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‘MDMA’ Is The Drug-Fueled Thriller Showing You Another Side Of Asian America

Culture
Photo Courtesy Of Shout! Studios.

“I should be dead like a hundred different times, a hundred different ways”

As Angie Wang herself puts it, she's lived many lives—almost too many to count. She is or has been a mother, nonprofit leader, drug dealer, and filmmaker; she's done it all. But no matter how disparate her various experiences may seem on paper, they've all, in some capacity, touched her debut directorial feature, MDMA. Loosely based on her own experiences, MDMA follows Wang's journey as she struggles to make ends meet at a prestigious private university in the early '80s. However, once her financial aid is cut, Wang turns toward synthesizing ecstasy using her school's resources—eventually becoming one of the West Coast's biggest distributors of ecstasy in its final days as an unscheduled drug.   

The daughter of Asian immigrants—whose own struggles colored her childhood—Wang has a life story that darts between many worlds and heady topics. Because, in between slo-mo sex scenes and club sequences, is a narrative about a young woman coming into her own, despite being a fish out of water in more ways than one. From interracial relations to the class divide within Asian-American communities to handling the stereotypes typically ascribed to members of the "model minority," MDMA is a rich, self-aware, and, above all, candid study of one woman's extraordinary youth. 

Read our Q&A with Wang to learn more about the film's parallels to her own experiences, below.

How close was the movie to your actual experience?
It's about 30 years of my life condensed into a one-year narrative, so I would say that everything that happened in the movie happened to me personally, just not necessarily in that time frame or in that particular way. There were certain things that I had to do in order to protect other people, too. My lawyer was like, "You can't say that," so I fudged a lot of stuff. Some of it is total bullshit, but I wanted to write from a very true, authentic, emotional place. So I would say that all the childhood flashbacks are deadlifts from my childhood, and all those other events did occur, just over the span of about 30 years. 

Speaking of the lawyer, was there any point where you were like, "Oh, god, I'm gonna get in trouble?"
Yeah, it is a pretty intense narrative. Well, you know, it wasn't illegal back then. It wasn’t on the DEA list of controlled substances, so by the letter of the law, I didn't really break it back then. Breaking into the chemistry lab, though… But, you know, kids will be kids. 

You gotta be really careful with what you put out there. But, for me, [the film] was really about the emotional through line of the character and her journey. So I assembled the facts from the tapestry of my life, around her emotional through line.

So what made you want to tackle this really emotional, personal narrative in the first place?
It was a long, winding path for me to filmmaking. I lived a bunch of different lives. I actually worked in Silicon Valley in tech sales, and I found myself in the situation where I was like, "I don't have to sling hash anymore for a living." So I was this PTA mom in Hillsborough [in the Bay Area], and I found that I'm a very shitty PTA mom. I'm fucking crazy-bored, and it's not resonating with me. I always felt like an outlier, like an outcast, like I didn't quite fit in. I kept thinking, I'm a girl, really, I should be dead like a hundred different times, a hundred different ways. So I felt a very persistent urge and need to give back. 

I was watching TV one day, and they were talking about how the educational system in California was so broken, and I'm muttering profanity under my breath. My little voice was like, You know, if you don't do anything about it, you're just part of the problem, and you should keep your mouth shut. So I thought, Well, what can I do? So I founded this nonprofit called Grow, and we basically went into at-risk communities and worked with middle school kids to give them a venue to give and receive support. To talk about the very real challenges that are going on in their lives. For me, the way to get them to open up was to just be very blunt and straightforward about places that I've been—my background, mistakes that I've made, that type of thing. It sort of gave them permission to be able to own their own shit. Then I found that, when I went to go pitch to my very well-heeled neighbors, it was very challenging for them to want to connect emotionally with the stories of these kids. It's intense. These kids, they're in a lot of pain all the time. Their mom's strung out or their dad's in jail. Their brother got shot. 

So I kept thinking, That's kind of what's going wrong with our society right now. I feel like empathy is kind of bleeding out of our society; like, I'm a firm believer that technology has outpaced our humanity at this point. For me, I'm a kid who was brought up on film and television, and I thought, that always had the ability to transport me, to inspire me, to move me. I think it's a very powerful tool in terms of shaping hearts and minds. So I slowly got this crazy idea together that I was going to make a movie. My friends were like, "You are batshit out of your mind. You can't even shoot something properly on your phone. What are you talking about?" 

It was a very long learning process, but it was one that I was really passionate about. The script evolved from a journal entry which my therapist urged me to write. At a certain point during the process, I looked up, and I was like, "Oh, it's like a runaway freight train now. There's no turning back now."

What was it like talking to your parents about this film? What did they think of it?
In my immediate family, the only person who's seen it is my sister, and she's not speaking to me. It was really challenging in terms of bringing it up. My mother still hasn't seen it. I don't think she wants to see it—I don't think she wants to see herself portrayed in the light that I saw her during my early youth. We've had a fractured relationship, but I'm like, “I’m a 52-year-old fucking woman now, and my mother's not gonna last forever." I would say we've reconciled, but I have to limit my exposure to her. I love her, but there's still... We have a lot of history.

My father understands it, kind of. He also hasn't seen it. He's like, "Can I watch it alone?" But I wanted to watch it with him, so I told him I would screen it for him the next time he's in L.A. So that should be quite an emotional journey. 

I'm close to my cousin, who I'm hanging out with now. He actually has been super-supportive. He was really more like a brother to me when we were growing up. He's like, "Ang, it's tough, as your male cousin especially, to see this. It's kind of like reading your journal." [The film is] hard, emotionally, for people I know, but I think it’s also a tool for me to get to know them better, and for them to get to know me better. For my daughter, it basically was a talking piece for a lot of stuff. I think it was invaluable for us.

