Vee Hua is a spiritual person. While not necessarily subscribing to any particular religion, they listen to synchronicities, messages and dreams that come their way. “I feel very much in my personal work, life, mission, that there are forces beyond me which help to guide my path,” they said.
Hua’s path has led them to starting a magazine from scratch, becoming a filmmaker, and according to those who know them, infusing values of care, inclusivity, and community building into all the work they do.
Until recently, they worked as Managing Editor of the South Seattle Emerald, and as Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum (NWFF).
Hua will be honored with the ‘Leadership in Journalism’ award at the International Examiner’s annual Community Voices Award fundraiser on Thursday, October 26 at Joyale Seafood Restaurant.
The child of Chinese Taiwanese immigrants, Hua was born in New York and raised in California. At an early age, writing was their outlet to process emotions.
Hua would rewrite the Sunday newspaper in their own words, drawing their own comics, and selling it to their parents for a quarter.
As a third grader, Vee Hua wrote a story titled “Revenge of the Homeless,” about a homeless man who, furious about being mistreated, discovers that he can eat people and grow bigger and more powerful. “He ends up eating everyone who was bad to him,” Hua said. It’s the earliest piece of writing Hua has, “which I think is so hilarious, and so indicative of who I am now.”
Hua attended the University of Washington in the 2000s, studying sociology with a focus on law, society, and justice.
When Hua was about 25, they had a “voice of god” moment calling them to write and direct films. They attended a certificate in directing class at UCLA to learn the brass tacks of filmmaking before moving back to Seattle and working at NWFF as a graphic designer.
Their calling to film was somewhat mysterious — a surprise even to them. “I don’t think I had a clear idea of why I was doing it other than I knew I needed to do it,” they said.
Their first film, Searching Skies (2017), is about a Muslim Syrian refugee family that joins an American Christian family dinner at Christmas. It was screened around the country as part of Seventh Art Stand, a series of film screenings and community discussions which Hua co-organized with NWFF, intended to combat Islamophobia,
Hua became NWFF’s executive director in 2018, and aimed to make NWFF a more welcoming place for people from marginalized communities.
Programming more diverse films was one piece of the puzzle. Hua, and other leadership also worked to build authentic relationships with diverse community members — opening up the space for fundraisers, panels, performances or special screenings.
Hua led the creation of a values statement at NWFF before leaving, including “Collective Power,” “Mutual Growth,” “Radical Transparency,” and “Commitment in Action” — values they say encompass their approach to leadership.
Derek Edamura, now Executive Director of NWFF, was hired by Hua as Education Director. “Working with Vee was and continues to be one of the most inspiring and impactful experiences that I’ve had professionally,” he said.
Hua is gifted at bringing people together, Edamura said — not just at NWFF but on film sets, and in the wider community. “You begin to understand that what we’re doing together is a collective action,” he said. “It’s truly inspiring to witness it, and to be in collaboration with that.”
Edamura said NWFF continues to carry forward an ethos of care, accessibility, and non-hierarchy, all rooted in his experience working with Hua.
NWFF’s ACTION! Narrative Apprenticeship Program was the brainchild of Hua, and they are currently the program’s lead in its second year. The paid apprenticeship program is geared toward people who are Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color, LGBTQ+, and/or living with a disability, and who have not been able to access professional development in on-set filmmaking. With the collaboration of mentors, apprentices in the program take a script from concept through production and post-production, and create a finished film together.
Katharina Brinschwitz was one of the program’s apprentices in 2022, working as a boom operator and post-production sound editor. Brinschwitz is grateful her first introduction to a film set was such a safe and welcoming one. “I definitely know that Vee had a huge hand to play and just how that space was created,” she said.
Brinschwitz would then apply for and complete a six-month internship at REDEFINE Magazine, an arts publication Hua started in 2004 in their last year of college.
A beginner to journalism at the time, Brinschwitz said Hua helped her through every stage of the process of interviewing and writing. At times Brinschwitz struggled with creative block, which Hua treated with compassion. For Brinschwitz, Hua exemplified, “the skill of a mentor that I really appreciate, that can see the mentee as a full person, and know that they have their own interests and their own talents and skills,” Brinschwitz said. “And instead of trying to overpower that, they’re uplifting it.”
Through the internship, Brinschwitz developed a friendship with Hua. “We had this sort of shared seed implanted in our soul of wanting to heal people through creative and artistic endeavors,” she said. “I can tell that in their life, they’ve gone through a lot of self discovery. Like there has been a transformation and a sense of liberation through that… that they want to offer others as well.”
Hua had been a contributor to the South Seattle Emerald before they were hired as Managing Editor in May 2022. What started as a three-month gig stretched to one and a half years.
Hua came to the role with equity in mind. To them, this included cultivating a diverse pool of writers, and working to bolster the Emerald’s coverage of housing, environmental issues, and Indigenous stories, as well as re-examining the workload and resource allocation of the organization.
Mike Davis, Voices Editor at the Emerald, agreed to take his job partly because Hua was Managing Editor. When Davis worked at the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and Hua contracted there to manage funding programs, he was impressed and inspired by Hua’s process for equitably distributing grants.
The Emerald was in a period of transition, and Davis, who is also an arts reporter at KUOW, was excited to see how Hua would help guide the publication to a new level of excellence.
Hua and Davis worked together to shape the Emerald’s coverage of the South End and highlight community voices.
They also worked to streamline the Emerald’s editorial process and workload.
“One of the first things that Vee did was actually dial back the amount of content that we were producing at the Emerald, which by all standards of capitalism is the crazy thing to do,” Davis said. “It was a view of, are the individual people who work for the Emerald being taken care of? Vee made sure that that was priority number one.”
Too often, people use words like “equity” in an abstract way, Davis said — but Hua really means it. “Vee is a genuine person in a way that I don’t really feel like there’s a lot of genuine people out here, especially in the industries where Vee is dabbling in,” Davis said. “We’re talking journalism, we’re talking film — man, there’s a lot of phonies out there. Just to have somebody show up, and being that authentic, was just really refreshing.”
Hua said a central part of their approach to equity in creating spaces or opportunities is prioritizing Black and Indigenous communities specifically. “I strongly do believe, without erasing the struggles of Asian folks, that creating better circumstances for Black and Indigenous communities will also help to further equity and inclusion for other groups,” they said.
Hua is currently pursuing a master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.
It springs from their interest in sustainability and the environment, fields that Hua said often suffer from greenwashing and a lack of diversity. Hua is interested in studying policy around energy and resources in Native American communities.
“I’ve been looking for a while on a program that was Indigenous-led,” Hua said. “The worldview towards environmental stuff is fundamentally different in a way that is more aligned with my values.”
Hua doesn’t know quite where this new path will take them. But there’s a good chance journalism and film will play a role.
“I just think that it’s such a powerful tool to be able to use writing or art or whatever you define as art, for healing, and for creating a better world for people.”
If you would like to support Hua’s feature film project ‘Reckless Spirits’, please visit reckless-spirits.com.
This year’s Community Voice Awards benefit dinner will be at the Joyale Seafood Restaurant Oct. 26, 2023. Tickets can be purchased online: https://cva.maxgiving.bid/about-us