‘MINARI’ highlights the many difficulties immigrant families in America face


Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Still from the film “MINARI”

By Mariyam Quaisar, Managing Editor

Director Lee Isaac Chung’s eye-opening film “MINARI” left me teary-eyed. The film illustrates the struggles of a Korean American family as they are on the search to accomplish their own “American dream.” 

“MINARI” was produced by A24 and Plan B Entertainment, and released for streaming on Feb. 26 on YouTube, Amazon Video and other platforms. The film, set in the 1980s, follows a family of two immigrant parents from Korea who moved to the United States and had two children, a daughter and a son. To achieve his dream of owning a 50-acre farm, the father moves his family from bustling California to a secluded field with a trailer home in Arkansas. The move causes tension between the husband and wife, while the family as a whole adjusts to their new lifestyle. 

“MINARI” beautifully captures the perils and pitfalls of an immigrant family trying to achieve the American dream. The husband works tirelessly every day to build upon his farm and his wife worries about their financial situation, especially considering their son’s congenital heart condition. The mother is constantly checking his vitals and scolding him to not run— something the young boy wants to do all the time. With the immigrant family’s financial troubles, constant medical care is hard to acquire; sometimes it comes down to having running water or saving the bits of money they make. While the husband and wife quarrel, the sister takes care of her brother and distracts him from the reality of their situation. 

Throughout the entire film, the acting is phenomenal. To me, the range of emotions the characters feel during such a difficult time in their lives is near perfect. 

As a daughter of two immigrant parents, I’ve witnessed firsthand the constant hard work and dedication it takes to build a life in the United States. The sacrifices that all members of the family must make just to live a decent life can make or break a family dynamic. It’s one thing to provide for yourself and another to provide for a family, especially with the pressure and necessity for stability within a home. “MINARI” is an incredible portrayal of how an immigrant family, and any struggling family, builds a home out of a house. 

The story of “MINARI” felt very realistic to me, which makes it all the more intriguing. The emotions of the characters help the audience understand the true weight of personal sacrifices, hard work, and financial uncertainty. 

My favorite characters were the grandma, played by the winner of the 1971 Blue Dragon Film Award for Best Leading Actress, South Korean actress Young Yuh-jung, and the son David, played by 7-year-old Alan S. Kim. Upon the arrival of his grandmother, Soonja, from Korea, David was quite upset and thought of her as “not a real grandma.” It was David’s first time meeting his grandmother, who brought along Korean customs and ideals— something unfamiliar to David. His grandma sits in boxers, screaming at wrestlers on the TV, and doesn’t know how to cook, which is not how David envisioned a grandmother. 

Over the course of the film, the dynamic of their relationship completely changes, going from David giving Soonja a glass of urine to drink instead of Mountain Dew, to him spending quality time with her as she builds up his confidence. One of the most striking moments of the film is when David is afraid to run due to his heart condition, and Soonja uses that moment to open his mind up to vulnerability and risk. 

Watching their relationship made me think about my own grandparents in India. I see my grandparents once a year, and I am absolutely guilty of putting them under the same light that David saw his grandma. Growing up in the United States, I witnessed the relationships between my friends and their grandparents who live close by. I noticed how they don’t have huge cultural differences and a language barrier, like I do with my grandparents. 

Due to those observations, I stepped back from building a true relationship with my grandparents, almost blaming them for not being like my friends’ grandparents. The growth between David and his grandma made me think deeply about this, and even want to call my grandma to have a loving, long overdue conversation with her. 

“MINARI” evoked emotions within me due to my direct connection to immigrant families, but that’s not to say that non-immigrant families, non-Asian American families, or anyone else should not watch the film. 

Sophomore Cayleigh Pine, a student intern with A24 University, was in charge of marketing “MINARI” and bringing the film to the Emerson campus. Pine runs the A24 Emerson Facebook page

“With this film, the impact is going to be immense because I feel like we don’t have a lot of Asian representation in Hollywood in general and so now having this on such a major platform will be very impactful and very important,” Pine said. 

According to the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report, All Film Roles in Hollywood for actors from Asian countries or Asian Americans made up a mere 4.8 percent in 2019. 

As Pine is working to bring the film to campus, she thinks it’ll have a positive impact on the Emerson community, especially with its beautiful message of family. 

“I mean I feel like you know representation always has an impact, regardless of the audience that’s watching it, especially accurate representation, which I feel like has not been the case for many years,” Pine said. “Even if Emerson has a predominantly white community, I’m hoping that they can still find something about this film to latch on to. The message of family is something universal and transcends different backgrounds and so, even if people can’t relate to immigrants coming to the US or moving or any that kind of stuff they can only relate to a family that’s just trying to do what’s best for their children.”

“MINARI” won a Golden Globe this year for “Best Foreign Film” and deserved every bit of recognition the film received. Despite being directed by an Asian American and  produced by an American production company, the film was placed in the foreign film category because more than 50 percent of the spoken dialogue is in Korean, not English. However, “MINARI” cannot get more American. It is set in the United States, sharing the story of a Korean American immigrant family. English is often (and incorrectly) considered the only language of the United States, despite the fact that the US has no official language, which is a mindset that needs to be changed. 

While “MINARI” definitely exemplified the importance of family, it went even further to show the strength of love and commitment for your loved ones and how far support can really go. I highly recommend watching the heart-wrenching film to begin understanding the difficulties many immigrant families in America face.