May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States. It’s a time of the year when we recognize the accomplishment and contributions the community has made to American society. But it is also a time for celebration. And there’s no better way to celebrate than watching our favorite films or TV shows that celebrate our identity and experiences.
Often, entertainment sites like to share their favorites through a list of must-watch films and TV shows. These lists are likely to include films like iconic “The Joy Luck Club,” the dark coming-of-age crime drama “Better Luck Tomorrow,” and the queer romantic dramedy “Saving Face. Some of these lists may include “Crazy Rich Asians,” the family drama “The Farewell,” the missing person’s thriller “Searching,” the wholly American story “Minari” and Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Of course, we could mention some of those aforementioned titles – again, they all come highly recommended if you haven’t watched them already. But for this piece, we’d like to share the AAPI films and TV shows of 2022.
Movies To Watch
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Director: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Written by: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., with James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis
Where You Can Watch: In theaters now, on Digital May 17, on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K on June 14
Generational Trauma is a huge theme in some of our favorite films this year. It manifests itself through learned beliefs and behaviors and how it later impacts our personalities and relationships. But what if that idea extends into a concept as unbelievable as the multiverse. That’s what we get in a film like The Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
The multiverse actioner stars Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan in an explosive and beyond unimaginable action-packed film that explores nihilism and the “what ifs” through the idea of the multiverse. It’s the kind of film that gets to the heart of self-reflection and coming to terms with the decisions you make or don’t make. But more importantly, it’s a film that seems to grasp our current definition of representation of the contemporary Asian-American family in Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Wayland’s (Ke Huy Quan) Asian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Beyond that, those nuances seem to reflect those contemporary dynamics like the use of broken Mandarin, Chinese, and English. And it’s that kind of attention to detail that makes “Everything Everywhere All At Once” out of this world.
“Marvelous and the Black Hole”
Director: Kate Tsang
Written by: Kate Tsang
Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam
Where You Can Watch: In theaters now
Kate Tsang’s “Marvelous and the Black Hole” is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy that finds a grieving teenage delinquent, Sammy Ko (Miya Cech), befriending a surly magician Margot (Rhea Perlman). With Margot’s help, Sammy navigates her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic. Though the story itself is familiar, the film is quite charming because of its performances and a terrific cast. What’s more, it’s a universal story but one that is told with an Asian voice. And that makes it all the more remarkable as it shows audiences our coping and grieving mechanisms.
Director: Domee Shi
Written by: Kate Tsang
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong.
Where You Can Watch: On Disney+ now, on digital on April 26, and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K May 3.
Domee Shi’s cringeworthy but very funny “Turning Red” isn’t afraid to get into the messiness of growing up and the trials of puberty. Of course, the animated film isn’t exactly an American film, but its story is one that we all share because, at some point in our lives, we have or will soon experience that natural rite of passage into adulthood. “Turning Red” is a coming-of-age story told through the lens of a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl Meilin Lee (Roseling Chaing), who’s torn between being an obedient daughter to her mother, Ming Lee (Sandra Oh), and the chaos of youth. But she learns that she inherited the ability to transform into a giant red panda whenever emotionally provoked.
Director: Iris K. Shim
Written by: Iris K. Shim
Cast: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi, Odeya Rush, and Dermot Mulroney
there’s no better way to celebrate than watching our favorite films or TV shows that celebrate our identity and experiences.
Where You Can Watch: YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Prime.
Once again, generational trauma plays a huge role in the recent films centering on the Asian-American experience. But rather than tell that story through action or animation, Shim’s “Umma” addresses it through the lens of horror. And that’s refreshing, considering we rarely see these stories in that genre in mainstream films. Unfortunately, though that’s cause for celebration, the film suffered a lack of promotion and fell beneath most critics’ radars. Which is unfortunate, as “Umma,” which also stars Sandra Oh, explores how far a mother would go to protect her daughter from a past she cannot outrun.
Written by: Kogonada
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Haley Lu Richardson.
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube
Kogonada’s “After Yang” starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Haley Lu Richardson, is the kind of film that asks the audience what it means to be alive. The film follows two adoptive parents, Jake and Kyra (Farrell and Turner-Smith), who attempt to repair a robotic companion Yang (Min) they bought for their adoptive daughter Mika (Tiandrawidjaja). But during the process, Jake discovers the life that he has missed and attempts to reconnect with the family.
