Nothing encompasses the struggle to fit in more than existing between worlds. Premiering at CAAMFest 2022 is Mixed, a superb documentary by Caty Borum Chattoo & Leena Jayaswal about the experiences of mixed race people in America.
Running just under an hour, Mixed follows Caty and Leena interviewing mixed race children and couples in the East Coast of the US about the challenges, big and small, that they face in their everyday lives. Fifty years after the famous Loving Vs. Virginia US supreme court ruling allowing inter-racial marriages in the US, the documentary explores how much things have changed and in what way. People of all ages, from old interracial couples to wide-eyed Gen Z’s, relate their personal stories: a couple that’s been married since the 1960s, a mixed-raced college theater group, high school kids, and the directors themselves, both of whom are in mixed-raced marriages. While these people have different backgrounds – east Asian, black, white, Indian, Latino, etc. – they all share a set of common experiences that overlap despite they’re vastly different ethnic and racial make-up.
As anyone who’s seen Seinfeld knows, there’s simply no easy way to talk about race in America. It’s both universal and uniquely individualistic, making it nearly impossible to truly capture everyone’s voice. Mixed expertly avoids this trap. The filmmakers take the right approach by abstaining from needless pontificating and allow their interview subjects to express what the issue really means to them. In that regard, Mixed is more mild than polemic. While the echoes of topics like George Floyd and BLM are there, the documentary is more concerned with how mixed-race people fit into modern American society. “If you’re in a room with black people, you’re the white person; if you’re in a room with white people, you’re the black person,” reveals a half-black half-white teenager towards the end of the film.
The presence of the directors in front of the camera in nearly every scene may raise questions about the film’s objectivity (insofar as any documentary can be objective), though Mixed makes no attempt to hide its subjectivity right from the very start. Caty and Leena are a focus of the film as much as any of the other interviewees, if not more. Their close involvement brings the subject matter closer to the audience by emphasizing both the mundane and the big picture of the issue. However, this also makes the film seem like an episode of a reality TV show and somewhat dilutes the gravitas of the topic. The sub-hour runtime also gives the impression of a TV episode rather than a fully accomplished film, like a Discovery channel special that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the program. The film’s brevity is its biggest weakness, as it seems like the time runs out before the discussions have a chance to get deeper. One gets the impression that the people it depicts deserved a little more time on screen.
Nevertheless, Mixed is an excellent vehicle for starting the conversation of race in America, focusing on a particular subset of the issue. It shows the bad, the good, and the in-between. Its treatment of the subject is not the most thorough, but it is undoubtedly honest.
Mixed was shown at CAAMFest 2022.