Top Documentaries to Watch for AAPI Heritage Month

Top Documentaries to Watch for AAPI Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and we are celebrating the culture and history of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Amidst the tragic rise of hate crimes toward Asian Americans, we believe it is critically important to spotlight AAPI stories and the work of filmmakers. 

Below is a selection of essential films, but to learn more about the AAPI experience, explore our entire collection of films for Asian, Asian American, & Pacific Islander Studies and our AAPI speakers, which include award-winning filmmakers, scholars, and activists!

All of these films are available for streaming and purchase through GOOD DOCS for your next school or organization event!


Incarcerated men in a prison classroom dancing a Hawaiian dance

OUT OF STATE is the story of two incarcerated Native Hawaiian men who, with the help of a fellow inmate serving a life sentence, reconnect with their culture during their time in an Arizona prison. The documentary follows their journeys as they return home and work to start again with a clean slate. As they struggle with the hurdles of life as formerly incarcerated men, the film poses the question: can you really go home again?


Asian protestors on the street

This Sundance Film Festival award winner celebrates the changing terrain of American culture and identity through the rise of the country’s fastest-growing racial group, Asian Americans. Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña recalls 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.


4 Chinese American voters

Highlighting the stories of four politically engaged Chinese American voters in battleground states during the 2018 midterm elections, this film offers an insightful look at Asian Americans' diverse experiences at the polls. Speaking with distinct political voices, they share the common goal of seeing Asian Americans take their rightful place in American political life.


Japanese American waiting at a train station

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. Featuring the perspectives of the formerly incarcerated, the film brings history into the present, as it follows Japanese Americans speaking out against the current regressive immigration policies.


Grace Lee Boggs smiling with a "Welcome Friends" sign behind her

This Peabody Award-winning interdisciplinary film shot over 10 years takes us through the life of Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American woman in Detroit, who died in 2015 at 100 years old. A writer, activist, and philosopher rooted for more than 70 years in the African American movement, she devoted her life to an evolving revolution; from labor to civil rights, to Black Power, feminism, the Asian American, environmental justice movements, and beyond. 


Asian elementary schools raising a toast with plastic cups

Based in New York City's Chinatown, CURTAIN UP shares the story of Asian American elementary students as they prepare to stage a production of Frozen Kids. As students get ready 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. It shares a kids-eye view of identity, culture, and the heartbreaks that come with growing up.


Tyrus Wong painting on the ground

TYRUS is about late Guangzhou-born, L.A.-based visual artist, Tyrus Wong and his scope of work across multiple artistic mediums and his personal and professional journey navigating racial bigotry in 20th century America. An under-credited figure, his unique style, melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art, helped the Disney animated film, Bambi (1942), and early Hollywood establish their signature visual styles.