Though the sci-fi concepts are superficial, they are a means of exploring themes of family and mortality. And while that is typical of the sci-fi genre, “After Yang” takes it a step further by exploring themes of identity. For Yang, he ponders if his encyclopedic knowledge of China makes him Asian. Throughout the film, we see him yearning for that human connection that would allow him to exist or feel life beyond his programming. And for Mika she experiences what it’s like to live in a multicultural family as friends and classmates tell her that her adoptive parents aren’t her birth parents. Ultimately, “After Yang” is a different kind of film that dares to ask existential questions about our identity and what shapes it.
Director: Roshan Seth
Written by: Roshan Sethi and Karan Soni
Cast: Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan
Where You Can Watch It: Amazon Prime, YouTube.
AAPI films aren’t just about the East or Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders. It also includes South and Western Asian artists sharing their experiences with the world. For example, Roshan Sethi’s “Seven Days” centers on two twentysomethings American-Indians set up on a date before their prearranged marriage. But after their uncomfortable date, they find themselves quarantined in the same place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though “Seven Days” may have been a product of the pandemic, it’s a romantic comedy that works because of Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan’s delightful chemistry. The film itself is unafraid to get into the cultural specifics and the modern-day complications of duty to family and tradition. And for that to come from the South Asian lens is compelling as it can subvert damaging and outdated cliches and archetypes.
TV to Stream
“The Book of Boba Fett”
Showrunner: Robert Rodriguez
Writers: Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni
Cast: Temuera Morrison, Ming Na-Wen
Where You Can Watch It: Disney+
Disney+’s “The Book of Boba Fett” sees the titular bounty hunter turning over a new leaf after his near-death experience with the Sarlaac Pit. No longer a gun for higher, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), with the help of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), navigates the galaxy’s underworld, only to find out that they aren’t the only crime syndicates in town. Though the series does have its Star Wars moments, it also draws from Earthly influences like the Maori heritage to aid in some of the character dynamics while also grounding the Sci-Fi epic. By doing this, we get to see how the actor’s warrior background helped shape Boba Fett’s character arc and give him a deeper backstory. Some of these scenes include the Haka dance or the process of carving the Taiaha, a traditional Māori spear. These elements help humanize an alien race that has long been seen as hostile and aggressive. Also, it’s just refreshing to see two AAPI actors as the two kick-but leads of a Star Wars show.
Showrunner: Christina M. Kim, Robert “Bob” Berens
Cast: Olivia Liang, Eddie Liu, Yvonne Chapman, Jon Prasida, Tony Chung, Shannon Dang, Kheng Hua Tan, Tzi Ma, Vanessa Kai, Ludi Lin, Kee Chan, JB Tadena, Vanessa Yao, Annie Q, and more.
Where You Can Watch It: CW
As one of a few American network dramas to feature a predominantly Asian American cast, “Kung-Fu” is more than an action-packed show featuring fun martial arts scenes. Much of the show’s strength comes from telling the story of a modern-day Asian-American family with nuance and purpose without having to fall on outdated tropes. The series follows Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), a twentysomething-year-old whose personal issues force her to leave college and make a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. Three years later, Nick returns home and uses her Shaolin teachings to protect her community from crime and corruption that has poisoned San Fransisco. And as she fights for justice, she also deals with her estranged family.
While all of the drama makes for a compelling TV series, it’s how “Kung-Fu” makes the everydayness of universal stories interesting or thought-provoking. Ryan Shen’s(Jon Prasida) queer Asian-American story is about finding love and coming out to his parents. It’s an aspect of the show that celebrates the LGBTQ+ representation from an Asian-American perspective. Then there’s Althea Shen (Shannon Dang), the tech-savvy sister living a happy life with her husband (Tony Chung) despite living with the painful past that her former employer sexually assaulted her. Beyond that, the show also deals with class, family, and identity. And as the show progresses, we get to see how it moves away from the outdated tropes and focuses more on the Asian-American experience.
