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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Films and plays to watch during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

Members of the AAPI community share their recommendations of media celebrating AAPI stories

As Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month comes to a close, reflection on the history and contributions of the AAPI community do not have to be confined to a month. One way to continue education about this community and the issues they face is by watching movies, short films and plays produced by and about AAPI individuals.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021), screenplay by Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen

This animated Disney film follows Raya, a warrior in the fantasy realm of Kumandra and Disney’s first Southeast Asian protagonist. According to Katherine Parpana, the interim director of the API Retention Initiative, the cast and most of the production team were Asian and Southeast Asian. 

“Disney animators and writers did a great job honoring Southeast Asian culture in the storytelling and design of this film,” Parpana said. “Everything from the five realms of Kumandra to the costume design was an homage to Southeast Asian culture.”

Minari (2020), dir. by Lee Isaac Chung

Both Parpana and Trisha Talla, a second-year biochemistry and molecular biology major and the community service coordinator for the Filipinx Association for Health Careers (FAHC), recommended “Minari.” The storyline is about a South Korean immigrant family and their experience in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. 

“It really highlights the importance of family and defines what makes a place home,” Talla said.

According to Parpana, “Minari” is one of the first Hollywood films centering an Asian cast since “Joy Luck Club” in 1993. It garnered many awards, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, with Yuh-Jung Youn becoming the first Korean actress to win an Academy Award.

The Farewell (2019), dir. by Lulu Wang

Both Parpana and Talla also recommended “The Farewell,” a comedy-drama film that follows a Chinese-American family. After learning their grandmother only has a few months left to live, the family decides not to tell her and schedules a wedding in order for everyone to gather before she dies.

“This story reminds me of my grandmothers, Lola and Inang, and all the things we did to protect them, respectively, and all these traditions that are archaic but we still practice them out of filial piety or familial pressure,” Parpana said. “It’s a great reminder of the things we do for family and how our ancestors seem to always just know.”

As the story follows an immigrant family, it explores both Chinese and American cultures, Talla said.

“The director really portrays the cultural differences between those who were born here in the U.S. and those who were born in China, without any bias as to whose approach might be best when it comes to dealing with death of a loved one,” Talla said.

Always Be My Maybe (2019), dir. by Nahnatchka Khan

This romantic comedy film follows Asian American leads Marcus and Sasha, two childhood friends who grow up next door to each other in San Francisco, fall out of touch and reconnect years later. Parpana noted that themes in this film include the expectations of AAPI women around marriage and motherhood, expectations of AAPI men and masculinity and relationships with both immigrant and multigenerational American parents. 

“I personally loved this film because it reminded me of my own time growing up in the Bay Area,” Parpana said. “Also, the music, which is so important for many AAPI folks, because so many of us relate to and enjoy the music featured in this film.”

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

A well-watched Disney animated feature, “Lilo & Stitch” is one of few major film releases centering on Native Hawaiian stories. Parpana pointed out the importance of the AAPI adoptee experience and how this film highlights this theme. She explained that many AAPI families do not fit the Western definition of a nuclear family, but instead are extended and globally located.

“Many of us are adopted into other families and grow up learning about our respective AAPI cultures and heritages in our own ways,” Parpana said. “This film is a great reminder that family is what we make of it.”

Short Films

Julia Lu, a third-year civil engineering major and the co-president of the Asian American Association (AAA), recommended watching short films, including HBO’s Asian Pacific American Visionaries 2020 Winners: “Si” produced by Thomas Percy Kim, “Fine China” by Tiffany So and “Lonely Blue Night” by Johnson Cheng. Lu also recommended “In the Visible,” a short film directed by Natasha Lee and produced by Lucia Tran, and “Cambodian Son,” a documentary that can be streamed for free on PBS.

Plays by A. Rey Pamatmat

Elijah Punzal, an intern for the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, recommended the works of A. Rey Pamatmat, a Filipino-American playwright. Pamatmat’s play, “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them,” follows Filipino-American immigrant children Kenny, his sister Edith and their friend Benji, as they are abandoned in the Midwest. This family drama explores Kenny’s relationship with his sister and with Benji, as the two fall in love.

Another play by Pamatmat, “House Rules,” centers around two families: a pair of brothers with their father and a pair of sisters with their mother. The play portrays how people’s expectations of one another can cause tension, especially when they are trying to make peace with the potential death of their parents.

“Theater is so magical because of the way that you can see yourself on stage very viscerally,” Punzal said. “That’s why I would suggest these two plays during AAPI Heritage Month because they explore what it means to be Filipino, and there’s also the expression and nuance of Filipino narratives that we don’t always get to see in media.”

Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— features@theaggie.org

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