Sabahan Director's Short Documentary About Racism Impresses Critics At US Film Festival

'All I Did Was Smile and Say Hello' is based on the true story of an Asian woman's experience with racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cover image via Soon King Yaw/Facebook & KQED/YouTube

An animated short documentary directed by a Sabahan was recently made the opening film of the KQED Homemade Film Festival in the US

All I Did Was Smile and Say Hello was one of the few films that premiered during the online event held between 11 and 15 May.

The director, Soon King Yaw, is a 28-year-old filmmaker and graphic designer from Tawau who has several awards under his belt.

He told SAYS that KQED received over 500 submissions but only six films were shortlisted. The chosen films were then showcased on the KQED YouTube channel.

Soon King Yaw at the TERMINUS Conference and Festival.

Image via San Francisco State University

Based on a true story, Soon's film is about an Asian woman who experienced a racist encounter amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

The five-minute documentary is set in an airport where the main character smiled and said hello to a child. She was left confused when the mother suddenly grabbed the girl and dashed in another direction.

After a while, she realised that the reaction was rooted in racism and prejudice as the mother said, "We need to wash our hands now," before running away.

Image via KQED

On the KQED website, Soon explained that he was inspired to create an art piece that captures his friend's personal experience.

He said, "I first heard the airport story from Michelle when she shared it over a group call. It was before the Bay Area announced 'shelter-in-place', before any of us knew how bad this pandemic would hit us, and before the rise of anti-Asian racism across the country."

The documentary received critical acclaim for its beautiful animation and moving narration

Film critic and KQED Homemade Film Festival guest judge Randy Myers said on the festival website that Soon's gentle but crippling documentary was an accurate depiction of the kind of racist encounters that many Asian-Americans have had to experience recently. 

"Soulful and poignant with its first-rate animation and moving voice-over narration," he commented.

"Soon King Yaw reminds us to celebrate our best intentions rather than focus on others' reactions to them."

Watch the full video here:

These other Malaysian filmmakers also received critical acclaim for their work:

Asian students in other countries have been facing racist attacks amid the COVID-19 outbreak:

You may be interested in: