Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

USC Cambodian American filmmaker creates film about the hidden legacy of the Vietnam War

The film, ‘Swept Under,’ will investigate the difficulties of assimilation for Southeast Asian refugees.

Senior film and production major Ethan Soo is the writer and director of the film “Swept Under,” inspired by the hidden fallout of the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia and its effect on Southeast Asian refugees.

Though the project is not through USC, Soo will be joined by a crew of USC students and alumni, including senior film and television production and marketing major Ruhi Mansey, film and television production major Graham Byers and alumni Jack Longo.

The film will star Cambodian actor Alvin Heng as Ricky, a Cambodian American man who moves into a new house and is gifted a rug from his adoptive sister, Beth, who explains that the rug was made by a survivor of the Cambodian Genocide. Ricky is hesitant to accept the rug and soon discovers that a rug may hide sinister forces that lie beneath its surface.

Soo said the inception of this film started while taking Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s course, The American War in Vietnam. Soo had never heard about American carpet bombing attacks on Cambodia until Nguyen’s course.

“I called my mom that night, and I was like ‘Hey, did you know this happened,’” Soo recounted. “She said she didn’t know too much about it but I think that’s because she was too busy, you know, trying to run for her life.”

Soo’s mother is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, a communist dictatorship that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and sought to create a Cambodian “master race” through social engineering. This regime resulted in an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodian deaths and become known as the Cambodian Genocide.

Inspired by the hidden history of the American impact on Cambodia, Soo reimagined the phrase “swept under the rug” as a horror movie.

“I want to use this horror film to help educate people while also giving them a scare, if I can,” Soo said. “I hope this opens an avenue for conversation about the secret bombing of Cambodia, but also some of the issues that still kind of carry over to today.”

Since 2002, more than 700 Cambodians have been deported from the United States by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These deportations include Cambodian immigrants who sought asylum in the United States while fleeing from the Khmer Rouge.

“I also want to start conversations about American involvement in other countries,” Soo said. " I think it’s about time that the other side of that history is being told.”

Soo, a summer intern at Monkeypaw Productions, cited Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” as an inspiration for his film. He is hoping to use traditional tropes to break down issues being faced by Cambodian refugees and their families.

“The whole magic trick of it is watching one movie for being scary or being whatever it may be, but also taking away something entirely different,’' Soo said. “In this case, I want to use [the film] as a vehicle to to be more than a boring history lesson.”

When casting the film, Soo said finding a lead of Cambodian descent was a difficult task, but an important one to ensure proper representation.

Heng, who will be playing Ricky, is a Cambodian actor from Long Beach. The city is known for having the largest concentration of Cambodian’s outside of Cambodia itself, supported by a mile-long stretch of businesses known as “Cambodia Town.”

The film has gained support from the Cambodian community as well. The film recently signed on Cambodian American politician Chanda Choun as an executive producer after connecting through a Facebook page Soo made for the film.

Soo and his crew are fundraising for the film on Seed&Spark until July 29 and will begin filming shortly after.