Holiday Issue 2017 | Interviews | Stage & Screen

Catapulting a Conversation

Patti Kim Gill on growing up to write “BlacKorea”

Ellen Hao

My name is Patti Kim Gill. I’m originally from New Orleans. I moved to Chicago when I was twelve, to Englewood. I have four children. I’ve been married for almost twenty years. I’m a writer, I’m an artist, and I’m a creator.

She laughs, quickly aware of how her laundry list of descriptors starts to sound like a résumé. Gill is the creator, writer, and producer of the new short film BlacKorea, which tells the true story of her life as a mixed race—Black and Korean—child living on the South Side. It touches on abandonment, domestic abuse, and issues surrounding race relations. It premieres at the University of Chicago on February 1.

When I moved from New Orleans, it was 1986 and the Bears had just won the Super Bowl, so it was like Super Bowl shuffle on heavy rotation! And I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about football or Chicago, but there was such pride in the city when I arrived. I moved to West Englewood—69th and Wolcott. There were drug dealers on every corner, but I hadn’t lived in a Black neighborhood in New Orleans, so I was excited to come to Chicago and experience that. I learned how to jump Double Dutch, and there was a candy store on the corner. These were just things that I hadn’t experienced before and that I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else.

West Englewood was a beautiful neighborhood, but it was just poor. There were drugs and crime, things of that sort. There were moments when I’d have to drop to the floor because someone was shooting in our backyard. I didn’t know that I lived in a bad neighborhood until I was a senior in high school and started dating. When guys found out where I lived, they’d be so taken aback and told me I looked like I lived in Hyde Park! The South Side of Chicago gave me toughness. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

I started a blog about six years ago and that was my therapeutic outlet initially. Before that, I used to write poetry. I had huge writer’s block because I wanted to write a novel based on my life but never could find the time to do it. So I started blogging. It was totally personal. What really prompted the blog was that my kids were getting older, and they knew that I was mixed but kept questioning it. So that made me look at my own life and start to deal with my feelings of abandonment. I’m a transparent person naturally, so I started sharing. I think the blog prepped me for telling my story to a wider audience. I carried a lot of shame throughout my life, and that can be draining. I always loved to live my life out loud, and the shame was crippling me. The support I got on the blog was so encouraging that it helped me see the bigger picture. I felt more empowered and prepared to take any hits. Then when I became a talent agent, I really got into the world of television, film, and entertainment. Those two worlds—my life and my work—just collided. It all happened organically.

BlacKorea is about a subculture. It’s my story, but it’s also the story of so many others. There’s never been anything on the screen like it, and it is definitely a Black perspective that’s never been told. Everything was black and white before, but then we got color. Rarely do we even talk about Blacks on television. And when we talk about being mixed-race, we talk about being Black and white. But being mixed-race is so much bigger than that. We have so many cultures out here that are mixed with Black. I can’t think of any other film or television that even scratches that surface. It’s a discussion that needs to be had.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding on both sides, and this film can start a conversation between cultures in general. Koreans had the same kind of history as Blacks, but Blacks don’t even know that. There are so many things that haven’t been discussed, and this film is a great catapult for that to happen. Since there are so many layers, I really want a television series, and I know that a documentary is needed. 2018 will really be the year where we’ll see the fruit of what the film can do.

I’ve always felt that being mixed-race gave me too much compassion. I’m like an impasse. I have two sets of limbs—Korean and Black—and grew up stuck between those limbs. So I always give people the benefit of the doubt because I know that people can be misunderstood so quickly, since I was always misunderstood myself. I’m constantly thinking that I don’t know the whole story. People oftentimes just don’t know any better. It’s just ignorance. I recognized that I had more compassion and I knew I needed to use it. So I made this film.

AZ Yeamen [a screenwriter] and I collaborated to make the first draft of the film. Having a seasoned writer help me was important because I was too close to it. The director Christine Swanson is also Korean and Black, so her life story is very similar to mine. We both believe that it was not a coincidence. We didn’t force anything. It all just came naturally.

For the cast we have Jason Weaver—a South Side living legend—playing my father. Jason was significant not only because he’s a ridiculously talented actor and is from Chicago, but also because he has a child by a Korean and Black woman. There are just so many ties, so when I sent him the script, he was already intrigued. We have Erica Watson, who is phenomenal and plays my grandmother Miss Pearl. It was a really challenging role for Erica because she’s a comedian, but she’s a strong actress. I can’t forget the two leads: my children! Bella Gill and Lincoln Gill play my brother and myself, and they’re the same age my brother and I were when we came to Chicago.

The reception of the trailer has been unbelievable! I’ve been getting responses from people around the world. It’s not even just my story, but it’s the story—and an international story at that. It crosses borders. But also it hits on human emotion…. As humans, we connect with someone’s truth when there’s vulnerability.

Correction 12/14/2017:

This story has been updated to reflect the location where Patti Kim Gill grew up (69th Street, not 59th) and the date when her film will premiere (February 1, not January). 

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Thoughts on “Catapulting a Conversation”

  1. I live in Englewood now on a block with two churches. I feel safe and it’s mostly quiet. My Mother visiting just remarked at how quiet it is. Englewood is changing. I’m happy that you are telling your story. It sounds so compelling.

  2. This is so interesting. I am Patty’s greatauntie, in St. Louis, Mo. I always knew that she had talent, I am very proud of her. I would love to see this film. Please advise me of the date and location of the showing of the film.

  3. Many who wish to tell their story struggle with where and how to start. The courage that Patty has exposed is gutsy and inspiring. From Englewood to film she makes me smile. I truly feel as though I know her pain and the joy of living to let go and to be known truly as a person who lives by choice. Congratulations Patty Gill. You are inspiration in vivid color. I salute you.

  4. Can’t wait to check this out! I had no idea you were from Louisiana like Ma! I’m excited to see your story unfold. Blessings!

    All

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