Kanopy Streaming: Asian American Documentary Films

Movie night just got better with Kanopy. This new streaming video service offers a wide selection of classic cinema, indie films, and thought-provoking documentaries. KCLS users can sign up using their library card and watch 5 films every month. You can even download apps for Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and more.

Looking for ideas on what to watch? In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we're highlighting documentary films we're excited to see, by and about Asian Americans.

Asian Americans on Film Playlist

1. To Be Takei Oh my! This award-winning documentary takes an intimate look at the life and legend of George Takei. Best known for his groundbreaking role of Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, Takei is one of the most visible Asian-American actors of all time. However, Takei's true legacy may be his off-screen advocacy. When Takei was just a boy, his family was uprooted from their home in Los Angeles and forced into Japanese Internment. Takei uses his wit, wisdom, wry humor, and popular social media presence as a platform to discuss the historical legacy of xenophobia in the U.S. and advocate forLGBTQIA+ rights.

2. Painted Nails This documentary shares an immigrant’s journey and one woman’s rise to activism in the face of adversity. Van Hoang, a Vietnamese immigrant and nail salon owner, sees her American dream crumble as she discovers that her health problems are the result of toxic chemicals in the products used in her salon. She testifies before Congress to speak out not only for workers in nail salons, most of whom are Asian immigrants, but for all people exposed to the toxic chemicals in personal care products.

3. Gaysians This short documentary is an exploration of family, immigration, and language through the voices of five queer and trans* Asian Americans from New York City. The subjects share stories about their families, and in doing so, shed light on the complicated histories that have shaped these intimate and personal relationships. This moving short is an illuminating patchwork documentary exploring family and culture through the personal stories of a diverse group of LGBTQ individuals. Among the folks featured in this short are the trans South Asian performance-art duo DarkMatter, Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian, who create powerful poetry on privilege, oppression, and intersectional identities.

4. Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai This documentary pays tribute to a life joyfully and gracefully lived by surf legend Rell "Kapolioka'ehukai" Sunn. Sunn was a founding member of the Women's Professional Surfing Association and a beloved breast cancer activist. With breathtaking water scenes and captivating archival footage of surf culture, Heart of the Sea is an important look at Hawai'i's integral part of America's rich cultural heritage and a stirring portrait of a courageous legend. The film serves as a moving portrait of a woman who blazed an unconventional path and breached the predominantly male domain of professional surfing, opening the way for other women.

5. Who is Arthur Chu? This acclaimed documentary follows the controversial 11-time Jeopardy! champion Arthur Chu as he attempts to leverage his viral celebrity to make positive social change online. During his winning-streak, Chu attracted both support and criticism on Twitter, some of it directed at his Asian heritage, as a child of Taiwanese immigrants. Chu decided to engage with these trolls and continues to speak out as against sexism in the technology sector, misogyny online, Gamergate, and racial discrimination.

Browse the full playlist on Kanopy for even more great documentaries about Asian Americans that challenge stereotypes and illuminate history.

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