Thơ ventures into romance as a Vietnamese-American panromantic asexual looking for acceptance and respect. THƠ features the only asexual Asian-American femme in media so far, celebrating the existence of asexual and Queer Asian-Americans with unapologetic authenticity, to prove we deserve to tell our own powerful stories.
An emotional and visceral memoir, THƠ (“tuh”) depicts how assumed consent and sexual entitlement to a person’s body can dismantle their sense of reality. With evocative make-up, frenetic pacing, and non-linear storytelling, we exhibit the distinctive experience of taking on others’ emotional baggage through sexual harm.
THƠ challenges the misconception of asexuality being something to be fixed, and reclaims it as a valid Queer identity, despite being misunderstood even within the LGBTQIA+ community as just a phase.
Instead, we demonstrate our deeply nuanced communities and histories through emotionally resonant stories for and by us. With this filmmaking mission, we hope THƠ inspires more AA-PI femmes and Queer folks to boldly share their own experiences.
Official Selection in LGBTQIA+ film festivals:
– Outfest Los Angeles 2021
– Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival 2021
– aGLIFF Prism Film Festival 2021 in Austin
– Out on Film Atlanta LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2021
– WorldPride in Copenhagen and Cardiff 2021
– Seattle Queer Film Festival 2022
Official Selection in AAPI film festivals:
– CAAMFest40 2022
– Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2022
– Viet Film Fest 2021
– Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival 2021
– Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Film Fest 2021
– Best Short Film: National Black Film Festival 2021
– Audience Favorite: Cinema Diverse LGBTQ Palm Springs Film Fest 2021
Credits / Collaborators / Cast
Directed by Jake Villadolid and Heather Muriel Nguyễn
Written by Heather Muriel Nguyễn
Associate Producers: Rob & Chrystal Swart, Paulina C. Johnson, Kerry Chin, and Linda Wong
Heather Muriel Nguyễn as Thơ
Zedakiah Koterba as Dylan
Malik Tyler as Leo
Michelle Mao as Cerise
Director of Photography: Katherine Dudley
Editor: Heather Muriel Nguyễn
Music by Pablo Langaine
Assistant Director: Marielle Cuccinelli
Line Producer: Jonathan Andre Culliton
Camera Operator: Marcus Farrell
Assistant Camera and DIT: Eliot Roach
Set Designer: Linda Wong
Gaffer: Kevin Bryan Simmons
Key Grip: Skye Wingo
Electric: Colin McDonald, Arjay Ancheta, and Robert Chuck
Boom Operator and Location Sound Mixer: Magely Martinez
Intimacy Coordinator: Liz La Mura
Script Supervisor: Naomi Shroff-Mehta
Colorist: Colin McDonald
Assistant Editors: Sabrina Tan and Christopher Weingart
Post-Sound Mixer: Jax Savage
Motion Graphics Artist: Yixia Li
Sound Engineer: AJ O’Connell
Title Designer: Juan Ramirez
The story behind the film
I made THƠ to reclaim my story and ownership over my body and mind, three months after the film’s final events of sexual trauma happened to me. I’ve always been drawn to visceral storytelling as a means to understand and cope with my neurodivergence, as an anxious eldest child of Vietnamese refugees and of a family wracked with mental illness rooted in intergenerational trauma.
I hadn’t made a film since my childhood VHS tapes, so I reached out to friends and gathered our fantastic crew who had all femme department-heads, who were 93% of Color and Queer, and who resonated with my experiences. My co-director Jake and I created a safe and closed set, with our intimacy coordinator Liz, prioritizing our actors’ bodily autonomy to not perpetuate the trauma that our film depicted.
Filming our magically-real, vivid rendition of those events made me feel whole for the first time after the sexual trauma had dissociated my mind and body. But when we entered post-production, we were in the midst of 2020 and reached a point where we just didn’t know if we could finish it.
It no longer was about reclaiming my story. We wanted to help others also feel loved and seen. It was now about how we could clearly communicate how assumed consent and sexual entitlement to a person’s body can dismantle their sense of reality. We didn’t know if we could do that with the footage we had.
My solution was to teach myself Premiere and edit the scenes with the frenetic pacing and non-linear storytelling that matched how my brain, particularly with morality OCD, conjured and constantly relived the events that inspired the film. I stopped editing once the traumatic scenes made me feel in my body what those events had made me feel in the moment. Anything less visceral and exact felt dishonest.
It was excruciating to meticulously rewatch those scenes until they undid my fresh healing and reestablished my traumatized body’s distrust with my mind. But I was committed to show exactly what it was like for an asexual and anxious Vietnamese-American girl like me to go through that, for the chance to make anyone who resonates with my story feel less alone, and emboldened to trust themselves.
I wanted to equip them with the film and its visceral metaphors to help them hold their own and speak against anyone who tries to “fix” them with sex or teach them to be “normal,” like my past partners tried to do with me. And maybe audiences who resonate with the characters based on those partners would also realize that asexuality is a valid Queer identity and not something to be proved wrong.
I likely won’t edit something so painfully reflective of my mind ever again, but I made a cut that finally freed me and Jake from post-production hell. It was raw and unapologetically me, and that made it feel worth it, before anyone else watched the final cut.