I shrug and put my phone back in my pocket. “No, it’s not.”
After a pause, she demands, “Let me see it again.”
The second time, her eyes travel across the screen, taking the time to study the image. She marks my angular eyebrows. Glitter of silver on my breastplate. My chin is slightly raised. The effect of seeing your parents outside of their normal circumstances is a bit like seeing them naked. It’s a shame for everyone.
“Mother!” she finally exclaims, her voice equal parts surprise and alarm. “Looks like you, but it’s not you.”
Well, she’s right. This is not the version of myself that I show her. The version she sees is usually in leggings with a hole along the seam, no makeup, in a rush to pack a peanut-free snack while a Vietnamese class is practiced in the background. Mama Ya listens attentively to the story about the politics of the playground. She drives carefully and doesn’t complain when she turns on JoJo Siwa for the hundredth time. She could never generate enough drama to be the protagonist of any story.
This version for my child is the only version of me that matters. And at her young age, it makes sense. She’s not quite ready to see me beside herself, let alone my version of the AI.
But couldn’t the AI version be me in another life? If I had made a different choice, I would not have gone to graduate school in Chicago, where I met her father; devoted his life to kung fu; born into a military family destined for greatness –could I was the hero not of my own story, but of all stories? The AI Hero Filter is just a small glimpse of another offshoot in the multiverse where I am a different, bolder version of myself. The pull of the alternate self is intoxicating and confusing. This is film material.
In film All Everywhere All at oncestruggling, exhausted Evelyn Wang (played by my AI counterpart, Michelle Yeoh) is studying navigate the multiverse using the technique of jumping in verses. Her mission is to save the multiverse by defeating a chaotic, life-destroying creature named Jobu Tupac, who seamlessly travels between worlds. To do this, Evelyn must temporarily take up residence in the lives of the alternate Evelyns, acquiring their skills to change her reality. From an opera diva, she learns to hit the highest notes, confusing her enemies. From a kung fu fighter, she learns to cut through the air with her powerful limbs. In a quirky but sweet multiverse where she has hot dogs instead of fingers, Evelyn learns compassion and vulnerability.
Throughout the film, Evelyn asks multiple versions of “Why me?” Her guide, an alternate version of her husband Waymond, tells her that he thinks she is special, that in fact what makes her so exceptional is her total mediocrity. It’s not explicitly stated, but the reason why Evelyn is able to use so many skills deftly is because she’s a blank canvas, a sponge that can soak up a whole host of personalities. Until, of course, she doesn’t. Until the hidden promise of heroism – tragic and inevitable martyrdom – catches up with her.