Groundbreaking Documentary Series ‘Asian Americans’ to Premiere This Month

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Production crew for the PBS series “Asian Americans” at a rally at the Crystal City (Texas) Detention Center. (PBS)

At the Television Critics Association Press Tour, PBS and WETA announced “Asian Americans,” a new five-part documentary series that will premiere May 11 and 12 on PBS.

Narrated by actors Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, the series examines what the 2010 U.S. Census identifies as the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. Told through individual lives and personal histories, “Asian Americans” explores the impact of this group on the country’s past, present, and future.

Led by a team of Asian American filmmakers, including Academy Award-nominated series producer Renee Tajima-Peña (“Who Killed Vincent Chin?,” “No Más Bebés”), “Asian Americans” examines the significant role of Asian Americans in shaping American history and identity, from the first wave of Asian immigrants in the 1850s and identity politics during the social and cultural turmoil of the 20th century to modern refugee crises in a globally connected world.

“As America’s home for documentaries, PBS is committed to telling stories that illuminate and celebrate the rich diversity of our country,” said Paula Kerger, PBS president and CEO. “We are proud to share this important series with our audiences, and to deepen understanding about the extraordinary impact of Asian Americans on our national identity.”

Tamlyn Tomita

“‘Asian Americans’ is a comprehensive multi-platform initiative that will embrace the question of what it means to be an American,” said Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA. “Following our previous series, ‘The Jewish Americans,’ ‘The Italian Americans’ and ‘Latino Americans,’ WETA remains committed to revealing the significant stories of the entire American people.”

“We are proud to support the Center for Asian American Media for the important work they do bringing programs about the Asian American experience to public media and audiences across the country,” said Pat Harrison, CPB president and CEO. “CPB is committed to supporting diverse content for and about people of all backgrounds, and ‘Asian Americans’ is a powerful example of our mission.”

“We are proud to have WETA as a partner on this milestone series, which weaves the histories of many Asian American communities within the broad sweep of American history,” said Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media. “These are American stories: stories of resilience in the face of racism, of overcoming challenges as refugees from war and strife, of making contributions in all sectors of society: business, technology, military service, and the arts. These Asian American experiences and voices provide a vital foundation for a future fast approaching, in which no single ethnic or racial group defines America, in which shared principles will define who we are as Americans.”

Daniel Dae Kim (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

Accompanied by robust educational, engagement, and digital components, this groundbreaking initiative will bring a new perspective to the American experience. Partnering with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, the series will aim to expand audience reach and engage diverse perspectives through targeted community events, impactful education initiatives and integrated digital content.

“Asian Americans” is a production of WETA Washington, D.C. and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) for PBS, in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Flash Cuts and Tajima-Peña Productions. The series executive producers are Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan for WETA; Stephen Gong and Donald Young for CAAM; Sally Jo Fifer for ITVS; and Jean Tsien. The series producer is Renee Tajima-Peña. The producer for Flash Cuts is Eurie Chung. The episode producers are S. Leo Chiang, Geeta Gandbhir and Grace Lee. The consulting producer is Mark Jonathan Harris.

Major funding for “Asian Americans” is provided by Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Ford Foundation/JustFilms, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Freeman Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Kay Family Foundation, Long Family Foundation, Spring Wang and California Humanities.

For more information, visit pbs.org.

Episode Descriptions

Episode 1: “Breaking Ground”

Monday, May 11, 8-9 p.m. (check local listings)

In an era of exclusion and U.S. empire, new immigrants arrive from China, India, Japan, the Philippines and beyond. Barred by anti-Asian laws, they become America’s first “undocumented immigrants,” yet they build railroads, dazzle on the silver screen, and take their fight for equality to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Episode 2: “A Question of Loyalty”

Monday, May 11, 9-10 p.m. (check local listings)

An American-born generation straddles their country of birth and their parents’ homelands in Asia. Those loyalties are tested during World War II, when families are imprisoned in detention camps, and brothers find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines.

Episode 3: “Good Americans”

Tuesday, May 12, 8-9 p.m. (check local listings)

During the Cold War years, Asian Americans are simultaneously heralded as a Model Minority, and targeted as the perpetual foreigner. It is also a time of bold ambition, as Asian Americans aspire for the first time to national political office and a coming culture-quake simmers beneath the surface.

Episode 4: “Generation Rising”

Tuesday, May 12, 9-10 p.m. (check local listings)

During a time of war and social tumult, a young generation fights for equality in the fields, on campuses and in the culture, and claim a new identity: Asian Americans. The war’s aftermath brings new immigrants and refugees who expand the population and the definition of Asian America.

Episode 5: Breaking Through

Tuesday, May 12, 10-11 p.m. (check local listings)

At the turn of the new millennium, the country tackles conflicts over immigration, race, economic disparity, and a shifting world order. A new generation of Asian Americans are empowered by growing numbers and rising influence but face a reckoning of what it means to be an American in an increasingly polarized society.

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