Updated: May 22, 2022
Mozell was born in Angeles City, in the Pampanga region in the Philippines and grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Woodside Queens, NY since she was 6 years old. Her father is an American from Indiana who worked in the US Air Force and her mother was born and raised in the Philippines. They met in Pakistan and married in the Philippines where they lived in Angeles City then later in the Laguna region when her father was stationed there and her mother was studying to become a dentist and a nurse.
Mozell is an award-winning independent filmmaker, and also runs a successful marketing and communications business for corporate clients in the entertainment industry. As a filmmaker, she wants to tell stories about people in motion from places all over the world by lifting the gilt off the mysteries of life, encounters and human revelations and confronting the questions rather than the answers. And the beautiful struggle of it all. Her past and present experiences and observations of the world and the forces around us inform the direction of her art. “By telling a story, I want to help people have a better idea, a better understanding and do away with preconceived notions about other cultures.”
A: How is the Filipino culture different from American culture?
M: When we were living in Angeles City, my mother invited, as most Filipinos do, their relatives to live with them. It’s unconventional but it’s what Filipinos do or typical Asian families do, you know they help each other out. Very different from my Dad’s side and the American way of living with large, extended families and I witnessed that, seeing the differences because when we came here in the states that didn’t happen. That’s one difference between the American household versus the Asian household.
A: What ethnicity do you most relate to?
M: I’m really comfortable in my own skin and that skin is a mix of that. I feel really privileged to have both. Being both is an entry to both cultures, but growing up in NY I never felt I had to choose. I never questioned it until I got to college when people would ask if I was Filipino and it’s where I actually first made friends with other Filipinos. Where I grew up in Queens, I had a mixed group of friends. That was my upbringing. College was where I started questioning who I was and my background and wished I knew Tagalog more.
In college, at NYU, I majored in journalism. There were all these student unions, different groups and I wanted to join everything. I was in the student council and was very active. You become more aware of your differences. I was out and about with all types of people with different backgrounds. But hanging out with a core group of Filipinos in college informed my love for my Filipino culture and the love of being a Filipino American and met all kinds of people, people who were in tight cliques, people who worked as bouncers, which led me to my filmmaking. I became interested in doing stories about Filipinos and Asian Americans in general. The Asian community opened doors for me.
I became disillusioned with journalism in college when I took a class called Minorities in the Media and took up internships in NY. The class opened my eyes about how minorities are represented in the media. I interned at television networks and shows and the reporters would complain to me about the business and how some minority reporters are expected to act. In class, we talked about why does the news always want to sensationalize and report negative news about minorities specifically African American and some Asians too. Why can’t you hear about a good story about these groups? So it turned me off and tainted my view of working as a journalist in the media and also the money was very low paying for the amount of work you had to do. It planted the seed for me that there needs to be more stories, more representation. But I didn’t know how to tell those stories until later when I discovered film. I got accepted into a film video workshop and I loved it. I never thought film would be something I can do.
In high school I was nerdy but I was also a dancer and loved to perform. I used to do hip hop videos and acted in off off Broadway independent productions. I love New York because you’re never pigeon holed into one thing. My aspiration and goal was to live in the city. New York was my dream and I guess it’s why I’m still here.
A: Did your parents ever force you to become and study a particular occupation?
M: Yes, that stereotypical upbringing, it’s cultural, and a generational thing. I was lucky I didn’t have that as much. You know, I didn’t have to learn piano. What was great about my parents and also being in NY, I didn’t have that pressure to be in their vision of whatever they wanted me to be. I was a really smart kid and I did well in school and they were proud of me so they left me alone. I know friends who experienced more pressure. My parents wanted me to be successful. My dad wanted me to go to college and was supportive of my writing aspirations and work in television. My mom was more about the profession, do well, and have a good steady job. I know it’s coming from a loving place but I think it’s important for families to support especially growing up as a minority because it’s tough. The Asian American myth of studying and working hard was seen and heard everywhere and was expected in every Asian American household I ever encountered. I have been working since I was 12, as a babysitter, I worked in retail. I got my first apartment when I was 19. My parents were shocked I did that but they were also very proud of me for being independent and not asking them for handouts.
A: What are some of the good and bad stereotypes you encountered being an Asian?
M: Especially as an Asian American woman, people have stereotypical ideas such as they are submissive, you are exotic, you are very smart, ‘you probably study a lot’, ‘I can’t believe you would know this’. I was in Paris at a concert to watch a blind Chinese master pianist playing Chopin. And this French woman said, "it’s amazing this man knows French classical music". I said first of all, music is universal. They thought he’s amazing but at the same time because he’s not French, he must not know this.
A: What does the term people of color mean to you?
M: I don’t really like to differentiate people with color. But I think it comes from a sort of solidarity purpose of saying that you have to acknowledge that these people have not been accepted as equals because of their color, and so we’re in it, Asian people, Black people, Spanish people. The last few years it’s become more pronounced about people’s discrimination and harassment because of their skin. It’s a loaded term but at the same time if it moves the conversation forward and also helps acknowledge that there are groups especially marginalized communities that are not being treated equally or respected then you have to stand together and if it that becomes calling people of color, then so be it. Racism is a struggle and it shouldn’t be the norm. More work needs to be done to combat systemic racism by communication and education, as well as electing officials, more information, more representation.
A: Do you consider yourself to be an atypical Asian?
M: Asians are atypical to begin with because where they come from, the country, the food, is so mixed. It’s a stew. It’s fun.
Q: How do you want people to see Asians or to be known for?
M: I don’t want to have to answer or prove to anyone that this is what being an Asian American is about. I don’t wake up thinking about that at all. I think about what everyone else is thinking...what am I going to eat, when am I going to exercise, etc. I think we should just be seen as everyone else. There doesn't have to always have that predefinition, Asian tennis player, Asian American designer, Asian American filmmaker. I just want to be a filmmaker. You want your life to speak for itself. You don’t want to have to carry a banner or explain who you are. Whatever your passion is or whatever you feel comfortable with is who you are.