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Water Cooler: Films to celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month

UPDATED: Tue., May 11, 2021

2019’s “The Farewell” was directed by Lula Wang and starred Awkwafina, center, who won a Golden Globe for her performance in the film.  (After Credits)
2019’s “The Farewell” was directed by Lula Wang and starred Awkwafina, center, who won a Golden Globe for her performance in the film. (After Credits)

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, which celebrates the contributions and culture of Americans with Asian and Pacific Islander heritage across the United States. This represents a large group of people with a wide variety of cultures, from the entire Asian continent to the Pacific Islands, Micronesia and Polynesia.

This commemorative month started as many do, first as a commemorative week. This was changed in 1992. The celebration was originally meant to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant in the United States, which is considered to be May 7, 1843, as well as the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which came more than two decades later on May 10, 1869, and was largely created by the labor of Chinese immigrants.

If you want to take a dive into Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage this May, check out Kanopy’s collection of curated films for this commemorative month. You will find both narrative and documentary films offering a great look into the experiences, history and culture of Asian Pacific Americans. Those with a Spokane Library card can stream on for free. If you are a Spokane County Library District member, browse Hooplah’s Asian Pacific American Heritage collection.


“The Farewell” – Billi’s family grapples with a complicated plan to secretly visit their dying matriarch without letting her in on her diagnosis which predicts she only has a few weeks to live. Directed by Lulu Wang. Starring Awkwafina. 2019. 100 minutes.

“Columbus” – In a small and increasingly modern Midwestern town, Casey and Jin cross paths. Casey lives there with her mother and Jin there to visit his dying father. Despite feeling burdened by what the future holds, they find relief in one another’s company and the small surrounding town. Directed by Kogonada. Starring Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho and Parker Posey. 2017. 105 minutes.

“Lucky Grandma” – Grandma lives alone, spending her evenings chain-smoking in her apartment in Chinatown, New York. When she decides to test her luck at a casino on the words of a local fortune teller, things take a turn for the worst. Suddenly she is on the radar of a few local gangsters and only makes things worse when she decides to hire a rival gang member for protection. Directed by Sasie Sealy. Starring Tsai Chin. 2020. 87 minutes.


“Soul of a Banquet” – A profile of Cecilia Chiang, the matriarch of modern Chinese cooking, in the midst of preparing an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime banquet that tells a fascinating history. Directed by Wayne Wang. 2014. 79 minutes.

“Kumu Hina” – Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian, is inspired by traditional culture to pave a path towards claiming a place as a leader of the schools’ hula troupe. Directed by Dean Hamer. 2014. 77 minutes.

“95 and 6 to Go” – Filmmaker Kimi Takesue visits her Japanese-American grandfather in Hawai’i. He is a widower in his 90s who takes a break from his daily routines to become an unexpected collaborator in his granddaughter’s screenplay. Directed by Kimi Takesue. 2016. 85 minutes.

“Finding Kukan – Uncovering the Story of An Asian-American Female Producer from the 1940’s” – “Kukan,” a documentary about China’s activities during World War II, was the first feature documentary to receive an Academy Award in 1942, but it was unfortunately lost for decades. Filmmaker Robin Lung discovers a damaged print of it and begins a journey of learning its story and the two renegades who made it. Directed by Robin Lung. 2016. 76 minutes.

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