5C students walk the red carpet for ‘The Race Epidemic’ premiere

The exterior of the TCL theatre, angled towards the sky.
Five 5C students had the opportunity to leave campus for the premiere of a new documentary, “The Race Epidemic,” at LA’s TCL Chinese Theater. (Courtesy: Rebecca Yao)

Red carpet premieres are a highlight of Los Angeles life, as famous celebrities show off their glamorous outfits. On the carpet this week, students from the Claremont Colleges got the chance to see what the buzz was all about — this time at the TCL Chinese Theater

At an exclusive screening on Sept. 26, five 5C students had the opportunity to leave campus for the premiere of a new documentary: “The Race Epidemic.” Although the trip was not a 5C-sponsored event, students in Pitzer College’s Social Documentations class had the opportunity to walk the red carpet at the Los Angeles theater.

Hyejin Yun PZ ’26 helped make the experience possible through an opportunity with the K.W. Lee Center for Leadership, where she worked in the past. After realizing that the film connected to the course material in her Asian American Studies class, Yun offered a few spots to her classmates hoping to share the unique opportunity to see the film premiere.

After a long drive to Los Angeles, the initial impression of the TCL Chinese Theater was a bit jarring to some. 

All 5 students are in Pitzer College’s Social Documentations class. (Courtesy: Rebecca Yao ‘26)

“All night, I was trying to figure out if it was racist or cool,” Rachel Ma PO ’26 said. “Is this appropriation or appreciation?” 

These lines can often become blurred. Asian American history is embedded in the building — stone, temple bells and Heaven Dogs in the building were imported from China and many interior decorations were hand-created by Chinese artisans — but some students felt like the theater’s status as the world’s largest IMAX auditorium distracted from this meaning.

The film focused on exposing the hatred that erupted towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through interviews with Asian American politicians, “The Race Epidemic” presents the hate crimes that swept through the country during the pandemic and which still persist today. 

“It was very empowering in a tragic way,” Ma said. “Everyone had gone through the experiences of the people in the movie, so [there was a] strong sense of solidarity with everyone in the theater.”

The students got to take an even deeper look into the film through a Q&A session with the film’s director, Tony Shyu. 

“It inspired me to do even more for my community. It was an emotional response.”

Hyejin Yun PZ ’26

“It was hard for the director because [he] made it before COVID started, and then he basically made a different version during COVID,” Rebecca Yao SC ’26 said. “There were a lot of processes to it.”

Although changing the direction of the film to respond to the pandemic was difficult for Shyu, it added a new purpose to the film’s message.

“It inspired me to do even more for my community,” Yun said. “It was an emotional response.”

As students in a course about documentation, they understood the impact films can have. Yao described how films make information more accessible. By using visual and auditory aspects, more people are able to take in the narrative. 

[Film] is an uninterrupted way for communities to speak up about their experiences,” Yun said. 

Ma shared something their professor, Johnson Chang, had said about how the specificity of a film impacts its audience: the more specific, the more relatable. And “The Race Epidemic” accomplished exactly that for Ma.  

“The experiences of an Asian politician are very similar to the experiences of an Asian college student,” Ma said.

Films such as “The Race Epidemic” can also function as a foundation for people to come together. 

It was really cool to hang out with people and talk about that stuff,” Ma said.It was really fun just us being able to experience that together.” 

Not only were the students able to watch this film together, but they were able to walk the red carpet — or at least a portion of it.

All the students found some humor in their experience.

The students got participate in a Q&A session with the film’s director, Tony Shyu.
(Courtesy: Hyejin Yun PZ ‘26)

When asked about their exciting experience on the red carpet, each response began with a light laugh. Yao explained that the glorious carpet “was like three feet,” with Ma adding, “it was more like a red shower mat.”

Although it was a short-lived walk, they were able to fully experience the TCL Chinese Theater. The film allowed them to learn about the experiences of politicians during the pandemic while feeling connected to a broader community. 

Yun said, “[film] is the best way for other communities other than AAPI to empathize with the community they are listening to and seeing.”

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