You may have seen the PBS documentary Finding Kukan, about the story of Li Ling-Ai, a female film producer from Hawai‘i who was uncredited for her work on an Oscar-winning documentary about World War II in China called Kukan. Winning an Honorary Academy Award in 1941—the first instance of an Oscar being bestowed to a documentary before becoming an official category the next year—Kukan introduced audiences to the ethnicities within China and provided the only ground-level footage of the bombing of Chongqing by the Japanese Air Force in World War II. Finding Kukan producer and director Robin Lung brought to light Ling-Ai’s story, which had gone untold for decades. Both mysteries are unraveled over a seven-year journey in Finding Kukan.
Punahou graduate Li Ling-Ai went by Gladys Ling Oi Li while at UH, where she graduated in Language, Literature, Art. While a member of a variety of literary and honor societies, it’s interesting to note she did not belong to the Chinese Students’ Alliance. Her activities at the time of her 1930 graduation included:
- A. W. – Executive Committee
- Berndt Stage
- Cosmopolitan Club
- Dramatic Nights.
- Hawaii Quill – President & VP
- Hawaii Quill Magazine – Staff
- Hui Po‘okela
- Ka Leo – Staff
- Ka Palapala – Staff
- University Chorus
- University Press Club
Upon graduation, she made the “Who’s Who.”