“I think part of what I was doing … was just trying to figure out how to become a better man,” says director Bing Liu about the inspiration for his film “Minding the Gap,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. The film explores the lives of young men in the embattled city of Rockford, Illinois, and how their adulthoods can be shaped by childhood traumas — including Liu’s. He was abused by his stepfather, and however hard he tried to escape the cycle of abuse, he admits, “I was scared that I was going to accidentally become him anyway.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Liu above.
“I started to notice a lot of peers taking on traits that I felt were inherited,” Liu explains. That includes one of the film’s primary subjects, Zack Mulligan, an expectant father who Liu learns hit his girlfriend Nina. “A lot of people are really affected by what happened in their childhoods, and there is a clear pattern between who they’re becoming and what had happened in the past.” That reckoning also includes an interview between Liu and his mother, who suffered at the hands of his stepfather as well.
That emotional and cinematic effort has paid off with Liu’s first Oscar nomination, and he’s among a historic group of Asian filmmakers in the race for Best Documentary Feature. “It’s nice to be able to enter into this cohort of the films recognized by the academy and see faces like mine,” says Liu. “Growing up Asian-American in this country — especially if you grow up outside of the coasts, outside of a major hub of Asian-American community — I think there’s a tendency to shirk away from that identity because it’s such a complex thing.”
He has mixed feelings about the Oscars’ decision to shift a few categories to commercial breaks. “Coming up through the camera department and really respecting the craft of editors,” he explains, “I think it’s kind of a bummer that their craft is not going to get recognized in the same way.” But he’s looking forward to the event and what it will mean for his film. “I think it’s going to feel really good sitting through that ceremony with my mom at my side just celebrating this moment that feels like a capstone to a long journey.”
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