Blitz chatted with Maria Tran, a martial artist, actress, director, producer and superhero in her own right about work, diversity, and achieving your dreams.
Can you describe what it’s like to break into the film industry as an Asian woman?
I’ve been mostly doing so many different things from different angles, trying to figure this out. I started in short films but once I got into the industry, I realised I couldn’t get the roles I always dreamed of. Asians were always migrants, boat people, prostitutes, and so on. It’s very frustrating, but it makes us more creative because we have to stand up and create our own work. The media only sees us in a particular way, and it goes unchallenged. So it’s up to independent artists to get our voices and stories out there.
Do you think Hollywood is getting any better?
I’ve worked overseas in international films – in China, Vietnam – but honestly, it’s not getting any better. I think that these issues are becoming more visible but the people writing stories are still the same type of people who see [minorities] in a particular way. Hopefully we can come to a point where we’re investing more in people of color, so that they can tell their stories in their own way. Australia is so multicultural…hopefully there will be more of a demand for culturally-different content in the future.
Do you ever wish that Asian actresses will be asked questions just about their art and not their background? I’m guilty of this, because I’m just asked you about it. But a lot of white actors never get asked about their race or gender…
Oh that’s so true! I wish. In my own community, I always get the same questions, like “what do your parents say about such and such” or other racially-tinged questions. People like us in the industry hasn’t been normalised yet, and I think it’s because we’re seen as something ‘exotic’. These questions keep coming, and I’m getting used to it because they are important, but I also want to steer attention to something else, like the other important issues in my projects.
What’s your favourite type of project to work on?
A lot of my work is embedded in Western Sydney. It’s a place where there’s a lot of independent artists without lots of resources. So, it’s because of my background that everything I work on is grounded in reality. I’ve always loved martial arts, but I realised that women only play certain roles within them, and I like to be part of projects that change that. People call me with projects where they’re like “Maria, I need you to fix this” and those are the projects that I feel I can add value to with my background. I like working on real issues, while adding an entertainment spin. I also love using online platforms!
Western Sydney has a reputation in the media for being high on crime. You went to high school and university in the area, and as a Vietnamese woman in Australia, you’ve dealt with a lot of stereotypes. What kind of impact has this had on your work?
Coming from Western Sydney, I’ve realised that the issues there are very different from people who live in the city. There are more stories that can be told. Yes, there is a crime that we always see in the media, but on the flip side, there’s other stories out there that are important too. Being from Western Sydney isn’t a disability, I think there’s a whole part of it that hasn’t been explored. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to have the career I currently have. I’m grateful for my background there, because living around the world, I realised I don’t get the same kind of support that I do here. Here, I can learn about different cultures and different stories – it adds to my experiences.
You studied psychology, but now you’re an incredible martial-artist. What advice do you have for uni students struggling to pursue their passions?
Oh this is a hard one. I was also once a uni student trying to figure out her passions. It’s a scary thing growing up, with deadlines and everything, and uni is a great opportunity. But I think people struggling need to look for a framework. In addition to studying, uni students need to break away from the system a bit and figure it out for themselves too. For instance, I always dreamed of being an actress – I grew up watching martial arts movies – but it took three years to drill the acting dream into my head. It’s dangerous to forget about your ultimate goal…sometimes you need to just screw it, and keep thinking about it. If you don’t take a risk, you’ll be doing the same small things all the time.
You’ve achieved so much already. But what other dreams do you want to pursue next?
Everything is a stepping stone to me, but sometimes when I sit down and reflect, it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. I worked with Jackie Chan this year and I remember I sat down to reflect, and kept asking myself, okay, what now? Ultimately, I’d love to be able to direct my own action film and work with the world’s big martial artists, but I haven’t gotten close to anything yet. I’m still working on the crumbs. Right now I’m on a journey of changing the industry from a micro-level – getting the stories I want to see out there.
Neverending Story (It’s the first film that taught me about possibilities, and exploring the world).
Favourite music to work out to?
Spiritual and out-of-body music.
You already have the fighting skills down. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
This will sound horrible, but I’d love to be able to hypnotise people (so I can make them say yes to my projects!)…I think I’d like to have the power of persuasion.
Maria is part of the lineup for TEDxYouth Sydney on Wednesday September 6th. Tickets can be bought here
Check out some of her short films – Hit Girls, Gaffa, Enter The Dojo and her international films Fist of the Dragon, Death Mist and the Vietnamese action-blockbuster Tracer!