater, in a somewhat racially-diverse San Gabriel Valley bubble. Opened my mind at UC Berkeley studying Mass Communications and Asian American Studies in the classroom, and the Bay Area music scene out of it. Came of age in San Francisco with the birth of the internet, the heyday of the Lower Haight electronic music scene, and the rise of the Burning Man movement.
My parents and their families are both active in the Chinese American communities in Los Angeles and Seattle. My father, the oldest son of a founder of LA Chinatown, has always done community work there, my mother’s a former Miss Chinatown Seattle whose family ties run deep in Seattle’s Chinese community, and many of my relatives are instrumental in the Chinese American Museum (CAM) in Los Angeles. I certainly think they have been an influence – this recognition that many of our opportunities were made possible through the support of the community, and that continuing to strengthen our community is integral to opening up opportunities for those that come after us. I am a citizen of many worlds who believes mixing and remixing brings people together in exciting new ways.
What would you say drives your work as a CAAM board member, and in all of your work?
Media’s the most powerful vehicle we have to create change, both positive and negative. It is the most accessible, immediate way for us to understand and connect with worlds and peoples beyond on own, and because of this has the power to shape perspectives.
Breaking down media barriers and gatekeepers has been core to my work, and to be able to help an organization like CAAM fulfill their mission in illuminating under-represented APA voices, empowering a more diverse set of storytellers, and to re-shape the definition of what it means to be an American is supremely gratifying.
What drew you to CAAM?
My interest in CAAM (NAATA at the time) sparked during my days at UC Berkeley in the mid-’90s. I was fortunate to have taken Loni Ding’s Ethnic Studies film course, and recall a PFA screening by Jon Moritsugu (Terminal USA) that made an indelible imprint (stain?) on me and reset all expectations of what Asian America could be. The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) became an annual must-see for me throughout college and into my early adult years in San Francisco.
Fast forward to 2002, and I found myself in the position to not just attend but work for the festival, kicking off a long relationship with NAATA/CAAM working in various part-time capacities for several years. Fast forward to 2017 and here I am on the board, able to help shape the present and future of CAAM.
It’s cool to think that there is a whole generation of future board members in the CAAMFest audience, getting their minds blown like I did back in 1993. And a testament to the power of the work CAAM does.
Can you talk about your involvement in marketing and technology companies over the years?
My career has taken me through ad agencies, consumer brands, media companies, nonprofits, and startups. I’m driven by media innovation and evolution, and the opportunity to disrupt norms and conventions.
I’ve created internet ad standards, taken companies like Microsoft online for the first time, launched PBS’ first global news show (Frontline/World), taken over Times Square with the first livestream (a Coldplay concert on YouTube), produced virtual reality apps and videos at Nokia, and started a first-of-its-kind indie Chinese film distribution company dGenerate Films.
I’ve been fortunate to work with the best of the best in their respective categories, and currently do marketing consulting. Last but not least, I also spent a life-changing six months working with CAAM/NAATA in 2002!
What role do you think CAAM plays in diversity, including, changing peoples’ careers, changing communities and changing perspectives?
We all need heroes, teachers, and mentors. And in this day and age, more often than not, the world draws its inspiration from media. But when you can’t identify or relate to the the stories being told or the storytellers telling them, then the paths forward are just that much harder to see. CAAM’s trailblazing means we have new pathways for us to follow.
CAAM’s impact goes beyond us having role models and more paths forward, but to the world around us becoming more and more aware that the American experience isn’t complete without APA’s being represented.
What areas of CAAM have you worked on, and what do you hope to do with CAAM in the future?
I’m one of the newer members of the board (on my second year) and have been helping Don Young and the programming team carry out their work. I’m looking forward to continuing that, especially with their newer forays into digital mediums like VR, as well as to help CAAM realize their longer-term strategic vision.
We’re at an interesting crossroads, with APA’s having more visibility than ever before, but with a long, long way to go before parity of representation and the boxes we are put in get blown to bits. Not only onscreen but behind the camera, and in the writers, editing, and board rooms as well.
There is not a single Asian American story but millions, each uniquely worth sharing. I look forward to helping CAAM telling them all!