A group photo of the "FutureProof" team.

Five mixed-Asian filmmakers to watch in 2024

These creatives' work defines the current moment in indie filmmaking and the future of entertainment

The "FutureProof" team: Top row, from left: Jason Chau, Jason Amerling, Connie Shi, Lee Hubilla, Sagan Chen, Bradley Tangonan, Chris Cadawas. Bottom row, from left: Andrew Denalte, Tessa Travis, Frances Li, Justine Sweetman, Qianzhi Shen.

Stephanie B. Chang

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

Film and television have recently gone through an extended period of contraction. From the workforce’s shrinkage effect and shutdown of festivals during the pandemic to navigating the near-total stoppage of work during the dual SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, new film acquisitions and content creation have ground to a minimum. After several years of delayed rollouts, extended shoots, and trying conditions, audiences are clamoring for a renaissance of entertainment. And boy, did 2023 deliver. It was an exceptional year for representation and mixed Asians in film.

As a filmmaker myself, I was lucky enough to represent some of my projects on the festival circuit and bear witness to the release of several exciting new projects. Throughout my journey across multiple festivals worldwide, I couldn’t help but notice the phenomenal amount of mixed-Asian folks dominating programming.

I wanted to highlight a few of these great voices and their careers to keep the creative wave going. What did I learn about our community by talking to these filmmakers about their projects? The future of film, and mixed-Asian representation, is just beginning.

I spoke with some exciting emerging voices about their filmmaking journeys thus far and what they hope the future holds for them. Enjoy their conversations and takeaways and look out for their work—2024 is on track to be an even bigger year!

Be sure to check out MAM for full interviews!

Maegan Houang, writer/director
(Shōgun, The Sympathizer, Astonishing Little Feet)

Mixed-Asian American writer and director Maegan Houang stands in front of a curtain.

Writer and director Maegan Houang.

Courtesy of Maegan Houang

Angela Wong Carbone: Astonishing Little Feet has such a transportive texture. You can almost feel the silk, the coal that has been burning outside. How did you decide to make this film?
Maegan Houang: I was reading The Making of Asian America by Erica Lee. And I think she mentions Afong Moy in one line. And I was immediately curious. “The first documented Chinese woman to come to the United States was brought by merchants to sell goods because people wanted to look at her peculiar bound feet.” When I read it, I just felt a deep affinity with her, like, “This is how people in the West are taught to view Asian-looking women.” They're taught to see them as a commodity, exotify them, and hypersexualize them.

We learn so little about Asian American history, not only from school but within our own community and families. It hinders our ability to feel safe. The more we understand that terrible things happened, the more we understand that those terrible things are part of a larger system and not so much to do with us personally, as people.

I felt pretty different growing up in a predominantly white place. I am mixed race, but my last name is Asian and I look Asian American. I always felt I was being treated differently. I thought it was my own fault, I internalized what is really a systemic presumption from society. So I partially wanted to make this film for my younger self as an affirmation that much of the way I was perceived didn't really have anything to do with me.

AWC: Any words of wisdom about filmmaking? As a reference point for when we look back at your career?
MH: The more we look outside ourselves as filmmakers, the more we can meaningfully explore and discover the truth of life. The goal is to create moments where people feel seen or learn something new about their human experience. I always long for more experimentation and exploration. I hope that if I am allowed and able to make films until I'm quite elderly, my work will be really different from the work I'm making now.

Houang’s Astonishing Little Feet is now playing on shortoftheweek and Nowness Asia. Stream FX’s Shōgun on Hulu and catch The Sympathizer on Max.

Emily Jampel, writer/director/actor
(Mānoa Valley, Lucky Fish)

Black and white image of director Emily Jampel standing in front of a tree while wearing a black scarf.

Director Emily Jampel.

Devin Blaskovich

AWC: In your latest film, Mānoa Valley, the story centers on a young woman who is not sure what she’s supposed to become. Why does that time of life intrigue you?
Emily Jampel: I love coming-of-age movies. It’s a very visceral time. It’s the first time you're asking big questions, like, “Who do I want to be? Where do I belong? What do I do with my life?”

As I get older, I’m reliving versions of the same relationships or situations I had at that time in my life. There’s something about revisiting what feels like the original place where it began as an investigation of those emotions and experiences. It's also more exciting because everything's the first time. There’s a huge sense of the unknown. Retrospectively, the stakes were never lower, but also in some ways, the stakes felt so high.

That was probably when I felt everything the most in life. And for films, that's very exciting. 

AWC: What would you leave in a time capsule for your future filmmaker self?
EJ: I've discovered that I really love directing. Having made a few films and projects, I feel really confident and comfortable in that role. What I'm trying to figure out is the rest of my life. 

I hope when I'm older I can figure out how to achieve more balance. Years ago, I would just dive into work obsessively. But, films are also about life. You need to have a balanced life to sustainably make films and be happy. With films, the goal is always out of reach: “Once I finish this script, once I get enough money, once I find the perfect producer, then I can stop freaking out.”

Beyond the roller coaster, you’ve also gotta live your life.

Emily Jampel’s Mānoa Valley is set to premiere at the Aspen Film Festival in April. Jampel’s documentary Minseo is available to stream on NOWNESS Asia.

Chelsie Pennello, writer/director

A portrait of filmmaker Chelsie Pennello in a denim jumpsuit, against a yellow-orange background.

Chelsie Pennello.

