5 Docs for AAPI Heritage Month

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been washed out of history. We’ve been in the Americas a long time, but we’ve also seen waves of hatred and we’re now swimming against another tide of Asian animosity.

The Chinese Exclusion Act

You really can’t understand US history unless you know about the Chinese Exclusion Act. This American Experience 2018 episode should be required viewing for all US residents and citizens. Directed by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu, the documentary is two hours and 10 minutes. Burns has directed other American Experience documentaries including “The Pilgrims” (2015) and “Death and the Civil War” (2012) and he produced “The Civil War.” Yu had previously worked as an editor on both “The Pilgrims” and “Death and the Civil War” among other American Experience episodes. This was her first credit as director. It is important to know that the Chinese resisted, particularly when the government attempted to take American citizenship away as in the case of the United States v. Wong Kim Ark. This US Supreme Court case decided that a child born in the US to parents who could not become naturalized citizens could still claim US citizenship.

Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Director Christine Choy’s 1987 documentary recounts the murder of Vincent Chin and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was broadcast as part of the PBS POV series. Vincent Chin was killed a century after the Chinese Exclusion Act during a time when anti-Asian anger was aimed at the Japanese because of failure of the Detroit auto industry to predict the needs of their customers. After being bashed in the head with a baseball bat while another man held him, Chin died in the hospital. His adoptive parents saw the two men get off with a small fine and a slap on the wrist.

PBS Asian Americans

This five-hour series is divided up into five different episodes: “Breaking Ground,” “A Question of Loyalty,” Good Americans, Generation Rising and Breaking Through. Legal cases, the intersection with the Black community with Asian Americans in two different regions and eras, and personal stories show the long history of diversity, dissent and achievements. The talking heads include professors and a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Besides providing an overview of Asian American history, the experts have written books worth adding to your reading lists.


It’s hard to think of Southern California without thinking about Disney and Disneyland. And it’s hard to think of Disney without thinking about the animated feature, “Bambi.” Pamela Tom‘s 2015 documentary “Tyrus” is about Tyrus Wong (1910 – 2016), the Disney artist who provided the backgrounds for the Disney classic. Yes, I was traumatized by the death of Bambi’s mother, but as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the range of artistic styles in classic Disney animation and to admire Wong’s work. He was the lead artist for “Bambi” and his background paintings took inspiration fro Chinese classical works. Wong didn’t last long at Disney due to an animators’ strike, but he went to work for Warner Bros. as a production illustrator. Later in life, he was inducted as a Disney Legend. “Tyrus” was part of the PBS American Masters series.

Lily Topples the World

This documentary premiered at this year’s SXSW. It’s basically geek girl takes on the world and wins. The film is about how a Chinese adoptee fit into her family of five, became a YouTube sensation as Hevesh5. At first, she didn’t reveal her gender, but now she dominates in a predominately male world of domino builders. Her sense of color, style and engineering are unmatched and the film shows her working with fellow geeks with a sense of humility, humor and respect.

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