Documentaries to Watch for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Documentaries to Watch for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander History Month, we are highlighting a selection of award-winning independent documentaries that uplift Asian American Pacific Islander stories and voices. These films are available in a variety of streaming and purchase options for schools, non-profits, community organizations, libraries, and corporations. We hope you will utilize these important educational resources year-round to spark critical dialogue in your community or organization! Click here to see our Asian, Asian American & Pacific Islander Studies Collection!


A Long March follows a seldom told history of the Philippines and United States, Celestino Almeda, Rudy Panaglima, and Feliciana Reyes find themselves inducted into U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. After their service, Congress declared them, and hundreds of thousands more, to be “not on active duty.” Today, Celestino, Rudy and Feliciana's continued fight represents the tens of thousands of elderly Filipino veterans who remain unacknowledged despite their evidence of service.


A Place to Breathe explores the universality of trauma and resilience through the eyes of immigrant and refugee healthcare practitioners and patients. This feature-length documentary intertwines the personal journeys of those who are transcending their own obstacles by healing others. 


A Tale of Three Chinatowns explores the survival of urban ethnic neighborhoods in three American cities: Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston. Through the voices of residents, community activists, developers, and government officials, the film looks at the forces altering each community and the challenges that go with them, including the pressing issue of urban development and gentrification.


American Revolutionary tells the story of Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American woman in Detroit. As a writer, activist, and philosopher rooted for more than 70 years in the African American movement, she devoted her life to an evolving revolution that encompassed the contradictions of America’s past and its potentially radical future. 


And Then They Came for Us is a cautionary and inspiring tale for all societies. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, paving the way for the forced incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans. The film educates audiences about the constitutional damage done in the name of national security due to war hysteria and racism. 


Ask the Sexpert is a feature-length documentary about Dr. Mahinder Watsa, a highly popular 93-year-old sex advice columnist for a daily newspaper in Mumbai. Despite sex being a taboo topic in India, the column’s brand of non-moralistic advice and humor has emboldened many to write in with their questions. The columnist gains popularity even while a ban on comprehensive sex education in schools is adopted by approximately a third of India’s states.


Chinatown follows the stories of three senior activists, taking an intimate look at the past, present and future of a changing neighborhood from the perspective of its underrepresented low-income community. 


Come Back Anytime follows Ramen master Masamoto Ueda and his wife Kazuko who have run their tiny Tokyo ramen shop, Bizentei, for more than forty years. Scores of devoted customers have joined them in creating an intimate place of community there.  Everyone knows the master must retire someday. So they resolve to make the best of what time remains – to cherish this special place, and this soul-nourishing food, before it is gone forever.


Curtain Up! shares a kids-eye view of identity, culture and the heartbreaks that come with growing up. As these Asian American students gear up and rehearse for their big musical production with nervous excitement, they also contend with cultural stereotypes, family expectations, post-graduation uncertainties and the pressures that come with being young and bi-cultural.


Finding Her Beat is an energizing and uplifting story of music, cultural expression and sisterhood. A master of Japanese drumming and a Korean adoptee from Minnesota boldly convene an all-female troupe to perform Taiko, the Japanese drumming art that has been off-limits to women for centuries.


First Vote crafts an insightful look at Asian Americans' diverse experiences at the polls. Taking her camera on the road, filmmaker Yi Chen introduces us to a diverse cross section of politically engaged Chinese Americans: an avid Trump supporter in Ohio; a Democratic podcaster whose views have alienated his wife’s conservative friends; a gun-toting, Tea Party-favorite in North Carolina; and a progressive University of North Carolina professor.


Hidden Letters follows two millennial Chinese women who are connected by their fascination with Nushu and their desire to protect its legacy.


Ink & Linda is a feature-length documentary chronicling the unexpected friendship and collaboration between Inksap, a Vietnamese American urban artist in his 20s, and Linda, an elder stateswoman of the modern dance scene in her 70s–as they team up to form LA’s most unlikely street art duo. 


Inner Wound Real is an animated short documentary that relays the story of three BIPOC folks who self-injure, then find new ways to cope. Each participant’s story has its own distinct visual style. The chapters are independent puzzle pieces that together form the 15-minute film.


K-Town ‘92 shares the reflections of Hector Tobar, Tammerlin Drummond, and John Lee, who in 1992, were young reporters of color covering the civil unrest for the Los Angeles Times. Twenty-five years later, they revisit the sites, stories and impressions of those tumultuous events and reflect on the media coverage they helped to create.