“Never Have I Ever“
Showrunner: Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher
Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Lee Rodriguez and Ramona Young
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix
Never Have I Ever is a coming-of-age comedy about the complicated life of a modern-day first-generation Indian American teenage girl. In Season 2, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) continues to deal with the everyday pressures of high school and drama at home, while also navigating new romantic relationships. Never Have I Ever is created by executive producer Mindy Kaling, with Lang Fisher serving as co-creator, executive producer, showrunner and writer. The Universal Television project is also executive produced by 3 Arts Entertainment’s Howard Klein and David Miner.
Showrunner: Soo Hugh
Cast: Soji Arai, Jin Ha, Jun-woo Han, In-ji Jeong, Eun-chae Jung, Min-ha Kim, Lee Min-ho, Kaho Minami, Steve Sanghyun Noh, Anna Sawai, Jimmi Simpson, Yuh-jung Youn
Where You Can Watch It: Apple TV+
Though Apple TV+’s “Pachinko” is culturally specific, it’s multilingual (making use of English, Korean, and Japanese) and multigenerational family tales of immigrant resilience, confronting discrimination and racism, and generational trauma are universal. Told through the perspective of Sunja and her descendants, the eight-episode series doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of living during the era of Japanese-occupied Korea at the beginning of the 20th century.
Based on Min Jin Lee’s novel of the same name, “Pachinko” is so much more than a reminder about the importance of representation and share history – all of its joys and tribulations – with the world. It’s a means of reckoning with the injustices of the past and finding the hope for a better future.
AAPI Heritage Month is important as it recognizes and celebrates the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and gives visibility to a community that has been treated as invisible for far too long. It also is a reminder that are stores deserve and must continue to be told to audiences around the world. So while we haven’t had the chance to see the following titles as they have not been released yet, they all feature AAPI representation and should be considered for your viewing enjoyment when they make their debut on their respective platforms. As such, we have provided their credits and plot synopsis, which not only casts a light on AAPI representation but also a universal story through the AAPI lens.
Upcoming Movies To Watch
Director: Andrew Ahn
Written by: Andrew Ahn, Joel Kim Booster
Cast: Joel Kim Booster. Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, and Margaret Cho
Where You Can Watch: Hulu
Release Date: June 3, 2022
A group of queer best friends gather in the Fire Island Pines for their annual week of love and laughter, but a sudden change of events might make this their last summer in gay paradise. As they discover the romance and pleasures of the iconic island, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limit.
“Don’t Make Me Go”
Director: Hannah Marks
Written by: Vera Herbert
Cast: John Cho, Mia Isaac, Kaya Scodelario
Where You Can Watch: Amazon Prime
Release Date: July 15, 2022
When a single father to a teenage daughter learns that he has a fatal brain tumor, he takes her on a road trip to find the mother who abandoned her years before and to try to teach her everything she might need over the rest of her life.
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Written by: Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo, based on a story by Ken Cheng
Cast: Jo Koy, Jimmy O. Yang, Tia Carrere, Brandon Wardell, Eva Noblezada, Lydia Gaston, Asif Ali, Rodney To, Eugene Cordero, Jay Chandrasekhar, Tiffany Haddish and Lou Diamond Phillips
Where You Can Watch: In Theaters
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Stand-up comedy sensation Jo Koy (Jo Koy: In His Elements, Jo Koy: Comin’ in Hot) stars as a man returning home for an Easter celebration with his riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family, in this love letter to his Filipino-American community.
Upcoming TV Series to Stream
Showrunner: Bisha K. Ali
Directed by: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Written by: Bisha K. Ali,
Cast: Iman Vellani, Aramis Knight, Saagar Shaikh, Rish Shah, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Matt Lintz, Yasmeen Fletcher, Laith Nakli, and Travina Springer
Where You Can Watch: Disney+
Release Date: June 8, 2022
Marvel Studios’ “Ms. Marvel” is a new, original series that introduces Kamala Khan, a Muslim American teenager growing up in Jersey City. An avid gamer and a voracious fan-fiction scribe, Kamala is a Super Hero mega fan with an oversized imagination—particularly when it comes to Captain Marvel. Yet Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school and sometimes even at home—that is, until she gets super powers like the heroes she’s always looked up to. Life gets better with super powers, right?
Do you have any AAPI film or tv recommendations? Let us know!