Filmmakers Who Are Refiguring American Cinema

Four Asian American directors bringing powerful, personal stories to the screen.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and in addition to celebrating the rich history and culture, it's important to acknowledge the need for a more diverse representation in all fields, including film.

So we're spotlighting four filmmakers whose contributions have been essential to creating a new canon of American cinema.

Sean Wang at 2024 South by Southwest Film & TV Festival

Sean Wang

In Dìdi (弟弟)—in theaters July 26—writer-director Sean Wang transforms his experience growing up in the Bay Area into a comic and poignant coming-of-age story. Set in 2008, the film chronicles the experience of a 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy (Izaac Wang) as he navigates his identity on the internet, as well as his sympathetic mother (Joan Chen) and sharp-tongued sister (Shirley Chen) in real life. The Guardian writes, “Wang’s semi-autobiographical portrait of an Asian American boy in 2008…is easily one of the best, most seamless films I’ve seen on the experience of growing up online." Wang, who was nominated for an Academy Award® for his short documentary Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma), finds his inspiration in his immediate community. Wang told The Hollywood Reporter that Dìdi (弟弟) started with the idea, “What if you took a movie like Stand By Me but set it in Fremont and had it star kids who looked and talked and felt like the kids that I grew up with?”

Official trailer for Dìdi (弟弟)

Nisha Ganatra on the set of The High Note

Nisha Ganatra

Nisha Ganatra found inspiration as a young artist in everything around her. “I was this nerdy Indian girl. Madonna, Raj Kapoor, the AIDS movement of the ’80s—all of that made me take up filmmaking as a career,” Ganatra explains. While she explored her Indian heritage in her breakout comedy Chutney Popcorn, Ganatra has learned from directors like Ang Lee that “you can tell a story in any language and in any culture and as long as you are true to the details.” In her comedy, The High Note, she took this message of cultural empathy to heart in capturing the friendship between two very different women in the entertainment industry. “The thing that is important to me is to show women turning towards each other, and being the greatest allies towards each other, helping each other achieve their dreams so that we rise together,” says Ganatra.

Watch The High Note on Apple TV and Amazon!

Official trailer for The High Note

Eddie Huang on the set of Boogie

Eddie Huang

Born in Washington, D.C., the son of Taiwanese immigrants, Eddie Huang grew up between two cultures, which he has explored in his many different careers, from author to restaurateur to filmmaker. In Boogie, Huang wrote and directed a story about Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a teenager caught between his dream of being an NBA star and his first-generation Taiwanese parents’ sense of duty. "I wanted to make my definitive Asian American coming-of-age story,” says Huang. “This is not everyone's Asian American coming-of-age story. But it's mine." And the experience Huang portrayed in the film widely resonated. “As a story about a high-school senior unsure about his future, coping with a volatile family and falling in love for the first time,” writes The Wrap, “Boogie is genuine while weaving Black, Hispanic, Asian and White teenage New Yorkers together with effortless ease.”

Watch Boogie on Apple TV and Amazon!

Official trailer for Boogie

Mira Nair on the set of Vanity Fair

Mira Nair

Mira Nair moved to the United States to study acting and filmmaking at Harvard before returning to India in 1988 to make her award-winning film Salaam Bombay! In her work, she regularly moved between India and the United States, creating such acclaimed films as Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, and Vanity Fair. Scripted by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes and starring Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp, Nair’s Vanity Fair recreates the rollicking comic novel through the eyes of an Indian-American filmmaker. “The brilliance of Nair’s vision,” explains The Spool, “is how she takes the images, references, and suggestions of India latent in the original text and brings them to the ultimate fore.”

Watch Vanity Fair on Apple TV or Amazon!