Last Night I Saw You Smiling follows filmmaker Kavich Neang's father who is one of the hundreds of residents who must leave the iconic White Building in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This housing block bore witness to a tremendous series of events: the young nation's Golden Age; a traumatic breakdown under a radical regime; decades of cultural revival centered within its walls; and, the rapid pace of capitalist development that would ultimately lead to its demise.


Leftover Women is how the Chinese describe educated, cosmopolitan women who are not married and settled by the time they reach their mid-twenties. Through marriage markets, matchmakers, and government-sponsored dating events, the film follows three professionally successful women who, under immense pressure from their families and the government, are determined to find love on their own terms.


Manzanar Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust follows intergenerational women from three communities who defend their land, their history and their culture from the insatiable thirst of Los Angeles.


Muội follows Muội Hồng and her progress towards her goal of becoming a dancer in the luxurious Vinpearl in Nha Trang, immersing audiences in the underground dance and queer culture of contemporary Vietnam. 


My America..Or Honk if You Love Buddha Renee Tajima-Peña and her childhood--back in the days when her vacationing family would cross five states lines without ever catching a glimpse of another Asian face. Returning to the road more than 20 years later, she finds that new immigration has suddenly put Asian Americans on the map, making them the country’s fastest growing racial group.


Out of State documents two native Hawaiians as they discover their indigenous traditions from a fellow inmate serving a life sentence. It's from this unlikely setting that David and Hale finish their terms and return to Hawaii, hoping for a fresh start.


Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey weaves ancient Buddhist spiritual traditions, global environmentalism, and Tibetan and Himalayan culture into an award-winning documentary that spotlights the ways a community-based movement can begin to solve one of the most pressing problems of our time. 


Please Remember Me shares the story of former school principal 88-year-old Lou who has had Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years. She now recognizes almost no one except for her husband Feng. Nonetheless, they live a full and happy life in Shanghai. They practice tai chi every morning, make regular visits to the Peking opera and read poetry to one another. But when Feng himself gets sick, he decides it’s time for them to move into a retirement home. Together they survived the Cultural Revolution, during which Feng was denounced and sent far away to Sichuan. As an old Chinese saying goes, “Hold his hand to grow old together.” Please Remember Me perfectly encapsulates these words.


Pushed Up the Mountain is a poetic and personal film about plants and the people who care for them. Through the tale of the migrating rhododendron, now endangered in its native China, the film reveals how high the stakes are for all living organisms in this time of unprecedented destruction of the natural world.


Somewhere Between explores the emotional and cultural impact of adoption from the point of view of four teenage girls, all adopted from China. This award-winning film shares their personal journeys as these adoptees convey the experiences of a generation of young people attempting to reconcile their multiple identities.


Speaking in Tongues follows students from diverse backgrounds as they become bilingual in language immersion programs. Their stories traverse a number of perennial challenges facing America: economic inequality, de facto segregation, and increasing nativist backlash towards immigrants.


This Is The Way We Rise is an exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio as her calling to protect sacred sites atop Maunakea, Hawai`i reinvigorates her art.


Tyrus is Pamela Tom's tour-de-force documentary about 105-year old Guangzhou-born, L.A. based visual artist, Tyrus Wong and his breathtaking scope of work across multiple artistic mediums and his personal and professional journey navigating racial bigotry in 20th century America. 


Unity Mosque tells the story of Imam El-Farouk and his husband Troy. Together they co-founded Unity Mosque in Toronto, one of the world's first Queer-affirming and gender-equal mosques. Though the mosque (and filmmaker) receive threats and hate speech, the mosque forges on, playing a life-saving role in the lives of its members.


What We Left Unfinished brings together newly rediscovered and restored footage from five lost Afghan Communist feature films — The April Revolution (1978), Downfall (1987), The Black Diamond (1989), Wrong Way (1990), and Agent (1991) — with present-day interviews that reveal the behind-the-scenes stories of the filmmakers - including directors, actors, and crew members who often swapped roles- and new footage shot in the same locations by some of the same directors and cinematographers.


Writing With Fire follows Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists as they break traditions, be it on the frontlines of India's biggest issues or within the confines of their homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.


Zero Gravity follows a diverse group of middle school students from San Jose, CA, who compete in a nationwide tournament to code satellites aboard the International Space Station. Their mission: compete with teams across the country to write the most strategic code for surveying satellites, known as SPHERES.