Different people may have different conceptions of who Arthur Chu is. Some might remember him as the Asian American contestant on Jeopardy! who won 11 games with his unusual style of playing. Some might remember him from his articles on pop and Internet culture at The Daily Beast and Salon. And for those who are familiar with the Gamergate controversy in 2014, they might recall Chu as an outspoken critic against the harassment campaigns that targeted women in the video gaming sphere.
Who Is Arthur Chu?, directed and produced by Yu Gu and Scott Drucker, is an attempt to understand who Arthur Chu actually is. The film uses the fame and online abuse Chu accrued early in his Jeopardy! days as an entry point of understanding its main subject and then proceeds to follow Chu as he embarks on other ventures in his life, gradually transitioning from a white-collar job at an insurance company to vocations more to his liking, namely writing and public speaking. As a self-identified nerd that is zealous about issues of social injustice, Chu finds himself drawn to writing and talking about the racism and sexism that are rampant in popular culture. His devotion to righting or identifying what he sees as the wrongs in society has earned him many followers on social media and many enemies as well.
The documentary touches upon the online bullying Chu had to endure, especially during his Jeopardy phase and his involvement in the push back on the Gamergate movement. It also provides a more intimate look into Chu’s personal experiences growing up as a second-generation Asian-American and his sometimes fraught relationship with his family, especially his strict, disciplinarian father. At a time of age when representations or documentations of Asian-Americans in popular culture are still few and far between, Who Is Arthur Chu? is significant in that it offers a nuanced record that captures the issues of belonging and the intergenerational conflicts many Asian-Americans face in their everyday lives.
One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is its braiding of Chu’s pubic and personal life and how it studies Chu’s ideals and beliefs in conjunction with the reality of his personal relationships. Through this juxtaposition, we are rewarded with a complex portrayal of a man who fights for social righteousness and opposes sexism and yet who also because of his commitments may be too busy to fully care for the people closest to him, namely, his wife Eliza Blair, who suffers from fibromyalgia. A sense of absent-mindedness permeate the footage of Chu with his wife and mother, which contrasts sharply with the impassioned and focused Chu we see in his public talks and interviews. Another hidden tension embedded within the film surrounds Chu’s pursuit of his dreams. While the documentary charts Chu’s journey to embrace what he loves doing in life and his encouragement towards others to do the same, it is put in sharp relief against Eliza’s lack of fulfillment creatively. The film doesn’t suggest that there is a causal relationship between the two, for such an explanation would be too reductive and even grossly unfair given the limited amount of information we as viewers are privy to in terms of the personal relationships between Chu and the people around him. It does, however, allow us to understand Chu a bit more and witness the conflicts behind the aspirations and the individual behind the defender of social justice.
Indeed, a subtle re-examination of dreams, both the dreams of the individual and the Great American Dream, is one of the dominant themes of Who Is Arthur Chu? Chu himself seems to have struggled with reconciling his vision of what he wants to do in life with the dreams his parents had envisioned for him and his siblings. The documentary, filmed in 2014, captures Chu at a very particular juncture in his life, when he was beginning to explore the possibility of quitting his day job to pursue goals that he was more passionate about. Would the documentary had been made even richer if it had continued to follow Chu as he embarked on a new stage in his life and faced new challenges, for in the epilogue in the film, we learn that Arthur and Eliza eventually got a divorce? Perhaps. But nonetheless, what Who Is Arthur Chu? has to offer is already a very compelling document of a complicated individual and the exciting yet troubling times he is situated in.
Who is Arthur Chu? was shown on March 11 at CAAMFest 2017.