Raising hope and awareness for mixed-race bone marrow matches

As a multiracial American (Japanese-Okinawan, Mexican, and German), I’ve always thought of my mixed-ness as a unique part of my identity. Recently though, I’ve learned that this attribute is a possible health concern if I were ever to be diagnosed with a blood or bone disease. More than 50,000 multiracial patients a year search for bone marrow matches outside of their family, with many of those searches unsuccessful.

In director Jeff Chiba Stearns’ newest documentary, “Mixed Match,” Stearns brings to light the lack of multiracial bone marrow donors in the world’s bone marrow registries, and does so with grace, genuine care of the cause, and some pretty cool animation.

The film emphasizes the moments in its character’s lives “when being mixed race is more than just an identity, it’s more of a matter of life and death.” From the start, Stearns acts as the narrator and investigative documentarian at the center of the film. He learns over time of many multiracial folks that need bone marrow transplants but have trouble finding matches. Being mixed race (Japanese and mixed-European), Stearns decides to learn more about the widespread need for mixed race bone marrow donors.

Stearns first meets with Athena Asklipiadis, the founder of Mixed Marrow, an organization that recruits donors for a handful of bone marrow registries. Her and Stearns then embark on a journey to meet some of the multiracial folks that need to find marrow matches with the help of an organization like Asklipiadis’. As the film begins to delve into specific mixed-marrow stories, Stearns supplements the viewer with information about the science behind finding a match through his signature charming and easily digestible explainer animations.

For example, to explain why there is a shortage of bone marrow matches for multiracial people, Stearns uses animated pi charts, graphs, and even anthropomorphic blood and stem cells to show that mixed race people only make up a tiny sliver of the registered bone marrow donor population in comparison to other monoracial groups, especially European Americans.

His animation lends itself as an entertaining relief, as well as asserts important, complicated scientific facts in a mentally accessible way, for those of us that lack a science background.

Paired with the effective animated explainers, Stearns’ also introduces us to a trove of inspirational multiracial patients. These patients include, but are not limited to Krissy Kobata, a half-Japanese, half-white woman with Myelodysplastic Syndrome who has spent nine years looking for a match; Imani Cornelius, a mixed African American teenager also with MDS, and a girl who just wants to dance; and Alex Tung (suffers from acute myeloid leukemia) who needs a bone marrow transplant but can’t find a donor match in the registered Chinese community despite his belief that he is full Chinese, leading him to suspect he may have an unknown mixed ethnic background.

As Stearns and Asklipiadis begin to learn the unique back stories of every multiracial patient they meet, the urgent need for more multiracial bone marrow donors becomes clear to the viewer, and attachment to the characters and their families is undeniable.

As the film comes to a close, Stearns recaps this overlooked need for the multiracial community, but suggests that with education and an awareness of the needs of the growing multiracial community, there is hope for multiracial blood and bone disease patients everywhere.

As a mixed race individual, this documentary meant a lot to me and will undoubtedly mean a lot to the entire multiracial community. I highly recommend everyone, multiracial and monoracial, see this documentary, as Stearns has truly brought light to an issue that intersects race, health, history, and the importance of recognizing the needs and humanity of the mixed race community.

“Mixed Match” screened at CAAMFest. For more information about the film, visit http://mixedmatchproject.com.

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