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Representation helps us unlearn.

This year, I grappled with my perspectives about celebrity, integrity, and accuracy because of the U.S. state of affairs. I asked myself how much representation really mattered or how much it could really change things. I became increasingly critical of mainstream TV shows and cinema. I lost faith in the power of story.

As I saw more South Asians on screens (as I had always wished), I held each and every one of them accountable. I have rejected idol worship for as long as I can remember, but there was a stagnation that came with with watching repetitive, simple, and even stereotypical themes of diaspora in mainstream media. Representation in the mainstream, which is still overpowered by white supremacy, actually does not represent the nuanced and evolving nature inherent in most of us.

It wasn’t until I attended the Seattle Asian American Film Festival that I realized I was hungry. I had outgrown what continues to satiate the masses in media. At the festival, I dedicated my time to watching shorts, and from them I received lasting nourishment.

I saw complex story lines, the magic in the mundane, and Asia’s connection to the rest of the world outside of the model minority myth. I saw my face and the lines that will soon appear on it. I was defetished. I was humanized. I saw the love in infidelity and among enemies. I saw stereotypes meticulously scrubbed away and left raw to witness. I tenderly experienced joy, sorrow, and anger. I projected empathy onto the films’ wholly flawed characters.

Celluloid healed me. These films will change the way you walk through the world. Participating in creative genesis and diffusion is an act of justice and healing. The following filmmakers have chosen to share their originality and inventiveness with a global community grasping for connection.

1. Asian Man, White Woman // Directed by Woody Fu

This is frustrating to watch, because the struggle is REAL when you’re trying to find some sexual reprieve in porn but can’t find what you’re looking for. It’s also a comedic paragon of a darker reality: Asian men have been emasculated and erased in sexual narratives upholding white supremacy and masculinity.

2. Aswang Next Door // Directed by Bernard Badion

An Aswang is a Filipino monster-creature that eats fetuses. The film, about a Filipino guy who convinces his neighbor he is an Aswang, is a perfect example of how I learned to freak out my white friends. The love of my life, Tyler, in elementary school didn’t totally embrace me because of my penchant for telling him fifteen minute stories about Sikh history on our bus rides home. I think he thought my kara, or silver bracelet, was demonic. As I grew into adulthood, I learned to embody my culture, at times excitedly exaggerating my powers,  and this is really terrifying to white people. Watch and learn, folks.

3. Cowboy and Indian // Directed by Sujata Day

You’ll never cackle this much at the sight of mindless manipulation. Dopamine hits are not relegated to joyous highs. Euphoria also exists in the fruits of trickery and murder, especially when you’re bonded to your victims. Sometimes, we do crazy shit because it’s just…fun. This is a pleasant story showing the care between strangers, until it takes a sudden and dark turn. The interplay of the title and identities of the characters also spins a classic storyline on its head, bringing some twisted justice to a politically charged tale.

4. Geeta // Directed by Sohil Vaidya

This short reveals the reality of human trafficking in the United States. It chronicles the innocuous ways indentured servants are brought and kept in by well-to-do folks with lucrative 9-to-5’s in glimmering metropolises. Truth, delusion, and naivete plays out through the perspectives of a South Asian millennial couple, the earnest yet intelligent Geeta, and a plumber.

5. H O M E // Directed by Tavishi

This experimental film will make you jump and raise your arm-hairs. Haunting music, news snippets, and voices from people in marginalized communities ebb over a reel of natural landscapes. This film literally raises the volume on backburning issues like pollution and environmental racism, asking questions like, “Who has the privilege of having a home?” and “What are we doing to our home?”

6. Heartseeker // Directed by Brett Ryoji Kodama

This is one of the best horror films you will ever watch. But it doesn’t just scare you. It empowers you. The twisted tale’s thesis about an elaborate revenge ritual reveals itself at the very end, and you’ll be salivating as you follow the building, mysterious and coy narrative. It left me feeling delightfully murderous– that’s a quality we all possess somewhere, right? There is a vindictiveness here that many a woman scorned will relate to.

7. I Don’t Make the Rules // Directed by Lawrence Chen

Even with all the hype about millennials marching to save the world, cruelty lives in power structures all around us: race, occupation, the words we use and the way our eyes come upon each other. In this film a young, white man unleashes his ugliness onto a football-player-turned-bouncer under the guise of status. His actions result in a series of karmic events where he is faced with his own monstrosity. It’s pretty hard to forgive his actions, mostly because we find ourselves, our friends, and our family members in these characters.

8. Lions in Waiting // Directed by Jason Karman

This is a gorgeous, artful narrative glimmering with tender genius in every snapshot. It follows a teenage boy as he discovers his limits and expansiveness in body and soul: traumatic hazing on the hockey team, his romantic relationship with a teammate, and the authenticity and weight of this critical phase in his life. This is a film that will leave you reeling even years after you first watch it.

9. Raksha // Directed by Meredith Koch

At the film forum, director Meredith Koch posited “What does it do to someone to be told you’re born broken?” Astrology is a cultural staple in South Asian communities. In this film, a young woman journeys through life with a  perceived curse bestowed upon her from the family pundit: she is Mars-dominant. It’s as bad as telling someone you’re a Scorpio. But in this film, we see more than astrology’s shallow receipts. We see its deeply-rooted influence in our communities.  The story is set against common aggressions unique to the South Asian diaspora, including verbal and physical abuse, and minimizing oneself in the face of it. These are Mars themes.

10. The Shuttle // Directed by Lu Han

This film, set in a shuttle bus and nail salon, is about the unlikely alliances formed in the midst of infidelity. It’s about the secrets and unspoken rules among women, and the necessity of that. It’s about spontaneously moving past the hurts we impose on each other, and how very possible it is to hold space for both friendship and conflict, gleaning from that the love that binds us to each other.