Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 9th, 2020
The Claudia Kishi Club (Sue Ding, 2020) 4 out of 4 stars.
Just last week, Netflix dropped its 10-episode adaptation of author Ann M. Martin’s best-selling series of booksfrom the 1980s and 1990s, The Baby-Sitters Club (reviewed by me on this site). Now, a week later, comes a delightful short documentary companion piece, entitled The Claudia Kishi Club, which discusses how six different Asian American artists feel about the books’ impacts on their youth and lives today, given their front-and-center placement of Claudia Kishi, one of the series’ main characters, at a time when there were very few such positive portrayals of Asians in American media. Featuring delightful stop-motion animations created by the 17-minute film’s director, Sue Ding (making her helming debut), along with heartfelt and humorous interviews with the subjects, The Claudia Kishi Club is a must-see for fans of either Martin’s writing or its new screen version (on which two of the interviewees worked), or both.
The six folks showcased here are, in alphabetical order: Naia Cucukov, Gale Galligan, Sarah Kuhn, CB Lee, Yumi Sakugawa and Phil Yu (the lone guy). Together, they offer a variety of opinions on how their hopes and fears, as kids, were reflected in the Japanese-American Claudia Kishi, deliberately drawn by Martin to push against the model-minority Asian stereotype. Claudia is not good at math and science, but rather wants to be – and becomes – quite an accomplished artist, all the while joining her fellow club members in their strange (but charming) obsession to be the best babysitters they can be.
Of especial note is how they perceived Claudia to be cool to all readers, not just the Asian ones. Everyone liked Claudia and wanted to be her; she was the free-spirited one, after all. Though the books are set in a very white world, at least Claudia was one its bright stars. And even if the more serious issues of racism could have been tackled more directly (Yu laughs when he imagines book covers and titles with Claudia’s true feelings emblazoned on them), they were nevertheless dealt with in some way. It’s not a perfect series, but it tried.
Whether reading from their favorite passages or discussing their experiences with being “othered,” our subjects are all equally engaging and insightful. Short though this documentary may be, it manages to say quite a lot in its brief running time. Be sure, then, to check this out after watching (or reading) the source material.