Mai's America (educational)

  • Directed by: Marlo Lopas
  • Produced by: David Sutherland
Released: 2002
Running Time: 72 min

MAI'S AMERICA is an intimate portrait of Mai, a spunky, mini-skirted daughter of Ho Chi Minh's revolution. We meet Mai and her cosmopolitan family in communist Hanoi . Mai is proud that her father fought in the American War, defeating both the U.S. and “their pawns,” the South Vietnamese. More than anything, she wants to make her family proud of her. So, fueled by the opportunity for a better education and enticed by MTV-inspired visions of America, Mai travels to the United States for her senior year of high school. Nothing in her wildest imagination prepares Mai for her crash landing in rural Mississippi, where her relationships with white Pentecostal and black Baptist host-families, self-proclaimed red-necks, transvestites, and South Vietnamese immigrants challenge her long-held ideas about America, herself, freedom, and even about Vietnam.

Mai's America (Trailer) from Collective Eye Films on Vimeo.


  • Distinguished Documentary Achievement Feature Documentary, IDA
  • Audience Award for Feature Documentary, SXSW
  • Golden Gate Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Northampton Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Magnolia Independent Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Indie Memphis
  • Best of Festival, Wine Country Film Festival


"Insightful and bittersweet, the film provides an unexpected picture of America through the eyes of a charming candid heroine.”
— Tini Tran, Associated Press

"Astonishing. This most unlikely story about a Vietnamese exchange student in the Deep South is by turns hilarious, voyeuristic, wise, bizarre and sadly ironic. Filmmaker Marlo Poras followed Mai for two years, and her film overflows with telling observations.”
— Aaron Barnhart, Kansas City Star

"Best Documentary Film of 2002”
— Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix

"Best Festival Film of 2002"
—Ella Taylor, LA Weekly

"Honorable Mention: Ten Best Films of the Year"
—Wendy Mitchell, IndieWIRE

"Ten Best TV Shows of the Year...The apex of the P.O.V. documentary series on PBS"
—Aaron Barnhart, The TV Barn

"The extraordinarily insightful and tender MAI'S a charming and eye-opening film that could be one of the year's best documentaries."
—Steve Rosen, The Denver Post

"Best Undistributed Film of 2002"
—Paul Malcolm, LA Weekly

"10 Best Films of 2002"
—Matthew Klickstein, Independent Film and Video Chicago

"The one film in the [Whitney Museum American Effect exhibit] to truly win hearts and minds is Mai's America. An unusually shapely first-time effort by an American...Mai's story, a two way mirror reflecting both American and Vietnamese provinciality, is damned near impossible to forget."
—Linda Yablonsky, Time Out NY
"A brilliant look at American social class through the eyes of a Vietnamese exchange student...Mai's America is one of those wonderful, out-of-left-field documentaries that makes writing about independent films such an educational delight. It follows a North Vietnamese teenager as she arrives in the United States on a student exchange program. And while she discovers that almost everything she thought she knew about America was wrong, it's the American viewer who has the most to learn about our land of opportunity. An amazing effort by a first-time filmmaker."
—David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun
"An amazing movie, and one you should see if you haven't already, which you probably have."
—Shawn Badgley, The Austin Chronicle
"1/2 Mai's America is full of interesting observations about Vietnamese culture, the Vietnam War, how Americans treats foreigners, gender notions, and the rivalry between a mother and daughter."
—Doug Brunell, Film Threat
"Unusual and fascinating."
—Matt Zoller Seitz, The Star Ledger
"Coming across like a real-life "Alice in Wonderland," (Mai's America) reveals a succession of characters too strange not to be true...Poras' expert camera work and editing tell the story in a compelling and amusing manner...Poras' portraiture of Mai is a magnificent trip through her own looking glass, providing a stunning reflection of American values."
—R.A. Bell, The Orlando Weekly
"At once an intimate portrait of a guileless Vietnamese high school exchange student from Hanoi, and an understated expose of the American Dream...Richer in plot, character and setting then most feature films, this intellectually satisfying and emotional film is highly recommended."
—The Video Librarian

"A moving and delightful documentary about self-discovery...the film features a story line that is at times wacky and amusing yet also bitterly ironic...a sharp and eye-opening film."
—Suzanne Ryan, The Boston Globe

"Not to be missed."
—Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer