I first met Grace Lee Boggs in 2000 while filming The Grace Lee Project, a documentary about the many women who share our common name and the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans. From the moment I met Boggs, I knew I would have to make a longer film just about her. Over the years, I would return to Detroit, hang out in her kitchen and living room and watch her hold in thrall everyone from journalists to renowned activists to high school students. I recognized the same thing in myself that I saw in all of them — eagerness to connect with someone who seemed to embody history itself.
As someone who came of age in the era of identity politics, I would have found it hard to ignore the fascinating details of how this Chinese-American woman became a Black Power activist in Detroit. But Boggs would constantly use our interview sessions to turn the questions back on me. “What do you think about that? How do you feel about what’s happening in Korea? Tell me more about your own story,” she would say as soon as the cameras turned off.
My own identity is more wrapped up in Boggs’s story than she knows. And it’s not because we share the same name. Boggs’s presence — in Detroit, in the world and in my imagination — has helped transform my own thinking about how to tell a story about someone like her. The journey to bring this film to life has been an evolution. It’s not an issue film, nor is it a film about a celebrity or urgent injustice that rallies you to take action or call your representative. It’s about an elderly woman who spends most of her days sitting in her living room, thinking and hatching ideas about the next American revolution. But if you catch wind of some of those ideas, they just might change the world.
— Grace Lee, Director, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs