If Asian-diaspora people have a “bamboo ceiling”, then South-East-Asian-diaspora members have a double bamboo ceiling. We are often excluded from things that serve East Asian diaspora peoples, even in talks of discrimination, which people somehow still think only happens to certain kinds of Asians.
Asian-American lives are in the press - sadly because many have ended or been disrupted by violence this past year because of hate crimes as a result of rhetoric like the words “Chinese-virus” and ones like “kung flu”. Even though people often lump Asians all together into “Chinese”, it’s important to remember that Asians are not a monolith. Neither are Asian diaspora stories that should be seen on screens.
Another sad thing is that many AAPI operate on ridiculous principles like “there can only be one” or ideas of scarcity and instead of helping each other, side with white supremacy and patriarchy. Now that Chloe Zhao has won all of the major directing awards including two Oscars (the second one for Best Picture, also for Nomadland), we have to ask- where was Asian Hollywood for her ascent? They sure do try to claim her now. Instead let’s help each other while we’re nobodies, not latch on after we are household names. To paraphrase Zhao from a recent Vanity Fair article- “avoid those who are all about drama in real life and instead surround yourself with those who value you as an individual”.
It’s wonderful to have had The Farewell, Minari and soon - Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou representing the Asian-American experience and Parasite winning Best Picture at a recent Academy Awards. These stories show the East Asian diaspora and East Asian perspectives - Chinese/Korean/Korean/Korean respectively. In the last century of Hollywood filmmaking- we've seen a rollout of East Asian characters and films - those about the diasporas of Japan, China and Korea. What we lack still are the stories from the minority within the Asian minority who often get left out of the conversations of "Asian/Asian-American/Asian-diaspora films".
There are a small smattering of films about South-East-Asian-Americans within this last half a decade. With Henry Golding (half Malaysian, half Caucasian) in Monsoon and A24 coming out with a film adapted from an Ocean Vuong book (albeit being written by a Chinese-American man), we get two films about Vietnamese-diaspora gay men. Sony brought us a small handful of FilipinX stories recently (Diane Paragus's Yellow Rose and others). These films that have already come out were obviously not marketed as heavily as the ones by and about East Asian diaspora characters. What other stories of the South-East Asian-diaspora variety are we missing? I'll tell you about some projects and the filmmakers behind them (including lastly one of my very-own stories).
Other stories not in this article also matter-- Casting agent Shyree Mezick (who is a transracial Asian-American adoptee who is still tracing her roots and biological lineage) has kindly compiled and maintains a resource list of log-lines and dream casting from South-East-Asian-diaspora creators you can be part of here: https://forms.gle/DQnRXFfPhEjEuNK96.
Rachel Leyco is a queer Filipina American, award-winning filmmaker/writer/actor. Her short films and web series have been official selections in various film festivals around the world. Her TV scripts have been finalists in the 2018 NBC Writers on the Verge Program and 2020 Sundance Makers Lab. Her feature film script, "Violet, Violet," won the Runner-Up award in the 2020 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition. Rachel was just named Network ISA's Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2021. She is also in development for the Trans-led Romcom feature film, Re-Live, which she co-wrote with Emmy nominated actress, Rain Valdez.
Rachel’s screenplay is called Violet, Violet. This is the logline: In the midst of self-destructive sexual escapades, a promising Filipina-American musician must overcome the resurfacing of a childhood trauma threatening her forthcoming career success. Get more information about it here: https://www.empowerhouse.co/projects
AMANDA L. ANDREI
Amanda L. Andrei is a Filipina Romanian American playwright originally from Virginia/Washington DC, based in Los Angeles. Her parents met in communist Romania in the 1970s while her mother was working with the Philippine Embassy. They fled to the US in 1980. She’s currently a member of the Echo LA Young Playwrights Group and the Vagrancy Writers group in La and just finished up my MFA at USC last year. This story is one of her love letters to seeing the Filipino diaspora in The South:
Two Filipina American sisters must reckon with their rocky relationship and family history when the lake in their town turns into chocolate.
It’s called Lake Opaque.
Find out more about Amanda here: www.amandalandreicom.
MINH-ANH VO DINH
Minh-Anh Vo Dinh is a Toronto-based screenwriter who focuses on anything that spooks and unsettles the audience. Minh believes in highlighting the voices of Asian women and LGBTQ individuals within horror and how their unique perspectives can elevate the genre to greater lengths. Starting out as an international student from Vietnam, Minh had the exciting opportunity to experience a whole new culture with fresh eyes. As a result, it has given him a unique perspective on Asian and Asian Canadian identity and he aims to translate it onto the horror genre . His scripts are character-driven and explore psychological themes and social issues while using horror and other genre components to accentuate the story. His Viet folk horror feature The Othered has recently placed as a Semifinalist in the Stowe Story Labs Fellowship 2021 and a Quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Fellowship 2021. The logline: In 1500s Vietnam, a family of three women finds shelter on a secluded island, where they slowly succumb to the mischievous trickeries of an ancient deity. A horror retelling of a Vietnamese fairy tale. Follow Minh on Twitter.
LINDA MAI GREEN
Linda Mai Green is a Vietnamese biracial director in San Francisco. She’s developing her first feature, a Western horror. The first SE Asian diaspora story that came to mind for her is the story of Bui Vien, the alleged first Vietnamese person to visit the U.S. in the 1870s. He was a diplomat who sought U.S. aid against the French. Although the stories about him meeting Abraham Lincoln and/or Ulysses Grant have been challenged as fantasy. She imagines Bui Vien being robbed on the way to the U.S. and not having any diplomatic papers to verify his identity in the wild town of San Francisco.
Another story she has is that of her Vietnamese mother, who couldn't wait to leave Laos with her French husband. She married him when she was 19 years old in order to emigrate, but she ultimately fought for her independence from him. They spent a colorful year in Morocco and then she started university in France, all during times of political upheaval. As she became more and more French, she fell out of love with her French husband, and decided to strike out on her own. This would be a gorgeous historical drama told from a Vietnamese woman's perspective.
Find out more about Linda here: lindamaigreen.com
Jimmy Hang has a story to tell. The working title is High Expectations and the logline is: When a struggling Chinese-Cambodian-American theater actor and Navy vet learns that his mom is sick with diabetes and cancer, he returns home to help run the family donut store.
The backstory is: As the man tries to update the menu, offering more hip, trendy, and healthier items, he encounters strong resistance from his aging father unwilling to change. The family's disagreements begin to unravel long buried feelings of disappointment, resentment, and PTSD in each of their lives.
It's loosely based on his own family's story, and background as Chinese-Cambodians who came to the US as war refugees following the Khmer Rouge genocide.
He wants to explore the idea of "high expectations" of almost being an Asian-American model minority, but not quite. The family's Chinese-Cambodian, so they're still ethnically Chinese, but not part of the wealthier Mandarin speaking population. Instead, they're the working poor, like most Southeast Asian communities, who don't live up to the model minority stereotype.
Jimmy majored in "Film Studies" at Columbia University in New York City, and mostly works in the physical production aspect of filmmaking as a location manager/scout. Follow Jimmy on Instagram.
Brian McLaughlin is a producer-screenwriter and Co-President of Emerald Elephant Entertainment. His mother is from Thailand and her mother was FilipinX. His father is of Irish descent.
Brian’s produced four feature films (all sold for distribution, two currently on Amazon Prime Video) and 15 other projects, developed eight other feature films and a docuseries - along with his producing partner, Penelope Korff. Brian’s also a member of the Producers Guild of America, a mentor in its Diversity Workshop and Mentoring Program, as well as a member of its Education Committee.
Brian wrote a screenplay about the true story of how his parents met. Honeymoon in Havana is a romantic thriller about a Thai woman in America on a Fulbright scholarship and a West Point cadet who fall in love and elope to the resort destination of Havana on the day before Castro overthrows the government, leaving them desperate to escape Cuba safely on the first day of their marriage.
His dream casting for this is Yaya Sperbund and Tom Holland or Tanner Buchanan.
Both of Mary’s parents are Vietnamese refugees. They both have starkly different refugee experiences. Her dad came to the US when he was twelve with his brother and grew up in Indiana. Mary’s mother came here when she was nineteen after spending years at a refugee camp. They both met at my aunt’s ill-fated wedding and have been married ever since.
Mary’s worked in animation as an operations coordinator at a studio for five years. After that, she became a writer’s PA on various shows. She’s currently a mentee in the #Startwith8Hollywood program. Her horror-comedy half-hour, D. Monica, was a semi-finalist for Final Draft’s Big Break contest.
The logline of D. Monica is: In between juggling her many cons and dealing with the evil entities, both living and dead, of Portland, Oregon, a selfish clairvoyant has to babysit and reluctantly mentor her gifted niece.
As for Mary’s dream casting, “I wrote the lead, Monica, with Vietnamese American actress Patti Harrison in mind. Her humor, persona, and delivery would elevate the script to another level.” Get to know Mary on Twitter.
Thy Tran’s short film SWS that he wants to expand into a feature is about Vietnamese American male photographer in his 30s trying to find a new meaningful connection after a heartbreak. Through his journey you learn about the racism that gay Asian men grapple with --something most people outside of the LGBTQ community are not aware of.
Since coming out in his 20s, Thy says, “I can't tell you how many dating profiles I've come across that plainly state "No Asians!!" I don't have an explanation for this kind of racism. I can only wonder if it has something to do with the way Asian men are portrayed in the media. We are typically depicted as the computer geek, the weirdo, or the kung fu bad guys, and never a sexy romantic interest to the lead character. I suppose for this reason, Asian men are rejected and ostracized?”
With film, he hopes to open up a dialogue about the racism that gay Asian men face, something that has been brushed aside and disregarded as being overly sensitive. He adds, “I also hope to show the world that Asians are just as American as anyone. We just don't have too many chances to tell our stories for people to relate to. It's been a 4-year journey of getting the feature film made.”
More on SWS:
Synopsis: Struggling to deal with Martin's disappearance, Duy resorts to anonymous hook-ups to escape the emptiness. He spends sleepless nights wandering around the city meeting strangers online hoping to find love, form a connection - anything to help him forget Martin. But the nightly ventures take Duy to darker places than he could ever imagine.
Logline: LA has just two seasons: The season to fall in love, and the season to mourn the love lost.
As you can see, there is absolutely no shortage of SE-Asian-American diaspora stories to bring to screens. There are all kinds of people to bring authenticity to these tales that can transport us and teach us better empathy, being in the shoes of others, learning from their lived experience and understanding their points of view.
We cannot let some Asians speak for all Asians around the globe - in the world’s most farthest reaching mediums of film and television. We must do our part to #StopAsianHate- and that means inter-Asian hate as well as understanding how some Asians still live to support the white status-quo by paying to play for proximity to whiteness. Times up for all of that. It’s time uplift the least heard and most marginalized members of the worldwide Asian diasporas.
ADELE FREE PHAM
Adele Free Pham is a mixed-race, second-generation Vietnamese-American woman. She says, “there was always a disconnect from my culture, which I inadvertently found a place within producing Nailed It, a documentary that takes viewers from Los Angeles to the Bronx to meet the diverse people and relationships behind the booming and enigmatic Vietnamese nail salon trade. No relationship touched and surprised me more than the real-life Charlie and Olivett, without whom the Vietnamese nail salon industry would look “a little bit different.” Charlie is Vietnamese-American and Olivett is Black.
Through making this documentary, Adele wanted to expand the story and hopefully reach more audiences with a narrative teleplay. She, together with her writing partner Nikki Taylor Roberts, wrote Mantrap. This is how the story goes, “Two women, one Black the other Vietnamese, both in pursuit of the American dream, open a nail salon and compete for strip mall dominion in 1980's Crenshaw, Los Angeles.” The surprise is they become business partners in real life.
THUC DOAN NGUYEN
Thuc was born in Vietnam and raised in The American South. She was a translator for the Academy-Award nominated film Last Days in Vietnam by Rory Kennedy. Thuc’s screenplay “Scent of the Delta” made it to Round 2 of Sundance Labs 2020. The logline goes like this: A Vietnamese-American woman returns to New Orleans to interact with the ghosts of inter-generational trauma and to become her own person as a “Third-Culture Kid”.
Thuc is tired of waiting thirty years (or more at this point with no end in sight) to see a Vietnamese-woman lead in a major Hollywood film, like Le Ly Hayslip’s auto-biographical one in “Heaven and Earth”, directed by Oliver Stone.
In a time when- according to Wikipedia, there have been 184 “Vietnam War movies” (99.9% of them are about soldiers, with the only one about a Vietnamese-American woman mentioned above), this skewed point of view is purely wrong that we only get to see history this way. Even worse- to add insult to injury after the generations of slaughter of AAPI-women, a movie about the Vietnam War as a “beer run” by the makers of Greenbook was announced the same week as the mass-murders of AAPI women in Georgia this year. The last big one to come out- Da 5 Bloods sidelined Vietnamese women as “bar girls”, “side-chick” still willing to be of service and aid after four decades (just waiting there) and “bastard daughter of side-chick” and made a French white woman the prize the entire movie with the most screen-time instead.
This needs to change. We need to see stories from the Vietnamese-American female POV.
Thuc’s dream-casting for everything is simply: Veronica Ngo (Ngo Thanh Van).
You can find Thuc here on Twitter.
Read about her other feature screenplays centering specifically Vietnamese-American women here: consideratecontent.com/screenwriting