Professor Robert A. Nakamura is retiring after a 33-year career teaching Asian American studies and motion picture/television at UCLA.
His retirement, effective in July, was announced Jan. 18 by Professor David K. Yoo, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Professor Jinqi Ling, chair of the Department of Asian American Studies.
Nakamura is a pioneering filmmaker who has been an influential teacher and mentor as well as a major force in the field of Asian American media since 1970. He has been called the “godfather” of Asian American media.
Don Nakanishi, professor and director emeritus of the Asian American Studies Center, has said, “Bob Nakamura is the standard by which others across the nation — the vast majority of whom he professionally trained — are measured.”
From a successful career in photojournalism and advertising photography, Nakamura was one of the first Asian Americans to turn to filmmaking to explore, interpret and present the cultural experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
His ground-breaking film “Manzanar” (1972) was selected for major retrospectives of the documentary form at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Film Forum, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. He co-directed “Hito Hata: Raise the Banner” (1980), the first feature film made by and about Asian Americans.
In 1985, Nakamura was the first recipient of the annual Steve Tatsukawa Memorial Award for outstanding achievement and leadership in Asian American media. In 1994, the Asian Pacific American Coalition in Cinema, Theatre and Television of UCLA instituted the Robert A. Nakamura Award in his honor in to recognize outstanding contribution to other Asian Pacific American visual artists.
In 1997, Nakamura was provided a retrospective of his work at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1999, he was named to the UCLA Alumni and Friends of Japanese Ancestry Endowed Chair.
A graduate of Art Center College of Design (BFA, 1966) and the UCLA Department of Film and Television (MFA, 1975), he has garnered over 25 media awards for his films, including “Wataridori: Birds of Passage” (1975), “Fools’ Dance” (1983), “Conversations: Before the War/After the War” (1985), “Through Our Own Eyes” (1992), “Moving Memories” (1992), “Something Strong Within” (1994), and “Looking Like the Enemy” (1995).
He is one of the founders of Visual Communications, now the oldest continuing community-based media group in the U.S., where he continues to serve on the Board of Directors. VC celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010.
In 1996, Nakamura founded the UCLA Center for Ethnocommunications to link ethnic studies and community documentation. In 1997, he founded the Media Arts Center of the Japanese American National Museum to develop and produce new ways to document, preserve and make known the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
He is married to his long-time producing partner, Karen Ishizuka, and has two children, Thai Binh and Tadashi, who is also a filmmaker.
“Professor Nakamura surely will be missed, but we trust that he will continue to grace us with his presence not only as an emeritus professor, but through his ongoing projects,” said Yoo and Ling. “He has been spotted recently in a photography darkroom in Little Tokyo. Please join us in thanking Professor Nakamura for his dedication and invaluable contributions to UCLA and beyond, and to wish him well for his upcoming retirement.”