Film by director Winder inspired by the experience of Asian-American childhood

Filmmaker Jeremy Thao knows that good food is often the catalyst for good conversation. And when it comes to uncomfortable topics like race and racism, breaking bread together can be an important first step to opening up meaningful and much-needed discussions.

Thao’s personal history with cooking served as inspiration for his first film, “Wok Man,” which will be shot this summer. Currently a resident of Athens, Thao’s family moved from Fresno, California to Winder, Georgia when he was 12 years old. His experiences as an Asian American served as the basis for the semi-autobiographical short.

“(My dad) took us to Georgia to be part of the first wave of grocery stores selling sushi,” Thao told the Banner-Herald. “He and my uncle were some of Publix’s first sushi chefs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

Describing the culture shock he experienced in Winder as “intense for a kid”. Thao rose from a richly diverse school in Fresno to a minority as a member of the Asian Hmong ethnic group. Thao said racism was something he experienced, but he and his family never talked about.

(The story continues after the video…)

Jeremy Thao Wins Film Impact Georgia Scholarship

After spending four years brainstorming the idea of ​​a film based on his experience, Thao applied for and won the Film Impact Georgia grant in the spring of 2021. The grant provided $5,000 to help make “Wok Man.”

Thao’s crowdfunding campaign to complete production funds has reached more than half of its goal since it began on May 30, 2022. He said the first contributions came from Winder’s friends, classmates and teachers.

“Winning the grant was amazing because I started (connecting) with so many Asian American creatives around (Georgia),” Thao said. “I had been so disconnected from that community, and they gave me such grace and showered me with support. It was awesome.

Kurt Yue appears in a scene by Athens-based filmmaker Jeremy Thao "Wok Man." Thao received a Film Impact Georgia grant in 2021 to direct the film.

While researching “Wok Man,” which is set in a Chinese restaurant and centers on owner Sam Li (Kurt Yue) and his son Andy (Corey Jung), Thao read about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 , a law passed by Congress that imposed a 10-year ban on Chinese workers immigrating to the United States. One of the few exceptions was for restaurant workers, which led to a boom in Chinese restaurants across America.

Corey Jung appears in a scene by Athens-based filmmaker Jeremy Thao

In “Wok Man”, Andy witnesses for the first time how his parents are treated daily by customers, and he begins to see that in order for his father to pursue the American Dream, Sam must work a job he doesn’t. t want to do. Thao calls the film “a love letter” to his own family, but says it’s also an “act of resistance” to the idea that becoming a filmmaker isn’t a legitimate career ambition.

“I and a lot of immigrant and refugee children feel like we had to grow up a little too fast,” Thao said. “This story is a spotlight on voices and people who have traditionally been considered too boring or unworthy of the silver screen.”