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Short Film 'Don't' Dreams of a World With an All-Asian Crime-Fighting Squad

One day, Sally Tran realized that many of her friends in New York City were going to self-defense classes and buying weapons to protect themselves in the city they call home. 

This was in 2021, during the height of the anti-Asian hate crimes in the US. Being Vietnamese, Sally felt angry and helpless. Being a film director, she channeled her emotions and experiences into her work. She imagined a fantastical world where heroines emerged from the shadows to fight injustices. And thus came the short film Don’t, which tells the story of a group of Asian women coming together to protect their community. 

"This film would be nothing without our incredible, badass, all-Asian, female-led cast of characters,” Sally tells Saigoneer via email. “This is the reality of my everyday life. I'm surrounded by talented Asian femmes on a daily basis, and I would like to see more of this narrative in mainstream media.”

As Sally wants to represent the Asian culture not just in visual but also in audio, each of the cast will speak their heritage languages, with dialogues in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. “I worked with translators and coaches to understand the cultural differences and nuances in the language, and because the dialogue is very colloquial and ’street,’ it adds a different cultural aspect to the film.”  

(Left) Benedict Nguyễn as Hoàng, who fights with nunchucks. (Right) Yên Sen as Trinh, whose specialty is the fan. Photos by Tiong.

For many in the cast and crew, working on Don't means an opportunity to find their roots. As Huyen Tran, the Art Director, puts it: “It means a lot to me that I got to bring a version of the Vietnamese homes to NYC! The process of sourcing and purchasing all the props was sometimes challenging since we had to buy most of them in the US. But it was all worth it when we found the exact item or even a replica of what we needed. Living away from home in a foreign country also makes me appreciate the little trinkets I spotted around NYC that remind me of Vietnam, so I was beyond happy when chị Sally asked me to help bring this Viet film to life.”

The film also celebrates women and genderqueer identities. Dinh, the non-binary actor who plays the main character Thao, says that they are so proud to portray such a strong and fearless role, one that resembles their own mother. 

Dinh shares: “When I learned that the character I played has the same name and same life story as my mother, a strong female figure, I felt extremely proud. My mother and I rarely talk because we are always so busy. When I received the script, it was a chance for me to listen to her story and learn how to portray her. The film helps me get closer to my mother than ever.”

Don’t is still in production and the crew is running a crowdfunding campaign to help with the remaining process. If you want to help, head over to their Seed&Spark page and follow their Instagram for more information.

Watch the teaser of the short film below:

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