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Check It Out: The Film Blue Bayou

I say this unhesitatingly. In my opinion, Blue Bayou is one of the most beautiful, damning, and heartrending films you're going to see this year.

Justin Chon wrote, directed, and co-stars. The film tells the little-known story of Korean (and other East Asian) adoptees whose U.S. parents did not finalize citizenship or fill out the right paperwork when these infants and children were brought to the U.S. And so, these adopted children can, decades on, suddenly and vindictively be subject to cruel deportation.

The film was shot in New Orleans. It opens with a job interview. Korean American Antonio LeBlanc (played by Chon) gets the racist treatment right away from a prospective employer who sneers at an old felony conviction. Antonio is scuffling to hold things together along with his pregnant wife, Kathy, and her daughter, Jessie, from an abusive previous marriage. Their love is as palpable as are the larger social-political forces conspiring against them. 

The film captures the camaraderie between Antonio and his close friends (most of them African American): basic people trying so hard to maintain their dignity and help each other in desperate situations forced on them. The film moves between raw scenes in the city and lyrical interludes in the Louisiana bayou where Antonio confronts ghosts of his past. At a party hosted by Vietnamese refugees, Kathy (played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) delivers a knockout version of the song “Blue Bayou.”  

A noisy altercation in a supermarket leads to Antonio's arrest by hateful police. When they learn that  technically he's not a citizen—he's turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I am not going to say more about the story. I urge readers to see the film and draw your own conclusions.

Blue Bayou premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and is streaming on HBO Max. 

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