Who Is Arthur Chu?


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Who Is Arthur Chu?
"The fact that Chu doesn't try to present himself first and foremost as a likeable person, as most documentary subjects do, is itself interesting."

Who is Arthur Chu? If you live in the US, the chances are that you already know. Or think you do. You'll have seen him on Jeopardy, winning week after week. For a time he seemed invincible. He also attracted a lot of hate. Arthur Chu is three things that large numbers of Americans dislike. He's ethnically Chinese. He's smart. And he's an outspoken feminist.

Being Chinese American comes with a certain set of expectations which Arthur simply isn't wired to fit. He's not humble or submissive. He doesn't value politeness and fitting in over speaking up when he thinks something is wrong. His father doesn't approve of this behaviour. Many of the hateful messages he receives on social media - which include death threats - refer to his ethnicity and, obliquely, to his failure to fit the stereotype, his failure to stay in his place.

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Arthur describes himself as a nerd. He was one of those kids who became obsessed by a quest to learn absolutely as many things as he could; we see this reflected in a number of charming old home movie clips. But it isn't just knowledge that accounts for his quiz show success: it's the use of strategy. This, as many viewers see it, is cheating. Bringing skill into a game they had assumed was based on luck illustrates that not everyone in the game has an equal chance of success - it strikes at the root of the American Dream.

If Arthur had one thing on his side, it was the nerd community, but his concern about the treatment of women and his willingness to raise it in all sorts of contexts, especially in the aftermath of Jeopardy when figuring out what to do with the rest of his life, quickly made him enemies there too. Throughout all this, however, he remained surprisingly upbeat and sure of himself - perhaps because the things he really valued in life were located elsewhere. Directors Scott J Drucker and Yu Gu have captured distinctly unglamorous but endearing footage of his home life. A wife struggling with fibromyalgia, coupled with his own professed unemployability, helps to keep things in perspective.

There are no deep insights into Jeopardy here. Arthur doesn't give away his strategy, though he does more generally suggest that thinking about things is a good idea - itself a confrontational stance in an increasingly anti-intellectual media environment. The film's focus is much more on who he is as a person, and the fact that he doesn't try to present himself first and foremost as a likeable person, as most documentary subjects do, is itself interesting. He's angry and intolerant of perceived injustice, and not ashamed of either. Of course, some viewers will adore him for this. Either way, his differentness makes him an important role model for the communities he's seen to represent.

Arthur's openness, combined with his obvious intelligence, must make viewers wonder how close to the real man we're getting and how much we're just seeing what he wants us to see, but there's a wealth of additional footage to substantiate his perspectives. The inclusion of hate tweets he's received will make this uncomfortable viewing for some, but is an important way to head off the usual allegation that accounts of racism are overblown. Ultimately, whether or not we see the real Arthur Chu, we see a great deal of the society in which he lives.

Reviewed on: 21 May 2018
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A documentary portrait of the Jeopardy winner and activist.

Director: Scott J Drucker, Yu Gu

Starring: Alex Trebek, Arthur Chu, Rocque Trem, Eliza Blair, Elisa Melendez, Sharon Chu

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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