Actor Kenny Leu (Midway) leads the movie A Shot Through the Wall, inspired by the story of former New York City police officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in 2016 after killing unarmed Akai Gurley at a Brooklyn housing project, when a bullet from Liang’s gun ricocheted in the stairwell.
Liang did not do any jail time after his initial manslaughter conviction was reduced, but the situation raised debates about whether Liang was a “scapegoat,” with many particularly citing that a number of white police officers have not been charged in police-involved deaths of Black individuals. While others called for accountability and consequences for the police officer.
“The story is a very Asian-American story and there are very few projects out there for Asian-American actors to be the lead of, that tells such a nuanced and relevant story,” Leu told Yahoo Canada.
“It's like life or death for us to have representation because the negative stereotypes for Asian Americans have been so powerful and has been such a mainstay of western media that we all feel it,...and dismantling that has been so difficult because for the longest time, film and television studios didn't believe that it was bankable to show an Asian story at all.”
In A Shot Through the Wall Leu plays Chinese-American police officer Mike Tan, who accidentally shoots an innocent Black man in New York. He and his family, including actor Tzi Ma as Mike’s father, have to deal with the resulting shame, protests and media frenzy, raising questions about racism in policing and racial injustice.
“The elephant in the room is that it's so relevant to what is going on now in society with police violence and racial tensions, and what it means to have justice in cases like this one,” Leu said.
A Shot Through the Wall also showcases the role that entertainment has in giving us another way to receive, understand and process systemic issues in our society, sometimes in an even more impactful way than through our online interactions.
“We think that we're having a meaningful conversation when it's being sniped at by each other in 140 characters,” Leu said. “The power, I think, of art and movies, and films like this, is that we can actually take a big piece of something and allow somebody to fully understand something before they can really speak to it.”
“[This film] doesn't provide any answers, I don't know any answers either. But what we do know is that we need to listen more and we need to talk to each other, and I think this film is about that.”
'That next step past representation and into inclusion'
The actor added that while movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi have “busted down the doors for bankability” of movies with Asian leads, what Leu strives to push for is the next step in representation, which is inclusion.
“I'm after creating the understanding of how Asian-Americans fit in the fabric of America,” the actor said. “Kind of like what A Shot Through the Wall [is] doing.”
“It's an Asian-American family being a part of all this political tension that is a very fundamentally American story. Disney is never going to touch these really gritty, honest conversations, uncomfortable conversations, that we need to be having, and I hope that A Shot Through the Wall is a part of that next step past representation and into inclusion."