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With Black Kung Fu Chick, VMA Professor Creates a Heroine for Young Girls of Color

drawing of Black girl in Kung Fu pose
A poster for Rae Shaw’s Black Kung Fu Chick, drawn by Danielle Marascalchi ’20

Growing up, Visual and Media Arts Assistant Professor Rae Shaw didn’t see many heroines who looked like her in TV or film. Now a filmmaker, she’s set out to change that for today’s young girls of color.

The result, a transmedia web series Shaw created, wrote, and directed called Black Kung Fu Chick, is making its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival, now through February 25.

“I wanted to share this story of a vibrant and powerful community that has commonly been portrayed through stereotypical lenses that create limits and boundaries instead of empowering and inspiring,” Shaw said.

Visit: Black Kung Fu Chick webpage

Set and filmed in South Los Angeles, Black Kung Fu Chick is a coming-of-age story that mirrors the lives of many teenage Black girls whose dreams are deferred by responsibilities they must shoulder.

The series follows high school senior Tasha (Taylor Polidore), whose aspirations of becoming a doctor are disrupted when circumstances force her to fight for the people she loves. Mr. Jian (Peter Boon Koh) teaches Tasha the healing principles of White Crane Kung Fu and Tai Chi to help her turn her life around.

Black Kung Fu Chick is, at its core, a story about the possibilities and choices that young women of color deserve – the right to imagine and to achieve,” Shaw said. “Black Kung Fu Chick has the power to reflect what I didn’t have as a young Black girl: the ability for young women of color to see themselves onscreen and believe that they can be anything they desire.”

Slamdance will showcase the first episode of the 10-installment first season. Each episode is comprised of a sequence of mini-episodes, and will feature a fight sequence bookending the episode, a healthy eating component, a female issue, local public art, and a philosophical Kung Fu lesson with real-world relevance. Each episode is based on the 10 moral laws of Shaolin and visits 10 principles of learning Kung Fu.

The Black Kung Fu Chick web series launches an innovative transmedia project, which will extend across multiple platforms, including a game, comic, and interactive website. By giving viewers an immersive experience, Shaw said she hopes to empower young girls and connect audiences around the world with the diversity of rich cultures within the South L.A. community.

Inspired by her love for martial arts movies of the 1970s and ‘80s, Shaw shot the series on a Super 8mm camera to capture the nostalgia of the classic Kung Fu era and implement an Afrofuturist approach to the series.

Shaw received support for the project through an Emerson College Faculty Advancement Fund Grant (FAFG) and faculty funds, with the support of College leadership.

She also got support in the form of Emerson alumni working on the project, including two of her former students – title and poster designer Danielle Marascalchi ’20 and second assistant camera Ryan Porter ’20 – as well as key production assistant Paolo Cenci ’19.

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