Author & Interviewer: Sarah Engel
Growing up, Ida Yoshinaga had her mind set on creative writing. Perhaps she would become a playwright, or fabulist, modernizing ancient myths. In college, she wrote ethnic poetry and creative non-fiction. Her involvement in Asian American literature discussions in Hawaiʻi led her to realize that, “the playing field for publishing is not an even one.”
Today, Yoshinaga is an assistant professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Her specialty? Science fiction. More specifically, the “hybridization of commercial science-fiction.” She also explores how, in the noble pursuit of giving regional, cultural, non-profit-driven voices a platform, small presses and local broadcasters can persist as large corporations dominate the industry.
Yoshinaga’s journey to becoming interested in racial, class, and gender justice issues in mass media (both in representation and consumer base) stems from an early interest in cinema. Her father, who’d grown up at the start of the Great Depression, exposed her to comedic writers, directors, and performers such as Chaplin and Keaton. She also grew to love dramatic female actors from 1930s Hollywood onward like the Gish sisters and their acting heir (her namesake) Ida Lupino. Many of these actors and actresses even became directors or producers to survive the fragile Hollywood studio establishment. “I grew up wondering how cinema could be so powerful aesthetically and spiritually when the system that generated it was contradictorily so mechanical and money-oriented.” These questions continue to confront her as she conducts research today.
Yoshinaga cites her attraction to the science fiction genre to her being a child of the 1960s and 70s. During this “New Wave”, the genre was becoming increasingly self-aware, “critiquing its earlier celebratory (and colonial) explorations of imperial conquests of the galaxy and questioning the heritage of the space age while also adventuring into ‘inner space,’ the human consciousness, as well as everyday society.” Satirical versions of science fiction and heroic fantasies also interested and entertained Yoshinaga. “I have long been fascinated by connections between speculation, fabulation, experimentalism, and comedy which are not explored enough in my field.”
As a young graduate student, studying Hawai'i literature amid the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) sovereignty movement, Yoshinaga focused heavily on representation. For example, the presentation of realistic and complex characters versus caricatures and stereotypes. Furthermore, ensuring that certain archetypes hold up to “modern application and long-term usability,” so that we can glean lessons and observe how a culture perceives humanity. Later on, she started focusing on expanding access and means of production. “In an unequal world
where some have more ability to be produced/published in the media than others, this means I have come to focus on media relationships, relations of production. Who supports minority voices? How do they take up strategies to do so, when the workplace of mass media is inevitably racist, heterosexist, classist, nationalistic, etc.?”
Within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech, Yoshinaga works to make her ideas exciting to students, meets with colleagues, organizes meetings, attends events, and explores Atlanta in her (minimal) free time. Her goal is to understand the people and places that fascinate her and learn more about Atlanta’s film landscape. Recently, she has been learning to promote and produce Indigenous films. Though somewhat work-related, she says it is “something which has become a set of passion projects that are driven by a greater collective need to hear truly diverse voices in science-fiction and fantasy cinema.” While in Hawaiʻi, Yoshinaga was involved with organizations like Netpac USA, working to promote Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, and Asian (diasporic and national) cinema. She hopes to find similar pursuits in the south and within Georgia that encourage the promotion and viewing of such media stories. The little girl once fascinated by the monstrous Hollywood studio system is now navigating the world of film production. The difficulty, she says, is figuring out how to get these small, community-driven films made when conventions make it so expensive, logistically complicated, profit-driven, and exploitative for artists. The question of how to find direction “post-#MeToo and recent cultural conversations about workplace abuse, mental health priorities...and still create great cinematic art” continues to challenge her.
Ida Yoshinaga is the recipient of various awards, fellowships, and scholarships. She has published several articles on screenwriting, transmedia, and science fiction. Currently, Yoshinaga is writing a book on Disney, gender, and creative labor. Her expertise and passion are no doubt appreciated by her students in LMC 3206: Communication and Culture. In a timely reference to the novel and soon-to-be-released sci-fi film Dune (2021), Yoshinaga says her advice to students is, “fear is the mind-killer.” Students should “be aware of which fears reflect your concerns as viable warnings of real issues—and which are just phantoms that are holding you back.”
This story was written by LMC major, Sarah Engel, for Jillann Hertel’s special topics course, Media for Community Building.
Ida Yoshinaga is an Assistant LMC Professor at Georgia Tech.
For further inquiries, please contact Senior Academic Professional Jillann Hertel.