Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

Film still of a girl with a ponytail going for a layout on a basketball court.

AAPI Stories in the Spotlight: Ashley Chea and HOME COURT

Above: Still from HOME COURT, courtesy of the filmmakers.

A Cambodian American basketball phenom

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. At California Humanities, we celebrate the stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders in California, from films to family days, dances to discussions, mapping to music. This month, we’re highlighting the documentary feature HOME COURT, which will have its world premiere at the VC FILM FEST, formerly the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, on May 5, 2024. 

Still from HOME COURT.

The recipient of a 2022 California Documentary Project Production Grant, HOME COURT centers on Ashley Chea, an elite high school basketball player and daughter of Cambodian refugees navigating college recruiters vying for her attention and the deep, though, lesser-known history of Asian American basketball players.

HOME COURT will have its world premiere screening at the VC Film Fest in Los Angeles.

A documentary four years in the making, it is a fitting showcase for VC FILM FEST, a film festival embodying the principles of lead organization Visual Communications in developing and supporting “Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers and media artists who empower communities and challenge perspectives.” The project also comes full circle with its premiere in Los Angeles, Ashley Chea’s hometown.

Black and white photograph of group of women and one man posing in front of a basket on a basketball court
A photograph of six young Nisei women and one young Nisei man incarcerated at Tule Lake, California, circa 1943. Courtesy of California State University, Monterey Bay.

HOME COURT draws from the intricate and interweaving history of Asian Americans and their relationships with sports and community. 

Prominent anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided the backdrop and impetus for the formation of Asian American community spaces to call their own, including sporting leagues. Asian American basketball leagues have existed in California since the early 1900s. Over time these leagues evolved from being exclusively Chinese or Japanese American, to more broadly Asian American, and in the 1930s and 40s, Asian American women began playing for co-ed teams. This helped to pave the way for women like Jaime Hagiya, Natalie Nakase, and now Ashley Chea to thrive in these spaces. 

Black and white photograph showing group of women playing basketball in front of a crowd. Snowcapped mountains in the distance.
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California, February 13, 1943. Original caption: “Basketball games are part of the regular scheduled recreational events, which help to fill out the lives of residents in relocation centers. These girls are participating in a nip and tuck game, which frequently brought the spectators to their feet.” Photographer Francis Stewart. Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority, National Archives and Records Administration.
A man and a woman work in a kitchen while viewing a laptop.
Ashley’s parents, Baov and Lida Chea. Baov came to America as a refugee in 1994 when he was 12 years old with his mother, brother, and sister. Lida, arrived about 5 years later. Both Baov and Lida’s families were devastatingly impacted during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979 when millions of Cambodians were brutally killed. Still courtesy of HOME COURT.

Amid the devastation of the Vietnam War on the local population and genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and 80s, waves of Southeast Asians, including Cambodians, fled from their homelands to the United States in search of safety—Ashley’s family on both her parent’s sides were one of the many who relocated to the United States in hopes of a securing a life without fear. HOME COURT explores this family story, and the high stakes of following the American dream. 

Director and producer Erica Tanamachi expressed gratitude for California Humanities’ early support: 

“Making verité long form documentaries as an independent filmmaker is challenging, to say the least. Getting grants early in the process of making these films is not only crucial to keeping these films in production, but it is also a huge emotional support for the filmmakers.  

Early funding means that the grantor understands that the story and the characters might not be as clear or fully developed; as a filmmaker you are still figuring that out. They are taking a risk on the filmmakers—and it is a risk I never took for granted. Receiving the California Humanities’ grant so early in our process gave me the confidence that someone believed in me as a filmmaker—in us. In fact, I still have the acceptance letter printed up on my wall. I am beyond thrilled that we made it to the finish line with a finished feature film—proving to us, what they already trusted we could do.” 

Receiving the California Humanities’ grant so early in our process gave me the confidence that someone believed in me as a filmmaker—in us.

Erica Tanamachi
Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

After selling out minutes after the official screening announcement at VC FEST, festival organizers moved the screening from the Japanese American National Museum’s Democracy Center to the larger Aratani Theater at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center for HOME COURT’S May 5 world premiere. Following the screening, the filmmakers will host an afterparty at Tersaki Budokan, a 5-10 minute walk from JACC. Register here!

In San Francisco, HOME COURT will make its Bay Area premiere on May 12, 2024 at CAAMFest, the world’s largest showcase of new Asian American and Asian film, food, and music programs. The screening will take place in Chinatown’s historic Great Star Theater. Grab your tickets here before they sell out.

Please stay tuned for updates on the film’s festival screenings in your area! Sign up for news at homecourtfilm.com, and visit the website to learn more about the film and the filmmaking team. 

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