DC's Asian-American Film Festival Celebrates Diverse Stories

In time for May's Asian American Heritage Month

In a new neighborhood cinema near U Street, movie lovers sauntered into theater five for a panel discussion on Asian and Pacific Islander women filmmakers.

For one of the panelists, making movies helped her learn more about her forgotten Filipino-American history.

Director Marissa Aroy's latest documentary reveals the story of the Delano Manongs, the Filipino farm workers who helped with the creation of the United Farm Workers in the 1960s. Most history books will mention Cesar Chavez and the Chicano movement, but will largely leave out Filipino involvement.

"I'm telling it for the Filipino-Americans," Aroy said during a panel at the festival.

Along with panel discussions, movie screenings and workshops filled D.C.'s 16th Annual Asian Pacific American Film Festival last month. The four-day event showcased diverse stories, from a documentary on Vietnamese nail salon workers to Asian-made fictional short movies.

"I would love to see an Asian actor do Shakespeare or do a love story that doesn't involve stereotypical roles," said Christian Oh, the executive director of Asian Pacific American Film.

The festival began because founder George C. Lin wanted to create an outlet for Asian-American voices and stories in film. And while there were many well-known Asian directors with international prominence -- Akira Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, Ang Lee and Apichatpong Weerasethakul to name a few -- the unique experiences of Asian-Americans still live in the periphery.

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"We need to be the leading people," Oh said, listing films in which Asian-American stories or characters were told or portrayed by actors who weren't Asian-American: "21," "Aloha," and most recently, "The Martian."

That's why he believes it's so important to create platforms for Asian-American stories.

"The best way to fight ignorance and discrimination is through understanding," Oh said. "Through film, we're able to tell those stories for that betterment and understanding."

Interested in seeing more Asians on the silver screen? Although the APA Film Festival has ended, the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler hosts this year's Korean Film Festival with screenings starting May 19.

Check full dates here.

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