[...] All of this context enables the viewer to evaluate not just what they think about the works themselves, but to form their own opinion about their larger significance. This elevates Tyrus above other biographical documentaries in two key ways, both of which are exemplified by the film’s treatment of Wong’s time in Hollywood. First, by showing examples of artworks Wong produced as an inspirational sketch artist, first on Walt Disney’s Bambi and later as a member of the art department at Warner Brothers, side-by-side with scenes from the films for which they were made clearly shows the impact he had on them. In addition to celebrating Wong’s personal contribution, this also shines a light on an important part of the movie-making process that many people don’t even know exists and trains the viewer to look for distinctive artistic elements in films to determine who contributed what, making Tyrus an incredibly useful tool for film studies teachers.
Second, by detailing the specific consequences of the institutional and personal racism that Wong faced throughout his career and life, Tyrus reveals just how far-reaching the costs of such behavior can be to an entire society. To again focus on Wong’s career in the movies, the film conclusively establishes that racism was responsible for his being fired from Disney with a year to go in the production of Bambi and subsequently improperly credited as being merely one of many “background artists” who worked on it. In addition to resulting in many decades passing before his true role was acknowledged (and therefore understood), this incident also presumably figured prominently in Wong’s decision to decline an invitation to work on the 1998 Disney production Mulan more than 50 years later. This story and others told by Wong, such as one about a Japanese-American contemporary who never painted again after being interned during World War II, helps the viewer realize how hard it is to measure what is lost when an entire group of people is denied the right to participate fully in the life of a country just because of what they look like or where they’re from. It’s not just the art that Wong or his contemporaries didn’t produce that you have to account for, it’s also the work of the countless other artists they never got a chance to inspire or mentor. [...]