Courtesy of Yumeji House Pictures

AWC: As Asian Americans, we all experience a spectrum of emotion, but it's not necessarily shown on screen. How do you feel about the canon of AA+PI representation and how do you feel your voice and Mandarins fit in?
Chelsie Pennello: I had a very Asian upbringing. The community and friends that my mom had were all Asian in a very Taiwanese community in the D.C. metro area.

The way that we approached the funeral was [how] the siblings, like me, are all second generation. Putting this funeral together when they’re not fully aware how these traditions work…they're doing the best with what they know. They probably were like, “Well, mom raised us and spent a lot of time in this Chinese community center. So, we'll have the funeral here with the community that we grew up in.” Just like the classic Asian American experience of doing the best with what you've been taught, but obviously, there's gonna be gaps because you live in a different country than the country that your parents were from.

I feel very strongly that equitable representation of women and Asian American women and Asian Americans in the media is not propping up a POC character as this perfect hero. That feels like a major disservice to what we are and how diverse we can be.

With the lead character in the film, I really wanted to write someone who was deeply imperfect, deeply flawed, and failed her way into a moment of grace. I feel so strongly that that's the way forward.

AWC: Has your mom seen the film?
CP: I was having nightmares about [her seeing it]. I was like, “Oh my God, she's gonna think I hate her.”

And then when we had our little private screening for cast and crew, she said afterward she teared up and it made her think about her relationship with her mom and how her mom never said “I love you” to her. It was actually the best possible response from her.

Chelsie Pennello’s Mandarins premiered on Film Shortage on February 26, 2024. Watch the making of Mandarins here.

Alexandra Qin (writer/director)

Writer and director Alexandra Qin stands outside the Sundance Film Festival.

Writer and director Alexandra Qin.

Bianca Catbagan

AWC: You're very open about your recovery process and how it influenced Thirstygirl. I think understanding addiction has to do with getting in touch with that inner child. Were there any challenges or takeaways from that experience?
Alexandra Qin: So many Asian women have come up to me saying, “Thank you for writing this. There are never roles like this. It's always the best friend, the nerd, etc.”

I wanted to write a nuanced, compassionate portrayal of sex addiction within the context of a sister and family dynamic, exploring the root of trauma to addiction. I wanted to write it from the perspective of an Asian woman because that is not something I had seen before.

My personal writer's logline is that I write fucked-up characters of Asian descent because that's who I am.

There's this level of emotional danger of revealing yourself so much. I think as a sober person, my life is pretty even-keel. My new drug is kind of the emotional excitement I get from making very exhibitionistic art.

AWC: Are there any things that you're ruminating on after this experience about film?
AQ: One thing that I hear a lot about my projects is, “Casting is going to be an issue,” because I only write protagonists of Asian descent. “There are very few bankable, name actors of Asian descent that can get the project greenlit.”

I want that to change. I want people to be excited about taking chances on lesser-known talent and be excited about discovering or uplifting Asian talent and not see that as a challenge to fundraising, which is what I've heard from literally every single producer that I've talked to. 

Not everyone is down for what I want to do, but some really are. There are so many Asian leaders in the film community who are there to uplift our work.

Alexandra Qin’s Thirstygirl played at Palm Springs Shorts Fest in 2023 and Sundance Film Festival in 2024. Follow updates on the film on Instagram and Alexandra Qin’s Linktree.

Bradley Tangonan, director
(FutureProof, Airdrop, Speed Dating)

A portrait of director and co-creator of "FutureProof," Bradley Tangonan.

Director and co-creator of "FutureProof," Bradley Tangonan.

Courtesy of Bradley Tangonan

AWC: Do you think the near-future sci-fi story allows us to tell stories about Asian American or mixed-Asian experiences in a different way?
Bradley Tangonan: The natural response to any new frontier is fear and anxiety. When I think about the Asian American experience, especially the mixed experience, I think it’s inherently adaptable and inventive.

We are often stepping into social spaces as new territory, where the path isn't clear in terms of how we should behave, or what we should or are expected to do. It dovetails nicely with the Asian American experience and near-future sci-fi, where you have to find a way to navigate fear, anxiety, and excitement in a new territory.

There’s something specifically Asian American about each topic we're exploring. With Airdrop, we explore how different Asian Americans deal with feelings. Some are more on the sleeve, some more repressive. Everyone deals with it differently.

AWC: How did you flesh out the season together with your team?
BT: Airdrop and Speed Dating were more or less put together. But from there it was like, “What do we do now?” The short form allowed us to iterate our process. It worked like a democracy, figuring out how you get everyone's voice, but not slow things down. 

Having a number of voices in the writers' room talk about how they think as Asian Americans was a good opportunity to tap into different experiences. The only way to break through stereotypes is through specificity and the best way to have specific characters is to have people who understand that lived experience to be the ones creating the story.

Bradley Tangonan's FutureProof (produced by Justine Sweetman and Tessa Travis) premieres the first week of May 2024. Watch the first episode, Airdrop, here.

Published on May 6, 2024

Words by Angela Wong Carbone

Angela Wong Carbone (she/her) is a decorated actor and writer. Her writing has been recognized by AT&T Hello Lab, Hillman Grad’s mentorship program, The Gotham, Slamdance and others. Raised in New York by an immigrant Chinese mother and Italian American father, Wong Carbone’s personal curiosity toward identity saturates her writing and she has contributed to Eileen Kelly’s Killer and a Sweet Thang and Lulu Gioiello’s Far Near. As an actor, Wong Carbone has starred in NBC’s Chicago Med, AppleTV+’s WeCrashed and IFC Films’ Resurrection. In 2020, she was selected for the 19th annual ABC Talent Showcase. Wong Carbone holds a degree in architecture from Cornell University and makes a mean lasagna.