DES MOINES, Iowa — One of the reasons why I wanted to be a journalist was because I wanted to tell stories. In every sense of the saying, storytelling is a part of who I am all the way down to my core.
Growing up in a Hmong family, the way we pass history down to generations after us is through telling stories in all forms: music, tales, poetry, story cloths, etc. This has been instrumental in how we’ve kept our history because it wasn’t until Hmong people came to the United States post-Vietnam that we were able to develop a written language.
Visual storytelling, to me, is one the most fascinating things because you see what’s inside someone’s mind come to life, crafted exactly how they dreamed it.
As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, here is a list of AAPI movies and TV shows I’ve really loved recently! I hope you can check some of them out and let me know what you think.
The latest from Pixar featuring an AAPI lead, "Turning Red" was absolutely adorable. Of course, seeing red panda after red panda was cuteness overload but it’s the relatable story of Chinese-Canadian Mei Lee. At 13 years old, Disney captured the unique coming-of-age story of what it’s like growing up in two worlds, balancing family, friends, expectations, and so much more.
Oh, and what it’s like when you get on all of the aunties’ bad side and they come looking for you. This is great for the family.
Funny. Witty. At times cheesy. Other times gets you in your feelings. It’s cool seeing a rom-com like this with AAPI leads taking you through that roller coaster! Randall Park and Ali Wong were spectacular in this. Sparks fly between Marcus Kim and Sasha Tran, childhood best friends.
But, is the history strong enough to bring them together? Or, are they better off staying friends? If you’re like me and every once in a while have an urge for a rom-com, look this one up on Netflix.
This one’s for all of my people out there with a short attention span. Written and directed by Domee Shi and produced by Pixar, this short film hits really close to home for me. I come from a family of five children and as my parents approach having the last kid in their house before they become empty nesters, Bao really opened my eyes to how hard it could be for my parents.
It follows a Chinese mother who makes dumplings and one magically comes to life. She raises it like a child until the dumpling grows up and leaves the home.
Kids: watch this one.
I don’t know if this South Korean drama needs much of an introduction after how big this show got! Squid Game is perhaps one of the strangest, yet most fascinating shows I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. The show – a group of people who are in need of cash get an invitation to play childhood games but the twist – a deadly price to pay for losing.
Strap on for a ride with this series.
Side note: I love Lee Jung-jae and HoYeon Jung. These two put on a *performance* in this one.
Heads up though – put the kids to bed first!
A good mix of fantasy paired with southeast Asian culture – “Raya and the Last Dragon” filled two big interests for me. My parents are from Laos, then lived in a refugee camp in Thailand, so southeast Asian culture has always been interesting for me.
Set in a fictional land, Kumandra, this Pixar movie shows the importance of family that runs so deep with Raya, she sets out to find the last dragon in hopes of bringing her family, and lots of other families, back to life.
Watch it and appreciate the different aspects of southeast Asian culture throughout.
This show on Netflix is one I’ve watched over and over for years, and I still do.
Comedian Aziz Ansari and writer Alan Yang created this show. My favorite part: Ansari’s real-life parents play his parents on the show and they are adorable!
It follows Ansari’s character, Dev, through his day-to-day life as an Indian-American actor and the things he deals with. It also reflects on his childhood and how that ties into modern day, such as Dev being afraid to admit to his parents, who are Muslim, that he eats pork.
“Master of None” explores many things that I, as an Asian American, can relate so closely to growing up in America with immigrant parents. The episode where Ansari and his friend each reflect on their parents’ journey to America and the sacrifices they made to give their family everything (Season 1, Episode 2: "Parents"). Or, having to drive all the way to your parents house to help them figure out how to use an iPad. Yeah … I’ve had to do that before.
Binge it or spread it out. This one’s worth the watch.
You know I wasn’t going to not include an AAPI superhero, right?
I’ve waited for so long to see an AAPI hero save the day and it wasn’t until I saw Shang-Chi, where I felt I, too, could be a superhero.
Aside from just being a huge fan of Simu Liu from “Kim’s Convenience” (also recommend) or his memes from his stock photo modeling days, this breakout role for Liu inspired me in ways I didn’t think it would.
In this Marvel action-packed film, Shang-Chi confronts his past and complicated relationship with his father as he faces the powerful Ten Rings organization. Throughout the movie, you see him transform into a superhero that will hopefully pop up in this next era of Marvel movies.
The subtle nod to Asian culture is cool too. For example, a close-up of Shang-Chi taking off his shoes before stepping into his friend’s home. The conversation about Shang-Chi changing his name to “Shawn” in America. See if you can spot more.
Others you may enjoy
These are certainly not all the AAPI movies and shows I love, but some I’ve seen recently that I enjoyed. If you have any more, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or email me at Cher@weareiowa.com.
Happy AAPI Heritage Month!