January 2009

This film about a Lao immigrant’s life growing up in Brooklyn has received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Laos is making a big impact on Hollywood this year.


The life of Laotian immigrant Thavisouk Phrasavath serves as a metaphor for the far-reaching repercussions that are still felt from America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. When his family suffered persecution following the U.S. withdrawal from Southeast Asia as a result of his father’s work for the CIA, Phrasavath’s mother fled with eight of her ten children to a life of poverty in Brooklyn.


I just watched the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino and was surprised to see it featured a Hmong family. They feature very prominently as central characters. Clint Eastwood’s character, Walt, a grumpy Korean War veteran, befriends his Hmong neighbours and in particular a young boy called Thao. Tau gets into trouble with a local Hmong gang, and Walt intervenes to protect him and his family.

The characters never specifically mention they come from Laos. Things that are culturally familiar to me are a wall textile, traditional Hmong clothing worn by Thao’s sister, and the mention of it being socially unacceptable to touch the head of a Hmong person.

It’s a very good film and is currently ranked 88th in the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 films of all time. The film used real Hmong people in almost all the roles. It’s the most prominent example of Hmong culture in the history of Hollywood. Clint Eastwood amazes me with his ability to break new ground with this excellent film at age 78.