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'Asian-Americans can often feel invisible in this country' | Georgia filmmaker pushes for more inclusive voices while embarking on next film

Jeremy Thao's latest screenplay, "Wokman," won a grant from Film Impact Georgia.

CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Jeremy Thao has spent several years working in Georgia's independent film industry. But oftentimes, he says he is the only person of color on set. 

Thao's latest project, "Wokman," is a screenplay about a 10-year-old Chinese boy in the late 90’s who’s given more responsibility at his family’s restaurant. Thao, who stated he's proud of his Hmong heritage, explained the short film highlights what it means to be an Asian immigrant living in America.

"Asian-Americans can often feel invisible in this country," Thao said. "Being a freelancer in this industry, I know that to encourage the involvement of young people of color, other people of color have go to create the opportunities, jobs and the space for others to come in and get a strong foothold in this industry."

Thao recently won a $5,000 grant from Film Impact Georgia, a nonprofit that helps independent filmmakers statewide give a voice to underrepresented communities. The group, founded in 2019, also offers training and development. Executive Director Melissa Simpson said independent filmmakers and crews run into obstacles major production companies don't have to deal with. Expensive location prices, acquiring the necessary equipment and a lack of statewide governmental support for independent filmmakers all make it difficult for those not backed by major companies. 

"The last two years have been a challenge, so there has been less happening in the last two years," Simpson said. "But, we’re seeing creators that are being able to push past that and not allow the pandemic to completely put a hold on their dreams. They’re getting out there, making films and doing it safely.”

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Film Impact Georgia offers two short-film grants each year worth $5,000 to try and mitigate any barriers of entry into filmmaking. The grants include a mentor who helps creators through the process of production, post-production and a film festival strategy. So far, five different filmmakers have received the grants out of 120 people who apply for the grant each cycle. The current cycle ends March 4 and it is free to enter.

For Thao, the last couple of years have presented a dichotomy for those in the AAPI community: invisibility and targeting. He said uplifting Asian-American voices can help dispel myths and result in more understanding.  

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"The sharing of our cultures, the sharing of our foods, and stories is what makes us visible," Thao said. "It’s what makes us heard. The time is right now for people of color and marginalized communities to come forward with their stories. It’s our responsibility as a greater community to help these people tell their stories in the fashion that they want to do it.”