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 that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that I’ve shown and 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
  • Sa-I-Gu
  • 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.

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.

Social Movements & Collective Action

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.

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.

As the new academic year starts for many colleges around the country, like many professors, I am busy preparing to teach my courses. In my case, I usually teach two courses in the fall semester: “The Asian American Experience” (a ‘conventional’ classroom course with 40 students) and “Bridging Asia and Asian America” (a once-a-week, two-hour colloquium with 30 students, taught in the lounge of one of the residence halls). While these two courses are distinct, obviously there is a lot of overlap in terms of examining the histories and experiences of Asian Americans and their connections back to Asia.

With that in mind, I would like to share my list of films, videos, and documentaries that I think are good choices for showing in introductory Asian American Studies classes (the videos are most suited for college and advanced high school courses). As the study of Asian Americans continues to grow, hopefully instructors of these kind of courses and others interested in Asian Americans in general will find this list useful.

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 that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that I’ve shown and consider to be good choices for that topic as well.

Basic Concepts: The Racialized Landscape

In this first section of the course, I lay out the sociological framework and institutional nature of the U.S.’s racial/ethnic landscape into which Asian Americans fit. I focus on how, contrary to historical and contemporary ideals of being “colorblind,” American society has been and continues to be highly racialized and how social institutions reinforce and perpetuate racial distinctions.

  • The Color of Fear: Made in 1992, this video is “just” a group of men from various racial backgrounds sitting around talking about race, but their words sharply illustrate many of the basic and also subtle ways in which racialization gets played out on the individual level and ultimately highlights the failures of trying to be colorblind.
  • Race: Power of an Illusion
  • Race, the World’s Most Dangerous Myth
  • Understanding Race

Immigration and Settlement

In this section, I describe the history of Asian immigration to the U.S., how the 1965 Immigration Act has impacted the current demographics of the Asian American population, and the dynamics of Asian American ethnic communities, from the first urban Chinatowns to emerging suburban enclaves like Little Saigon.

Assimilation and Ethnic Identity

This section explores the multidimensional and multi-level process of assimilation and ethnic identity formation. I discuss how these ideas involve more than just acculturation, how ideas of what it means to be an American have evolved through the years, and how these dynamics play out among adopted and mixed-race Asian Americans.

Women, Gender, and Family

Emphasizing the histories, experiences, challenges, and contributions of Asian American women, I highlight their paths of immigration into American society and the contemporary and often contradictory pressures they face, from familial expectations, to academic success, to dealing with exoticization and “yellow fever.”

  • Never Perfect: This video portrait follows a young Vietnamese American woman and her decision to have eyelid surgery. In between, it highlights the historical and contemporary pressures on how Asian American women are expected to look and behave.
  • Slaying the Dragon
  • Quiet Passages
  • Good for Her
  • Miss India Georgia
  • Knowing Her Place
  • A Life Without Fear

The Model Minority Image

This section examines the origins of Asian Americans portrayed as the “model minority” and in what ways a seemingly “positive” stereotype is true and beneficial to Asian Americans, and how it also distorts the reality of life for many of us as it overgeneralizes and carelessly lumps all Asian Americans together.

Work and Employment

How do Asian Americans differ in terms in terms of their occupational and employment success? I analyze two different aspects of that question in this section — glass ceiling barriers that many Asian Americans still confront in the workplace and secondly, how many choose to bypass those hurdles altogether by owning their own small business.

Part 2 of my list of best documentaries about Asian Americans will focus on videos relating to discrimination & racism, interracial relationships, faith, spirituality, & religion, sexuality & creative expression, social movements & collective action, and emerging issues in the 21st century.