We're in this era where we’re finally starting to see Asian-American stories onscreen...
Yes! I've waited 52 years for this. We’ve been having a watershed moment.

This summer alone we have To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians, which are all really amazing stories that prove representation is key. But both of these stories are very privileged. They’re told from a perspective that is what a lot of people have come to expect when they think “Asian-American”—educated, upwardly mobile, wealthy. In contrast, your story is very working-class. What was it like for you to see that dichotomy? Because while there's been progress in some way, your film is one of the few that really tackles the socioeconomic disparity that exists for a lot of Asian Americans.
Yeah, it's pretty gritty in comparison to Crazy Rich Asians, which is a beautiful, sumptuous film. I'd love to have a budget to shoot like that one day. But I do tackle things like domestic violence, especially in the Asian-American community. It's sort of taboo though; like, we don't talk about it outside of our community or our house. But I think that is the type of secret that can keep us really locked up in shame, and make us feel disconnected. It causes all kinds of depression, anxiety, that type of thing. 

I think it's important for us to be really fearless in terms of shining a light [on it though]. The socioeconomic thing is so real. My cousin, he's a surgeon now. He actually made good on being the “good kid.” He finished Stanford, went to med school...

The Asian-American dream for sure.
Right. He's very traditional. We still chuckle because we were brought up very working-class by immigrant parents who were very concerned about resources. So I'll still be like, "No, no, no, we gotta save that. Wrap that up." Or, "I'm stealing this toilet paper." 

Oh my god, the toilet paper thing. 
Dude, I have fucking stolen... I have lifted toilet paper from every expensive restaurant that I have ever dined in. 

Right, because that shit's like what... triple ply? 
You're like a soul sister. You get it. It's very real, though. I think especially for my generation, my father really did grow up during the Sino-Japanese War. It's definite siege mentality for him. But he doesn't throw anything away, because it shapes how you grow up. He still has canned peaches in his garage from like 20 years ago, and I'm like, "Pop, I'm pretty sure these have salmonella now." He has Sea Breeze, which is this antiseptic zit stuff that I had when I was in high school. It's like 30 years old and separated, and still sits in his bathroom cabinet. I try to throw shit away, and he just fishes it out and puts it right back, because that might save your life one day. Sometimes I catch myself though. I'm like, “Goddamn, I really am my father's daughter. I still have it.” When I cook food, it's gotta be enough for an army, because, god forbid, someone were to come to my house and walk away hungry. I think I still have that mentality. If I love you, then I will sit you down and feed you at my table. 

Did that sort of experience shape the film in any way for you? Your working-class background in terms of wanting to tell a story that is, again, very different than the prototypical Asian-American story?
Yeah, I think it's important to not defy stereotypes for the sake of defying stereotypes but to be authentic in terms of your voice and where you come from. It's funny because when I first shopped this movie around after it was made, people were like, "Well, we don't really know what to do with it. We don't really know what box to put it in." And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" They were like, "Well, it's Asian, but it's urban," which is code for black.

I was so infuriated, but I kept thinking to myself, if I had written a movie that was about an Asian-American girl who did math problems, wrapped wontons, and ate wonton soup, I think I would have been applauded. They would have been like, "Yes, this is integral to the Asian-American experience.” And it may be for some people, but it was not my experience. So I think it's important to show that we are just as varied as the rest of society. We come from just as many challenging backgrounds as the rest of society, and we can own the richness of our culture in that fashion, rather than just tell these very sterile types of [representation exist]. You know, I don't need a white dude telling me what my experience as an Asian-American woman has been in this country.

MDMA is in theaters September 14.

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

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Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.


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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's reaction to that prediction is literally all of us

Though it felt like no one saw the bonkers end to Game of Thrones coming, Gwendoline Christie, who played Ser Brienne of Tarth on the show, predicted exactly who would end up with the majority of power in the Seven, or rather, Six Kingdoms years before it all went down. During an interview leading up to the penultimate season of Game of Thrones in 2017, Christie sat down with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister) for an interview with Mario Lopez, and they were both asked to predict how the whole thing would come to a close. Spoilers ahead...

Lopez posed the question, "If you were a gambling man, who would you say?" Coster-Waldau replied: "Well gambling, the odds now are clearly in Daenerys Targaryan's favor. Or, that guy," he said, pointing to a picture of the Night King.

But Christie, knowing Game of Thrones' tendencies toward the unpredictable, came right back at Coster-Waldau, asking, "But don't you think it's going to be someone out of left field?"

"So I'm wondering if it might be Bran," Christie suggested, "Just because we keep seeing the world from his perspective, don't we? We keep seeing the visions. So is he in the future, projecting in the past?"

Coster-Waldau's reaction to the suggestion that Bran will rule over them all is, well, exactly how we all felt watching it play out in real time this past Sunday evening. "The three eyed raven? As a king? No, that doesn't make sense," he said. And, well, same. Because while I usually *adore* watching Christie shut down Coster-Waldau, like they're an old married couple bickering, this time I'm on his side. It made no sense!

Coster-Waldau attempted to reason with her, saying that if Bran was planning the whole thing, then he wanted Jaime to push him out the window, and that makes no sense at all. But Christie stood firm in her belief, and, as last Sunday demonstrated, her commitment to this highly improbably outcome paid off. We hope she placed a sizable bet in Vegas.

Catch the full clip below.

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