Minari is a film by - hyphenated - Korean-American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung. The film is partly autobiographical and fully beautiful.
Watching films in which white families speaking English represented the American experience and growing up with a father who "came to America believing in the romantic dream of what he saw in films like 'Big Country' and 'Giant' - this fertile land able to yield so much promise" (via), Lee Isaac Chung wanted to create something that transcends borders and feelings of national identity. And he certainly succeeded. Minari is "about taming the soil, like so many westerns", a drama "in an eminently American tradition". At the same time, the language mainly spoken is Korean. This intersection led to some controversy when the movie's Golden Globes category was not best film, but best foreign film (via).
While Minari is about immigrants arriving in an unfamiliar world, the film shows a light touch in its treatment of racial and cultural difference. The Yi children face what we would now call microaggressions from local kids, but these are presented as essentially benign in their cluelessness. This is true to his experience, Chung says. “I grew up feeling like the main obstacles that we were trying to overcome had more to do with how we survive together as a family, and less to do with external relationships that we had with the community. Racism did exist and I’ve experienced some horrific incidents, but when I think about those days, it’s more about farming and the difficulties of trying to love each other.” (via)
"A lot of people have had good discussions about what it means to be American, and we need to broaden our definition."
Lee Isaac Chung
"We grew up in rural Arkansas without any Koreans close by, and when I go to Korea feel out of place."
"Because growing up as an Asian-American and growing up as someone who is not white, oftentimes in this country you can feel as though you're a foreigner, or you're reminded of being a foreigner, even though you're not. Even though inside, internally, you feel completely American."
Lee Isaac Chung
"Growing up where I was, there were no Asians, no minorities, and there was always something to remind me of what I'm not. And when I go to Korea it's the same thing. I'm constantly reminded that I'm not Korean."
"I like the idea of all of us looking at the world with less of an emphasis on national borders and with more of an emphasis on shared humanity."
"A lot of times we have these categories that maybe don't fit the reality of human experience and human identity. I'm completely sympathetic to what a lot of people in my community are saying - that often as Asian Americans we're made to feel more foreign than we internally feel ourselves."
"I always tend to gravitate toward the idea of things being human: that this isolation I feel as an Asian American, even though it's real, other people have it too in their own way."
"I wanted to make something that transcends borders and gets beyond this feeling of national identity."
"Part of the fabric of America is that we have people from different countries who've come here and they are American, and yet they embrace their home ancestral culture. And this is their new home. And that's part of what makes this country unique in the history of human beings on this earth."
"I hope that anyone facing or experiencing discrimination will, first of all, take to heart that this is not their fault, and they are not alone in this. Secondly, I hope they find ways to plug into communities to help prevent negative feelings of discrimination from festering."
"Any time there is a film in a 'foreign language,' in Spanish or Korean or whatever language, it's usually not an American film. It's usually from another country."
"I grew up watching films of predominantly white families speaking in English, and that this represented the American experience."
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