September 13, 2010
Written by C.N.
This is the second part of my list of best films, videos, and documentaries that focus on Asian Americans and are great choices for showing in introductory Asian American Studies classes (read Part 1 here). The following list is organized by topic and corresponds to the chronological order in which I discuss each topic in my “Asian American Experience” course. For each topic, I highlight the documentary (or for some topics, two or more) that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that I consider to be good choices for that topic as well.
Discrimination, Inequality, & Racism
As the name implies, this section focuses on the historical/contemporary examples and individual/institutional ways in which Asian Americans have been targets of racial discrimination, ranging from the Foreign Miner’s Tax, to the Chinese Exclusion Tax, the Japanese American imprisonment, and Vincent Chin’s murder, to name just a few.
- A Dream in Doubt: This video chronicles the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian American Sikh gas station owner in Phoenix who was shot to death by Frank Roque in the first hate crime murder committed after the 9/11 attacks. It’s a moving look at both the individual costs of hatred, along with how the criminal justice system responds to such a crime in an emotional time for the nation.
- Lest We Forget: Another excellent video that connects the imprisonment of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack with the incarceration and racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11.
- Who Killed Vincent Chin
- Vincent Who?
- Children of the Camps
- American Sons
- Wet Sand
Interracial Relationships and Dynamics
In this section, I focus on the issue of interracial dating and marriage, a hot-button topic for many Asian Americans. I explore the individual, family, community, and institutional factors that influence the choice of who a person dates or marries, with a particular focus on the issue from the point of view of Asian American males.
- The Slanted Screen: A comprehensive review and critique of how Asian American men have been portrayed in Hollywood and by the mainstream entertainment industry and how such popular culture images have affected their status as potential husbands in American society.
- Slaying the Dragon
- Banana Split
- “Filipino Doctors” segment of Searching for Asian America
- Hollywood Chinese
- Doubles: Japan and America’s Intercultural Children
- None of the Above
Faith, Spirituality, and Religion
This section explores roles that faith, spirituality, and religion can play in the lives of Asian Americans, ranging from providing emotional stability, practical information and resource, and providing a bridge to the rest of American society.
- “Muslim” episode of the reality TV show 30 Days (Season 1): Created by Morgan Spulock (the guy who made Supersize Me in which he only ate McDonalds fast food for 30 days), this particular episode involves a practicing Christian living with a Muslim American family for 30 days as he tries to find his own truth about what Islam is all about.
- American Made: Not a documentary but rather, a short drama about a Indian American family and how temporarily getting stranded in the dessert leads to an intergenerational understanding of what it means to be a Sikh in American society.
- The Split Horn
- Blue Collar and Buddha
- Muslims in America
Sexuality and Creative Expression
This section highlights two sets of issues that have been marginalized or taboo in the Asian American community for too long — sexuality/sexual orientation and creative/artistic expression. I try to emphasize that in addition to achieving “material” goals related to education, jobs, and income, Asian Americans also need to recognize the value of other forms of living and personal expression that connect the individual with the community.
- Na Kamaeli: The Men of Hula : This documentary follows Hawaiian American Robert Cazimero and his world-renown Halau Na Kamalei school of male hula dancing. As we watch their preparation for the prestigious “Merrie Monarch Hula Festival,” we see how he and his students challenge traditional gender and cultural stereotypes associated with hula dancing.
- Between the Lines: Asian American Women’s Poetry
- Fated to be Queer
- In God’s House
- Forbidden City, USA
- Stories of Maxine Hong Kingston
Social & Political Activism
While it’s important to recognize how Asian Americans have been targeted for discrimination, it’s just as important to understand that through the years, Asian Americans have not just been passive victims. Instead, in this section, I describe how there is a long and proud history of activism and collective action within the Asian American community and how we have fought back to assert our rights as true Americans.
- A Village Called Versailles: Just released earlier this year, this powerful documentary follows the Vietnamese American “Versailles” community of New Orleans and their efforts to not just physically rebuild their community after Hurricane Katrina but also empower it against an institutional legacy of marginalization and neglect.
- Vincent Who?
- Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice
- Resettlement to Redress
- On Strike! Ethnic Studies 1969-1999
- Labor Women
New Paradigms and Emerging Issues
In this final section of my “Asian American Experience” course, I reflect back on where Asian Americans have been and just as important, take a look at where Asian Americans, American society, and the world in general is going as we move forward into the 21st century and in particular, as we become more culturally diverse, globalized, and transnational.
- Yellow Apparel: When the Coolie Becomes Cool: This hard-hitting documentary looks at the plusses and minuses of Asian/Asian American culture becoming commercialized and integrated into mainstream American popular culture.
- American Made: This short film is the only non-documentary film that I show. It stars Kal Penn (of “Harold and Kumar” fame), Bernard White (from “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”), Sakina Jaffrey, and Te’Amir Yohannes Sweeney as an Indian American family whose car breaks down in the Arizona desert. As they ponder if anyone will stop to help them, the film explores the delicate question of what it means to be “American.”
- “Angry Little Asian Girl” segment of Searching for Asian America
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Best Asian American Documentaries (Part 2)" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2010/09/best-asian-american-documentaries-2/> ().
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