Public Media Celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 1, 2024

Corky Lee

Corky Lee, the ‘undisputed unofficial Asian American photographer laureate,’ is the subject of a documentary feature airing on PBS and a short premiering on the digital series American Masters Shorts this May. Photo by Jennifer Takaki. 

Public media offers a wide-ranging selection of programming exploring the history, music, culture and experiences of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders during May, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

On PBS

Two broadcast premieres on PBS in May chronicle Asian Americans exploring and documenting their heritage.

 

 
Official Preview | Now Hear This "The Composer is Yoo" | Great Performances on PBS

The Composer is Yoo, premiering May 3 on Season 5 of “Now Hear This” on PBS’ “Great Performances” and streaming on PBS.org, follows host Scott Yoo as he tries his hand at composing. After seeking advice from other composers, Yoo goes to Japan to find inspiration from his own heritage.

 

 
Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story 

Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story, premiering May 13 on PBS and PBS.org, is a feature documentary by filmmaker Jennifer Takaki about Corky Lee, the self-proclaimed “undisputed unofficial Asian American photographer laureate,” who chronicled the Asian American Pacific Islander experience for more than 50 years. “Photographic Justice” was the name of one of Lee’s most famous photos, a re-creation of the picture commemorating the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, UT. Because none of the nearly 11,000 Chinese railroad workers were included in the original 1869 photo, Lee recruited hundreds of Asian Americans and Chinese nationals to go to Promontory Point to redo the photo 145 years later. Lee died in 2021 of COVID-19 shortly after documenting neighborhood watch groups in New York protecting the community from anti-Asian hate.

In addition, Dear Corky, a documentary short narrated by Lee and featuring many of his photos, premieres this month on the American Masters Shorts digital series. The film was made by Curtis Chin, co-founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.

Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story was supported by the Center for Asian American Media and was featured at last year’s CAAMFest, the annual celebration of film, music, and food. CAAMFest 2024 presents more than 100 works from May 9-19 in San Francisco and Oakland, including screenings of CAAM-supported films “And So It Begins,” “Light of the Setting Sun,” “Above and Below the Ground,” “Home Court” and “Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement.”

Several PBS stations are offering extensive programming on air and online. For example:

  • PBS Hawai’i offers a diverse selection of programming, including locally produced digital exclusives such as “The Technique in Tekniqlingz,” about Filipino folk dancing; “Elena’s Pork Adobo Fried Rice Omelette,” about the origins of the Elena’s Restaurant specialty; and “Passing On Niigata Ondo,” a traditional Hawaiian dance and its 2022 revival after 50 years; and “Inside the Japanese Sword Society of Hawaii.”
  • KQED offers extensive TV listings of new and encore programming, including Bay Area-based documentaries “Try Harder!” about the college admissions  process at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, where nearly half of its students identify as Asian Americans; “Plague at the Golden Gate,” an American Experience documentary on the bubonic plague crisis in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1900; and “Vanishing Chinatown: The World of the Mays Photo Studio,” highlighting everyday life in San Francisco’s Chinatown a century ago, as captured in hundreds of photographs rescued from a Chinatown dumpster.
  • PBS SoCal offers a curated slate of more than 20 programs celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the locally produced documentary “Snapshots of Confinement,” telling the stories of what life was like for Japanese Americans in World War II internment camps through the photographs they took; and the PBS SoCal premiere of “To Be Takei,” a documentary on George Takei’s life as an actor, activist, and pop culture icon.

 On WORLD

WORLD, a multiplatform hub for diverse documentary programs, is offering a slate of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander documentaries. In addition to numerous encore broadcasts, WORLD is offering two premieres: 

  • In Search of Bengali Harlem, May 9 on “America ReFramed.” It follows playwright Alaudin Ullah as he traces his parents’ stories from mid-20th-century Harlem to Bangladesh, unveiling intertwined histories of South Asian Muslims, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans. 
  • Chinatown Auxiliary, May 13 on “Local, USA.” It features a group of Chinese residents, now grandpas and grandmas, who have patrolled the streets of Manhattan's Chinatown for decades. Patrolling in NYPD Auxiliary uniform is their way of protecting the few blocks they call home.

On Radio and Online:

 
Fujii Kaze: Tiny Desk Concerts JAPAN

NPR Music recently announced Tiny Desk Concerts JAPAN, which features Fujii Kaze in the inaugural episode on YouTube. The series of half-hour concerts, offered in partnership with NHK, The Japan Broadcasting Corporation, spotlights emerging and established Japanese artists and airs on NHK. The first international Tiny Desk Concerts series, Tiny Desk Korea, was launched in August 2023 and is also available on YouTube.

NPR Live Sessions, a music discovery service from NPR music stations across the country, highlights music videos from AANHPI artists on the main page of Live Sessions for the month.

Public radio station KEXP in Seattle kicks off Pushing Boundaries, KEXP’s celebration of AANHPI music, with a live broadcast from Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum on May 1. KEXP features radio, podcasts and live performances, and hosts an art installation in the KEXP Gathering Space this month.

Inheriting, an eight-episode podcast presenting a journey through the lives of seven families reckoning with major moments in Asian American and Pacific Islander history, launches May 23. The narrative a podcast from LAist Studios and NPR is hosted by Emily Kwong, who will provide an immersive look at some of the stories from families featured in the podcast at a live event  on June 27.

StoryCorps updated its Celebrating AANHPI Voices online collection this May. These conversations include one featuring Johnny Itliong describing the sacrifices made by his father Larry Itliong, a Filipino migrant worker who led the historic Delano Grape Strike of 1965. 

 The American Archive of Public Broadcasting launched The United States and the Philippines Interviews Collection, which includes more than 70 unedited interviews recorded for the three-part documentary series, "The United States and the Philippines: In Our Image," which aired in 1989.

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