Earlier this year, Sandra Oh made a graceful exit from the hit television series “Grey’s Anatomy” after 10 seasons as the talented, loyal, driven and mercurial surgeon Cristina Yang. In the final episode of the 10th season, Oh’s character left the Seattle hospital where the drama takes place, and took a job at a clinic in Switzerland, of all places. The new season began without her this fall.
Oh hasn’t been slacking off since her departure from one of the most celebrated ensemble casts in Hollywood, though. She immediately took to the stage in Chicago, for Argentinian-Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman’s drama “Death and the Maiden,” in the lead role that was played by Glenn Close on Broadway and by Sigourney Weaver in a film adaptation by director Roman Polanski. Oh also appeared in a small part in Melissa McCarthy’s comedy, “Tammy” this year.
And now, she’s trying a new role, as executive producer of an animated film, “Window Horses,” and trying to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Indiegogo.
The film tells a multicultural story of a mixed-race Asian Canadian young woman, Rosie Ming, who is half Chinese and half Persian, who’s invited to Iran to participate in a poetry festival and finds herself on a journey to discover her roots, find her identity and learn the truth about her father.
“Window Horses” is drawn in a charming simple style, with Stickgirl “starring” as Rosie. Stickgirl is an avatar created by the film’s writer/director Ann Marie Fleming, herself a Chinese and Australian mixed-race Canadian. Fleming is a multi-faceted artist, writer and filmmaker who’s received awards for her films and graphic novels. Stickgirl has been Fleming’s alter-ego and recurring presence in Fleming’s work for over 25 years. This is the first time Stickgirl is in a feature length film, and with a celebrated actor like Sandra Oh voicing her character.
Besides Stickgirl as Rosie, the other characters are drawn with filled-out facial features and bodies, but the graphic style is still simple and clean, and the animation allows for dreamy, magical scenes and transitions. The cast is voiced by some familiar names, among them the pioneering biracial Asian actor Nancy Kwan (her first two films, “The World of Suzie Wong” and “Flower Drum Song” cemented her place in movie history) voices the part of Rosie’s tiger grandmother Gloria; Iranian American actor Shohreh Aghdashloo (a familiar face and voice for anyone who watches a lot of TV or movies) plays a women’s studies professor and poetry lover who befriends Rosie; and Iranian American actor Omid Abtahi, another familiar face who appears in the new “Hunger Games” blockbuster and has been in a number of TV shows, including, coincidentally, “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Oh first met Ann Marie Fleming in 1994, through director Mina Shum, who cast Oh in one of her first starring roles in “Double Happiness,” as a westernized Chinese Canadian girl rebelling against her traditional parents’ values. Fleming and Shum are friends, and Oh says “We’ve been trying for a long time to get a film made. Two months ago I was at the Toronto Film Festival and she contacted me and asked if I would voice (“Window Horses”) and I said yes. I read the graphic novel and I loved it.”
The topic of a mixed-race character seeking her identity was appealing, Oh says. “The character, Rosie, is on her own journey, being Canadian, discovering her Chinese and Persian mix.”
The story is important, Oh adds, because, “We’re starving to see ourselves, whether you’re mixed race or someone who’s not of the dominant culture. I am looking forward to whatever the tipping point is, when those kids who are mixed race will take over the world. It’s unfathomable right now for us to see how they’ll see the world, but I have such hope for them.”
She notes that during her 10-year run on “Grey’s Anatomy,” her back story as a Korean American was only mentioned a couple of times, and only in passing. “Grey’s specifically never dealt with race,” she acknowledges. “That’s the style of the show. One of the successes of Grey’s was that race wasn’t an issue.”
And in a perfect world, she says, “that was a good place to be.”
But in the real world, she adds, “I am deeply invested in race. I want to be the mother who talks about race and race is a part of our lives. Hey what is it to be a third generation Asian, or mixed race? That’s why I’m so deeply invested in this project.”
When asked if the Indiegogo campaign’s goal of $130,000 by December 6 (so far over $47,000 has been pledged) with a stretch goal if possible of $750,000 by the deadline is enough to complete the film, Oh laughed out loud. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha. The budget for ‘Frozen’ was $150 million. Even the film closest to ours, ‘Persepolis’ cost $7 million.”
“Persepolis” is an autobiographical French animated film from 2007 about a young woman rebelling against the oppressive Iranian regime. Oh says the Indiegogo campaign is just a start for “Window Horses.” “What we are trying to do, in this kind of very independent grassroots kind of way, we just want to make the film.”
If they can meet the initial Indiegogo goal, it will help the team produce enough of the film to pitch for further funding from foundations and investors. The more money they can raise, Oh says, the more animators they can hire and the sooner the film can be completed.
The fundraising process has given her a new appreciation for the role of a producer, Oh admits. “The biggest learning curve I have is to find out how challenging it is to make a film, and how to raise money and make a film in this day and age. It’s an interesting new frontier.”
But she’s thrilled to be part of “Window Horses” as executive producer. “You can make a film a million different ways. But you have to love it because you’re generating the energy to bring people on to the project. We’re not going the traditional route. It’s a much more homegrown project and what I really like is the homegrown passion.
“I like doing it this way because I love the project.”
Oh doesn’t have other projects lined up for the future yet, but she’s not worried.
“Having moved away from such a rich and wonderful decade of my life,” she says, “I’m trying to be very discerning and be careful about who and what I want to fall in love with.
“I’m an all-in kinda gal.”
And for now, she’s all-in with “Window Horses.”
And here’s the trailer for the film:
And, a short video of Oh and Fleming urging viewers to help them reach the Indiegogo goal (love the Seattle Grace coffee mug):