Bluff City Chinese Documentary

Memphis, Tennessee | Film Short

Documentary, History

Cai Anna

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This campaign raised $10,700 for post-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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Historical archives have fallen short, until now. This documentary explores the Chinese American diaspora in the South - not only to preserve history, but help the next generation reclaim an identity that has been lost in translation.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

Our mission is to provide a representation of Chinese Americans in the American South that is authentic, affirming, and diverse. This film combats old-school biases by shedding light on untold stories of Chinese-American bravery, pride, and belonging.

The Story

The Story 

This journey started in 2016 when Emerald Dunn went to the Memphis Public Library seeking information about her local Chinese community. She was disappointed to find just a handful of newspaper articles in special collections - even though Chinese Memphians have lived in “Bluff City” nearly 150 years. 

Agitated that their stories have gone untold, Emerald began a journey to recover and reclaim the Chinese community’s history in Memphis. 

In 2020, in the midst of surging anti-Asian violence, I met Emerald through the Chinese Historical Society and found we shared a passion for finding meaning in memories and long-lost family records. Together, we visited dozens of homes to collect oral histories, objects, and photos from community members. Along the way, we also forged a deep bond of friendship with each other. This film follows me and Emerald on our journey negotiating racial and economic obstacles, confronting generational, cultural differences, and directing audiences to an archive with authentic accounts of Chinese people

living in the American South.

Why Memphis? 

Our mission is to inspire curiosity about Chinese-American history, and especially Chinese Americans in the South. Many folks don’t realize there are vibrant Asian American communities all across the American South, and we aim to challenge this notion by shining a light on the place where Emerald and I grew up: Memphis, TN.

Memphis is a unique city with a rich national history–it is an undeniable landmark of American culture and civil rights. And although the Chinese have been a part of this city for over a century and a half, they are not depicted in its history. 

Why This Film? 

Bluff City Chinese is one piece of a greater vision where Chinese American people in Memphis are seen, represented, and empowered to create change. We need your help to realize a future in which the archived history of Chinese Americans is authored by, driven by, and accessible to people of Chinese heritage. Through this film, we have set out to represent authentic, affirming, and diverse stories of Chinese Memphians by telling them in our own words with bravery, pride, and belonging — and we need your help.

Why Now?

2023 is the 150th year anniversary of the first recorded Chinese Memphians. In honor of the occasion, this film is a timely tribute to the legacies of the first Chinese immigrants in Memphis. It’s also a love letter to Chinese Americans in the South, written in the wake of the rise in reported anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. in 2020. 

We recognize that the Chinese-American community is no stranger to the struggle around identity. Generations of immigrant families have sacrificed their culture in order to “fit in." This film is a call-to-action for a new generation to reclaim an identity that has been lost in translation. 

What have we done so far? 

This film is now in post-production, which means we are starting to edit all the footage we have shot along with sound, music and graphics.

In the summer of 2023, Emerald, Sisa, Brandon, and I completed most of the documentary's filming with the help of a fantastic crew of local filmmakers.  

Our stellar roster of collaborators include Splice Jones, Mitchell Carter, and Tommy Arnold. We are also working with Nashville singer-songwriter Alex Wong, creator of Permission Parties, on a special theme song for Bluff City Chinese

Let’s not forget the major milestones we accomplished since our humble beginnings in 2020:  

  • Emerald Dunn, independent historian, has collected several historical articles, images, and genealogical records on local Chinese people spanning 150 years. 
  • Anna Cai, artist & director, worked together with Emmi to collect oral histories in a series of interviews and decided to film a documentary using the combined information.
  • Sisa Wang, writer & producer, collaborated with Anna to develop a compelling story and pulled strings behind-the-scenes during pre- and post-production.
  • Brandon Lau, director of photography, assembled a team of sound, light, and camera operators to complete shooting both principal and b-roll footage throughout 2023.

We are SO close, and you can help us make sure these filmmakers are compensated for their creative work!

How will the money be used?

We have all the pieces collected, but some assembly is required. Money from this campaign will be used directly for the film - not only to enhance the post-production quality, but also to pay editors, writers, and musical artists for the original works created for this project. 

We need your help to push this project over the finish line!

Know that any contribution you are able to give will be handled with the same gratitude and care as the stories in this film.

Anything that is received beyond the requested amount will be used to offset our out-of-pocket costs, cover unforeseen costs, and to pay for additional editing, mixing, and distribution. 

When and where can it be watched?

Winner of a 2022 Indie Memphis Film Grant, Bluff City Chinese was selected for both its timeliness and timelessness.

Harmonizing past with the present, diverse in its collective voice, this documentary is set to premiere to the public at the Indie Memphis Film Festival October 2024.

Why You?

History doesn’t tell itself; it is sought out and shared by knowledge-seekers like you who want to know the whole story - not just what the history books or media tell us. As we've seen in recent history, ignorance can lead to violence - it is critical to set the record straight.

This documentary combats stereotypes about what it means to be Chinese by shedding light on untold stories of Chinese American bravery, pride, and belonging. This film is not only a way to uplift forgotten Memphians of the past, it's also a pep-talk for present-day generations and a truth bomb breaking ground for the future.

If you’ve been looking for one, here is your sign to help share these stories of Chinese American heritage. 

Support our cause - together, we'll make history.

Donate Today.

The simplest way to help our cause is to donate towards our $13,000 fundraising goal by February 2024.

See our Seed & Spark Incentives Page to choose from seven ways to give and receive items including signed scripts, insider updates, T-Shirts, movie tickets, or even official film & IMDB credits!

Thank you for your support!


Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.


Costs $7,500

This film cannot be completed without the creative efforts of our incredible editing team!


Costs $4,000

These funds will help us compensate the magical team of writers and producers who help bring all the final touches together.

Distribution costs

Costs $1,000

These funds will be used to share this film in festivals and online platforms all over the world.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

Our team is a group of carefully selected filmmakers and artists. It was very important to us to find other Memphis-grown Chinese-American creators who understand the importance of telling Asian American stories in the South. Together, our goal is to provide the most considerate and authentic storytelling possible.

Anna/Thandi Cai

Director, Writer

Emerald Dunn

Independent Researcher, Writer

Sisa Wang

Producer, Writer

Brandon Lau

Director of Photography

Current Team