May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and as efforts to increase diversity are being made on screen, more is also being accomplished behind the camera. Before director John M. Chu made box office history last year when he helmed “Crazy Rich Asians” with an all-Asian cast for a major studio, there was Ang Lee winning Academy Awards in directing for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi.” And while not all movies find their way in wide release, there are some lurking in streaming and rental land waiting for the right audience. To celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, here are hidden gems you should check out throughout the year.
Mira Nair, “Mississippi Masala”
More than a decade before the India-born, New York-based director made “Monsoon Wedding,” “Vanity Fair” and “Queen of Katwe,” Nair arrived on the scene in 1991 with “Mississippi Masala.” Starring Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Charles S. Dutton and Sarita Choudhury, an Indian family moves to Mississippi after leaving Uganda during political turmoil. As the family grows into their new home, Meena (Choudhury) falls for Demetrius (Washington), a carpet cleaner. Tension between their families raises over their romance.
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Sin Nombre”
The first American to direct a James Bond film made his debut with the Spanish language film, “Sin Nombre.” With a cast of relative unknowns, the movie features a Honduran girl attempting to enter the United States to be reunited with her family and a Mexican gang member who is caught up in the violence of that life. Their paths cross in this action-thriller.
Jennifer Phang, “Advantageous”
Female directors are rarely seen behind the camera in science fiction, let allow Asian American women, and Phang wowed the film festival circuit with “Advantageous.” With Jacqueline Kim, Freya Adams, Samantha Kim and Ken Jeong, the movie takes place in the near future, where women are loving their fertility and aging and race can be done away with science. Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) loses her job and must find a way to make money. She decides to sign up for a procedure that would swipe her consciousness into a new body.
Justin Lin, “Shopping for Fangs”
He’s one of the directors in the “Fast & the Furious” franchise and took on “Star Trek Beyond,” but Lin was also a mainstay in the indie film world. What got him noticed was the MTV-backed “Better Luck Tomorrow,” about a group of overachieving Asian teens who get into crime. Before this teen drama was “Shopping for Fangs,” a Lynchian look at the lives of Asian Americans in Los Angeles. It involves a blond wig-wearing waitress, a man who think he’s a werewolf and a young John Cho.
Meera Menon, “Equity”
Movies set in the financial world breathe men in power suits, slicked-back hair and scrolls of market numbers. Rarely does a female-fronted film in this genre make an impact, but Menon’s “Equity” does more than that. Anna Gunn is an investment banker whose career is about to go down in flames. She’s the subject of a federal investigation for insider trading, she is being disrespected by her colleagues and her boyfriend is in trouble.
Ann Biller, “The Love Witch”
Biller delivered one of 2016’s most surprising hits in the retro-outfitted romantic horror flick “The Love Witch.” Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a love-crazed witch who seduces men until they die. Her seductive ways meet their match, but her spells and crazy ways catch up with her. Set in the modern day, the film pays tribute to the cult classics of the 1960s and 1970s with its wonderful costumes, staging and cinematography. Biller puts a feminist twist into her storytelling, and her Twitter feed is worth following for insight on gender inequality in the industry.