Kiwi film director Roseanne Liang has made a list of the 20 female directors most likely to direct a Hollywood movie. Her comedy web series Friday Night Bites uses the exploits of three young Asian Kiwi flatmates to skewer racial and sexual stereotypes.
1 You've just launched season two of Friday Night Bites. What are the girls up to this time?
Jess, Lee and Perlina are now in their mid-late 20s and still lost in a millennial malaise. They want to make a big splash in the world but they're too cynical and apathetic to do it. One of the things you learn in your 20s is that 'adulting' is not as easy as it seems.
2 This was the second web series to receive NZ On Air funding after Auckland Daze. What do you know about the ways people watch web series?
This is our fifth season in the world of Flat 3. We released the first three on YouTube and TVNZ has come to the party for the last two. We've changed the name to Friday Night Bites because the episodes are snack sized. Most are only a few minutes - the longest is 13 minutes - so you can binge watch the whole series in 80 minutes. We're catching new audiences all the time through social media. Our most popular episode last year got literally millions of hits when Tian Tan, a social media influencer, appeared in an episode and posted a clip.
3 How did Tian become a social media influencer?
He got big when he posted a clip of a horrendous first date he had on the reality show First Dates New Zealand. They set him up with a party girl because he's good looking and muscley from doing this acrobatic callisthenics thing called tricking but under the confident exterior he's a total nerd. People think influencers get rich but he doesn't get paid in money. He gets free stuff like phones and ice creams but he still has to pay his bills like the rest of us.
4 Does a lot of the humour in Friday Night Bites play on stereotypes?
That was definitely what we were interested in when we started Flat 3. It's interesting how much the paradigm has changed in the six years we've been making it. At the time we were inspired by Girls but we started falling out of love with that show as people questioned the exclusion of people of colour. Then we showed Flat 3 at the San Francisco Asian American film festival. A guy stood up and asked, "Why are all your love interests white?" I'm ashamed to say it had never crossed my mind. We were making it on the cheap so we just cast our friends who happened to be white.
5 Did the fact your real life partner is a white Kiwi guy perhaps play a part in that?
Yes my documentary film Banana in a Nutshell and feature film My Wedding and Other Secrets were both based on my real life relationship with a pakeha guy. But the Asian female/white male pairing is actually incredibly problematic in cross cultural relationship terms. I got badly trolled by Asian men calling me things like 'race traitor'.
6 What's a race traitor?
It stems from the deeply misogynistic, toxic idea that the chattels of a race include women, so if women marry outside a race, men lose their valued possessions. It's not new, nor isolated to Asian men - White American men have historically held fears about white women partnering with black men. The online abuse got so extreme in one case I had to call in the police because the guy was threatening me, my friends and my family. He set up multiple accounts to troll me over two years under different names, but always in the same horrific, sexually violent language. Eventually the police were able to find him and give him a warning.
7 What kind of person does that?
He was a professional guy with a job and a life. There's a 'greater internet f***wad theory' that normal, well-adjusted people can display psychopathic or antisocial behaviour with the anonymity and captive audience of the Internet. There is a silver lining though. It did make me consider what was making Asian men so angry. When I looked closer, I could see how they are constantly emasculated or made invisible on screen. Asian men are statistically confirmed to be at the bottom of the 'attractiveness index' on dating sites like OkCupid and Tinder, along with black women. With Flat 3, we had a platform to combat that representation problem.
8 Is it an issue you can mine for comedy?
Yes, we have fun with it in the episode when Tian goes to dinner with his white girlfriend's parents and the dad cracks a joke about Asian men's dicks. Tian has the choice to let it pass or risk conflict by asking, 'What do you mean by that?" He takes the second tack but it turns into a full-on power play which ends in the two men actually measuring. That episode also explores micro aggressions.
9 What are micro-aggressions?
They're like cultural mosquito bites; small questions like, "Where are you from?" that unintentionally make someone feel like they don't belong; or a brown person getting followed around a store by a security guy. The more bites you get, the angrier you become until you end up flying off the handle at what seems like the slightest provocation.
10 Do you know who watches Friday Night Bites?
A lot of our audience are young liberals who are interested in these cultural dynamics and want to be 'woke'. There are so many ways we enjoy privilege that we're not even aware of. I had a wake-up call recently when a friend told me she always has to go into the petrol station and pay before she can pump her petrol. That never happens to us Asian girls. We just pick up the nozzle and it magically clicks through.
11 Growing up in Auckland, did you always want to work in film?
My parents were classic 'tiger parents' – protective and very intent on making sure we did our best academically. I was the youngest of three. Both my sisters were dux at St Cuthbert's College so I put myself through hell to become dux as well. When I made it, the feeling was more relief than happiness. Both my sisters are doctors so I applied for medical school too but they encouraged me to defer for a year and try other things. I did a science and arts degree which is where I discovered my love for film and TV.
12 You've just made the Alice Initiative's list of top 20 female directors to watch, along with Handmaid's Tale director Reed Morano. If you got the chance to make a Hollywood film, what kind would you make?
Action. I've already made a short action film which got into Sundance last year. As a result of that proof of concept I've got Hollywood representation. I've always loved genre. Terminator 2 is a perfect movie as far as I'm concerned, also Aliens and the Matrix. I love it when women make action because you don't lose any kinetic momentum or the spectacle factor but there's an added sensitivity, like in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break. It's exciting to see a new crop of female action directors coming through.
• Friday Night Bites Season 2 is on TVNZ OnDemand