10 of the Best AAPI Movies and TV on Streaming
Even though Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is almost over, that doesn’t mean we stop existing! And by proxy, that doesn’t mean that all our creative endeavors suddenly leave our screens. There’s plenty of great entertainment starring (and directed by) AAPI talent, and whether you’re reading this during May or later, they still merit a good binging.
So sit back, combine some soy sauce and sesame oil, and get your stream list ready for these ten bangers.
(Note: the reason I won’t include Shang-Chi and Crazy Rich Asians is because I’d like to give some love to programs that are less-renowned among non-Asians!)
If you liked Schitt’s Creek, then you might like Kim’s Convenience, as they have similar comedic beats (albeit Kim’s is by far the sweeter show). It takes place in Toronto and follows the Kim family: “Appa” and “Umma,” who run a convenience store; their daughter Janet, a photography student; and their estranged son Jung (AKA Shang-Chi!).
Mr. Kim is a pretty devious guy, reminding me of a vastly more competent Homer Simpson, and what’s hilarious is his wife—a typically good-natured, religious woman—is always there to back him up. The family dynamics are really sweet, if silly, to behold, and while it might not be the deepest show, it’s certainly a comfy one.
Awkwafina might not be the most popular actress at the moment, considering her uncomfortable relationship with ‘Blaccent,’ but hopefully, she continues down the path she went on with The Farewell. When she focuses on the more serious subject material, she’s a brilliant, authentic mind.
This movie made me cry more than I thought it would. It follows a family who goes to support their matriarch as her health steadily declines, by way of faking a wedding. All the tensions of the moment, the clashes with traditionalism and modernism, are beautifully executed, and the final scene when she’s walking through the city and needs to scream—ahh, I felt that.
Nora From Queens
Of course, Awkwafina is also known for her comedy, and Nora From Queens pulls out all the stops. Comedian-centric TV shows are always hit-and-miss, but this one is special for its loving depiction of Queens, and with a truly knockout cast. I mean, it has Bowen Yang, hello? Love?
And yes, the story of the twenty-something woman in New York who’s trying to make it is a well-trod story. But take it from someone who hates New York: watching the right person try to do it makes it all the more entertaining to watch.
The Half Of It
I personally think that Netflix needs to chill out with all the teen movies, but this one gets a pass. In fact, it gets all the passes in the world. I wasn’t expecting to like The Half of It as much as I did, but by the time the movie ended, I was hoping for a sequel.
It follows a young girl named Ellie, the only Asian girl in her podunk town who gets bullied for her race and her studious nature. The real rub is that she’s queer and has very strong feelings for Aster, a special girl who, while popular, is also woefully misunderstood, yet because of her circumstances, she feels like she can’t do anything about it. When a jock named Paul approaches Ellie for help writing a letter to Aster, she not only gains a friend—she also finally gets a chance to step outside her boundaries and experience the things she really wants in life.
You might have heard a lot of film snobs talking about this movie and how great it was, and you might have rolled your eyes when you heard the word “a24.” I wouldn’t blame you—after all, I just watched In The Mood For Love after hearing so much about it, and all I took away from the experience was a sense of annoyance. But in this specific case, the hype is merited. Minari is special.
It follows a Korean family who immigrates to rural America in order to start a new life as farmers. It’s really the father’s dream, but the family finds a way all the same, even with the many hiccups that arise. We need more stories about AAPI immigration on-screen, and I hope that Minari’s legacy will help in that regard.
Although this isn’t a story specifically about AAPI life, it tells a story that has been waiting to be told for a damn long time: the racist and exclusionist nature of elite colleges. Sandra Oh is, of course, wonderful in her role as Ji-Yoon Kim, the newly appointed chair of the English department—and its first chair of color.
Her time in this position is fraught with attempts to help diversify the program further, but it’s always a struggle, isn’t it? We like to tout educational systems as bastions against fascism, but most end up being tools for preserving archaic systems of power. This show is frustrating, because it shows the reality of those faculty members who really are in it for the betterment of the schools and students they serve, but sometimes we need to be frustrated by good media.
Were you one of those freaks who had a good time in middle school, or did you suffer like the rest of us? Either way, PEN15 is a fantastically nasty show that would be horrifying to endure if it wasn’t so funny. And I love the fact that its co-star, Maya, is half-Asian, because the things she goes through are…a little too close to home for me, and in a weird way, it’s nice to see we all went through it.
Maya and Anna are two oddballs at their school who perv out on guys and just generally don’t know how to be people yet, like most kids their age. The show follows both their individual lives and their friendship as it ebbs and flows. In particular regard to its AAPI aspects, Maya’s relationship to her race (and consequently her mother) is really fascinating to watch, because the Americanization of young Asian girls can be traumatizing in its own ways. We don’t often see it properly represented on-screen, let alone on a show about middle school kids played by adults.
Master Of None
Yes, many people can’t look at Aziz Ansari the same way anymore, and that’s absolutely valid. But this show still stands for something larger than that: it portrays the life of an Indian-American man in a way that isn’t emasculating or patronizing, and considering how often Asian men get the short end of the stick in American media, that’s really pretty cool.
Ansari plays Dev, a 30-year-old actor who’s trying to navigate the crossroads between his romantic, professional, and personal lives. It might seem like a basic premise, but it’s done in a surprisingly artsy and wondrous way, and Dev has this lightness about him that makes it easy to root for him.
Stories about Hawaiians, featuring Native Hawaiians, are criminally few and far between on American screens. So when my old radio mentor, a Hawaiian herself, clued me into this doc, I had to see it and give it some love on this list.
Widely considered to be the father of modern-day surfing, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku lived a pretty spectacular life, which comes with the territory of being a spectacular person. It’s a badass documentary about a sports pioneer who often goes unheard of on the mainland, but is altogether a legend in Hawaiian history—so much so that people continue to place leis on his statue in Waikiki to this day.
Alright alright alright, I’ve made it very clear in the past that this movie brought me to a state of emotional devastation. The snot trails it gave me left a rash the following morning, it was a whole thing. And you know what? I’d do it all over again, because Turning Red is really just that good.
You ever been a young Chinese kid with a good mom who’s just really overbearing and nobody else gets it so you just kinda…turn into a panda? It’s a hell of a thing, but this movie depicts it with so much humor and love, it made my heart grow three sizes and then some. And oh my god her friends.
On that note, lemme end on this: you ever been a young Korean kid who’s a lil chubby and more than a lil unhinged? Because that’s a hell of a thing too!
(Featured Image: Disney)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]