Flicks With Nicki – More than ‘Minari’Nicki Salcedo. Photo by Dean Hesse.
I read “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston my freshman of college. Though it was about the Chinese-American experience, the narrative of being caught between two cultures resonated with me. I understood her reflection and longing even though it wasn’t my own. As a Jamaican kid who grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I still wonder who I am. I still find myself drawn to immigrant stories.
“Minari” reminds us that the American dream doesn’t solely live in the hustle of big cities. Immigrants land in all parts of the United States. Jacob Yi (Steven Yuen, “The Walking Dead”) moves his family from California to Arkansas, where he dreams of turning the land into a garden of Korean vegetables. The alternative is the job of chicken sexing where people sort the animals by gender. The females are kept for eggs and meat, but the males are not needed.
Jacob is not a man to be discarded. He works hard on the land and quickly loses focus on his wife, children, and mother-in-law Soonja (Youn Yuh-Jung). Jacob is guilty of wanting to change their life while his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) needs to play it safe. The quest for purpose and belonging never change no matter how long you’ve lived here or where you’re from.
I watched “Minari” braced for trauma, racism, and violence. Paul (Will Patton), the religious fanatic who helps Jacob, has a strange aura around him. The boy at church might be a bully. His working-class father might be a predator. We find that the Americans in this story are guilty of ignorance, but not hate. The Yi family feels people watching them. And we are also watching. Sometimes the intense pressure to perform makes us bold. Determined. I remember those eyes. Curious stares can be both hurtful and kind.
The Asian Diaspora is not just about immigrants. I grew up with Korean friends in Georgia who had newly arrived in the U.S. and Korean friends whose families had already lived in the American South for generations. While I am drawn to immigrant history, I know these are not the only stories to be told. No group should only be known for their enslavement, genocide, and journeys to freedom.
“Minari” veers away from the narrative that The South is backwards and the immigrant is without fault. Jacob makes mistakes. Arkansas in not the cause of his downfall. Director Lee Isaac Chung captures what it feels like to dream and to be lost seeking that dream. Yuen earned a nomination for Best Actor, and Youn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the irreverent grandmother. This is a love song for Arkansas and one experience of being Korean in America. It is a movie that both inverts and satisfies our expectations, Grade B+
I grew up in a house where my father loved the book “Shogun” by James Clavell. I still have his original hardback copy. He loved the mini-series that aired in the 1980’s starring Richard Chamberlain. But even as a child, I disliked it. I couldn’t quiet express my discomfort until years later. The hero made me feel uncomfortable. I recognized the trouble with the White Savior at an early age. As a society today, we have a better awareness of how we might honor and engage in other cultures without turning our interest into a fetish or appropriation.
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. This is a great time to support the arts by Asian American and Pacific Islanders in this country and Asian people everywhere. Read novels or biographies. Consider watching a documentary. Fortunately, we have access to movies and TV from around the world. Watch “Minari” or these other options:
“Minari” (2020) Grade B+
Man moves to Arkansas in the 1980’s to start his own farming business.
“Space Sweepers” (2021) Grade C
Space scavengers find a strange piece of junk, a little girl.
“Sweet Home” – TV Series (2020) Grade A-
Monster apocalypse with lots of gore, but I also shed a few tears.
“The Half of It” (2020) Grade A+
The best movie of 2020. Period. Girl helps boy find love and friendship.
“Kim’s Convenience” – TV Series (2016-2021) Grade A
Family in Toronto navigates community and culture.
“Parasite” (2019) Grade A-
A tutor intertwines his life and secrets with a rich family.
“The Farewell” (2019) Grade A+
A family returns to China to say goodbye to the grandmother.
“The Promised Neverland” – TV Series (2019) Grade B-
Orphans discover that they are food for monsters.
“The Wandering Earth” (2019) Grade C
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019) Grade C+
Second chance at love for two old friends.
“The Witch: The Subversion” (2018) Grade B
Girls realizes she has strange powers as a part of a government experiment.
“Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) Grade C+
A New Yorker goes to meet her boyfriend’s very wealthy family.
“Train to Busan” (2016) Grade A
Zombies on a train. I also cried a little in this one.
“The Host” (2007) Grade B
Big fish terrorize a city.
“Oldboy” (2003) Grade C
This movie is so messed up. Maybe you should not watch it.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) Grade A+
Sweeping historical saga with lots of fighting and best touching of two hands in cinematic history.
“Akira” (1988) Grade C-
I’m still not sure what happened in this movie. But it’s a classic.
For more on Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
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