Director Spotlight: Dan Chen
Dan Chen is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, and the director of 'Accepted', currently featured in Kinema's AAPI Storytellers Festival.
Dan Chen's new documentary 'Accepted' tracks the ambitious students of the T.M. Landry Prep School, who enjoyed a remarkable 100% acceptance rate into the county’s most elite colleges -- until an explosive NY Times article exposed the controversial teaching methods of its dynamic founder.
In this piece written for Kinema, Chen discusses his film, his background, and how the two intrinsically intertwine:
What struck me first about T.M. Landry was how the school flouted societal expectations. The students were mostly Black, the school was a warehouse in rural Louisiana, and the seniors had just been accepted into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other prestigious universities. The joy in those viral acceptance videos was visceral, real, and communal.
I grew up as a Chinese kid in Kansas. I don’t share the experience of being Black in America. But I know what it feels like to be underestimated at large, to resist the stereotypes put upon you, and to work for an acceptance that’s elusive. As someone who grew up in a small town with big dreams, I wanted to center what it felt like to be a student at this school. After our first trip T.M. Landry, we committed to help tell the story of the next senior class, as they strived for their own college ambitions.
The year did not go how anyone expected. The simple story of a revered school did not hold. Instead we were confronted with challenging questions. In an unjust society, what is the cost of success? For communities with less, how do you secure your future? For a young person coming of age, how do you discover and accept yourself?
We filmed as if the camera belonged to one of the students in the Class of 2019. We show you the inspirational speeches and the long hours. The fireworks in the park and tears in the classroom. The joy and the terror of clicking on a webpage that will change your life forever. And the incisive voices of five students who stand in the center of a hurricane and tell it like they saw it.
I hope this film helps viewers question the comfortable lies we tell ourselves about our society. And I hope that audiences will find inspiration in a new generation of students that see the world with clear and unsparing eyes.