The Generational Perspective of Zhang “Nathan” Nie’s The Way Home

(L to R-Zheng Nathan Nie, Summer Yang) Photo by Morgan Chen
(L to R-Zheng Nathan Nie, Summer Yang) Photo by Morgan Chen

A voice is most profound when it speaks with authenticity. As screenwriter of the film The Way Home, and as a first generation Chinese man living in the US, Zheng “Nathan” Nie speaks from a perspective which understands what it’s like for so many immigrants who feel “forever foreign” in America. In spite of the notion that this country offers a level playing field that is merit based, prejudices die hard and can be a negative social integer for even the most determined individuals. The disparity between equity and equality rages in our country; The Way Home displays one of numerous variations in the American story. In his screenplay for this film, Mr. Zheng has illuminated how the sacrifices of one generation of immigrants can be ineffective due to transgressions of society as a whole. Only through stories like this can the “public at large” begin to comprehend the ills of today in hopes of a better future for all. 

  There is a myriad of stories which tell the plight of those immigrating to the United States. The goal is always to achieve a more prosperous future for one’s self and family. The Way Home puts a framework around what one generation sacrifices for another and whether or not it is properly appreciated. This story takes place among two timelines; one in which a twenty-year-old man named Haiyang and his brother Bin have paid smugglers to get them across the border and the other focusing on an Asian-American teenager named Jimmy who lives in New York City. Jimmy works in his family’s convenience store and when opportunity knocks, he steals a customer’s wallet. Running to show the wallet to a group of friends, one of them suggests a way to use Jimmy’s skills to make even more money. Mixed among these events, we see Haiyang’s heartbreaking journey to gain entry into America and what it takes from him. It’s not until the final scene that we discover Haiyang and Jimmy are father and son and the story has been told as a juxtaposition of past and present events. The impact of this moment elevates the contrast of these two stories to another level. How is it possible that in the span of a single generation there can be such insensitivity to the sacrifices made? The Way Home is frustrating and contemplative in its offering of such a realistic question.

  Director Yiran Zhou had been working on a script on the subject of a Chinese immigrant’s journey to the U.S. when Nathan offered him some notes on it. Zhou was intrigued by the dual timeline concept and suggested that they collaborate on the idea. Nathan concedes that he “over wrote” the screenplay of this film and the directors input was most welcome as he states, “Yiran actually had experience doing labor work with undocumented Chinese immigrants in New York City, so he brought a lot of details into the Haiyang storyline. Having had lived and worked with immigrant workers also greatly informed Yiran’s directing, I believe. He knows firsthand how they move, talk, and think. This informed a lot of actions and a lot of large-scale scenes like the soccer game scene and Jimmy having a complicated hide-and-seek scene with the police. Yiran, with an objective pairs of eyes, came in and helped me streamline it greatly. I think it ended up being a better, much more concentrated script because of that.” 

 The Way Home has proven to be an extraordinary film which resonates loudly with different cultures. The film has been screened at top film festivals including the Shanghai International Film Festival and Oscar-Qualifying festivals like the Santa Barbra International Film Festival. Having watched his film with audiences at both of the aforementioned festivals, Nathan affirms, “It was rewarding to me as a writer to experience the success of The Way Home. Yiran saw the energy in my script, which was partially why he wanted to collaborate. It was definitely rewarding to have someone liking it enough to want to make my script come true.”

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