In Mixed Match, a documentary by Jeff Chiba Stearns, medical information and animation come together to give the audience insight on an issue that is not well known but one in which willing participants can help to save lives.
Mixed Match shows at Vancouver’s Asian Film Festival running Nov. 3–6.
The genetic makeup
“The documentary is looking at some of the challenges that multiethnic and minority people face (those with diseases and rare blood conditions) when they are trying to find a bone marrow or stem cell donor transplants; the complications that can arise due to a complex genetic system and not having enough people on the national registry to meet the ‘demand and supply,’” says Chiba Stearns, who is Japanese on his mother’s side and European on his father’s side.
These diseases are often life-threatening; some people can survive for many years but some people’s condition can deteriorate rapidly; this is the focus of the film.
Chiba Stearns first started working on Mixed Match in 2010 after being approached by the film’s main subject who spearheads Mixed Marrow, an organization in the States which actively educates and recruits donors. He started to do research and became quite interested in the topic.
“I realized this is an important topic; nobody ever talks about, nobody knows about,” says Chiba Stearn, who was born and raised in Kelowna but now calls Vancouver home.
The diseases which the subjects in the film are going through or explaining are not unique to people of mixed racial backgrounds.
“We don’t want to scare people into not having babies [with people of a different racial background]; these diseases are still rare. Caucasians [can] have trouble finding a match, too,” says Chiba Stearns.
The process to register to be a potential donor is fairly non-invasive. Simply put, it’s a cotton swab sample inside the mouth.
Chiba Stearns says similar to donating blood, stem and bone marrow regenerates.
“What was eye-opening for me is that I’m learning what the science is behind all of this; when we are trying to match people with DNA, how does that work and meeting the patients; [you see them] circling through their sense of identity, by being a minority, or mixed race and they’re having a hard time finding a match,” says Chiba Stearns.
More people are needed to diversify the registry
Chiba Stearns says he’s trying to clear any stigmas and misconceptions as well as educate the public on the topic of stem cell and bone marrow donation, especially with certain groups like South Asians, Chinese and Japanese.
“Perhaps the older generation might not want to bring harm to their children [thinking it is an invasive/permanent procedure] as well as possible language barriers; it can sound scarier than it is,” he says.
The makeup of donors on the registry is about 70 per cent white, says Chiba Stearns and this is not representative of the actual Canadian mosaic.
“There’s a huge need for Asian, African… our DNA is getting more complex as the number of mixed race people increases,” says Chiba Stearns.
“When you’re walking down the street in Vancouver, you see mixed people everywhere,” says Chiba Stearns but he adds he wants everyone to be part of the discussion.
“We want this film to be universal so everyone and anyone can come to see this movie; you don’t have to be of mixed race to see this movie,” he says.
Exploring who we are
Chiba Stearns likes the issue of identity and exploring it as a topic. He has previously explored it in other films and projects through his company, Meditating Bunny.
“Mixed Match is looking at how this [identity] is a bigger issue and more of a human story in a global context. I feel as humans, identity is an important component of people’s lives and we should be continuously asking ourselves: who are we?” he says.