28 Asian-American Filmmakers You Need To Know

From blockbuster directors to ones behind earnest indie dramas, here’s a list of famous and not-yet-famous names. It’s hardly complete, but it’s a place to start if you’re interested in Asian-American talent behind the camera.

Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki

Araki, who is Japanese-American, is a pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement of the '90s. He really established his career on the provocations of his « teen apocalypse trilogy, » a trio of movies from the '90s about sex, violence, and alienation featuring increasingly famous and soon-to-be-famous casts, including Rose McGowan (who's spoken about her experiences shooting The Doom Generation), Johnathon Schaech, Heather Graham, Christina Applegate, Ryan Phillippe, and Kathleen Robertson. Since, he's expanded into an examination of the dynamics of a « throuple » (Splendor), a drama about the effects of sexual abuse on a pair of young men (Mysterious Skin), a combination college/end of the world movie (Kaboom), and a thriller and coming-of-age story starring Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard).

Where to start: It may not be obviously representative of his career as a whole, but Araki's 2007 Smiley Face is the best damn pot comedy ever made, and features Anna Faris in her funniest film role.

Smiley Face: First Look International

Jon M. Chu

Jon M. Chu

Was Chu's finest moment when he documented Justin Bieber's then-iconic bowl cut being shaken out in luxuriant 3D slow motion in 2011's Justin Bieber: Never Say Never? Or when he sent Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and Camille (Alyson Stoner) shuffling delightfully down the sidewalk to a remixed Frank Sinatra in 2010's Step Up 3D? Chu's ascendance to big-studio director has been tied to music and dance since his creation of web series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Now the Taiwanese-American filmmaker is trying to bring the same sense of spectacle to magician heist sequels Now You See Me 2 and 3, and after that, he's been in talks to take on the adaptation of Kevin Kwan's best-selling 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians, having promised on Twitter that there will be « amazing Asian actors cast in EVERY SINGLE ROLE. »

Where to start: Chu's Step Up franchise contributions — he did 2: The Streets and 3D — are a good time, with or without Channing Tatum.

Step Up 3D: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Destin Daniel Cretton

Destin Daniel Cretton

Cretton, who is half Japanese, made his feature debut with I Am Not a Hipster, a film about a talented and troubled indie musician living in San Diego, which is not nearly as obnoxious as its title might have you expect. But it's the 2013 feature Short Term 12 — which the filmmaker adapted from a short film he'd made a few years before — that drew a great amount of attention, thanks to fantastic performances and a deftly drawn story about a group home that offers deep empathy to all of its characters. Next up, Cretton's due to reunite with his Short Term 12 star Brie Larson for The Glass Castle, an adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ memoir.

Where to start: Short Term 12 showcases Cretton's eye for talent. In addition to standout acting from Larson (who went on to win an Oscar three years later), the film shines a light on pre–Brooklyn Nine-Nine Stephanie Beatriz, pre–Mr. Robot Rami Malek, and Keith Stanfield in his first feature role.

Short Term 12: Cinedigm

Cary Joji Fukunaga

Cary Joji Fukunaga

The Oakland-born, half-Japanese director made his feature debut in Spanish with Sin Nombre, a drama about a Honduran girl (Paulina Gaitán) and a Mexican gang member (Edgar Flores) attempting a dangerous border crossing into the U.S. Fukunaga continued to roam the earth in subsequent films, to England for Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender; and to Africa for child soldier story Beasts of No Nation, with Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah. But Fukunaga made the biggest splash of his career so far on TV, directing every episode of Season 1 of True Detective, creating the show's distinctively cinematic look (and rocking some serious man bun while promoting it), and then wisely hopping off before Season 2.

Where to start: Beasts of No Nation, which Fukunaga also shot, turns the visual lushness he brought to True Detective into a dreamlike haze in order to represent how a young boy surrenders to the unanchored, violent life he's been forced into.

Beasts of No Nation: Netflix


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