Hanoi Redneck 

Mai's America plays the Appreciating Diversity Film Series.

It's hard not to take a liking to Mai, the irrepressibly cheerful subject of Marlo Poras' documentary movie Mai's America (2002). As the newest pair of foreign eyes to view the contemporary American experience (à la Lost Boys of Sudan and countless other docs), the Vietnamese teenager brings a fresher-than-usual perspective. In the opening footage of her with poor shoeshine boys in her hometown of Hanoi, we learn that Mai is from a relatively rich family, one that owns hotels. So it's a bit of a shock when the film cuts to her in the trailer home of a family of self-described rednecks in deepest Mississippi. Mom and dad are on welfare (how'd they get to be host parents, anyway?), their daughter is depressed, and Mai's closest local friend is a pre-op transsexual guy she meets at a gay bar. It's as if the Vietnamese kid is slumming in the United States. And it gets better -- or worse, depending on your point of view.

Mai's America is the latest offering from the Appreciating Diversity Film Series, a Piedmont-based project that has made a name for itself screening movies with a cross-cultural bent. According to Julie Chang, a parent member of the film series org, the aim is to promote diversity of all kinds -- ethnic, religious, of sexual orientation, etc. The four-year-old series annually presents six films, and Mai's America, which plays Thursday, April 24 at Piedmont's Havens School (325 Highland Ave., 7 p.m.) as well as May 8 in downtown Oakland, is a special case: their first screening outside that city.

Notes Chang: "Piedmont is such a homogeneous place. We wanted to expose the people of Piedmont to other ways of living with the film, and also to branch out to the larger community." The May 8 screening (7 p.m.) takes place at the James Irvine Conference Center of the East Bay Community Foundation, 353 Frank Ogawa Plaza. It's free, and you're invited. "We're serving hot and cold Vietnamese spring rolls," Chang says. To learn more, call 510-835-9227 or visit www.diversityworks.org

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