HomeBad Ass AsiansWIFV 2024 Women of Vision Awardee: Samantha Cheng

WIFV 2024 Women of Vision Awardee: Samantha Cheng

By Alexandra Nguyen

Samantha Cheng, journalist and documentarian, is being honored by Women in Film and Video (WIFV) as a WIFV 2024 Women of Vision Awardee.

Following an extensive voting process, WIFV recognized Cheng for her efforts in sharing the untold stories of Asian Americans and their contributions to American history. Cheng is being honored alongside PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming Sylvia Bugg and director and actor Marielle Heller.

“She has been critical in documenting the Asian Pacific American experience in the United States and bringing under-told stories to a broader audience,” Melissa Houghton Executive Director at WIFV said. “There are several people that I never would have known anything about if she hadn’t done a film about them.”

Cheng did not initially start out making documentaries. Instead, she attended Baruch College in New York City for business.

During her time at Baruch, she was encouraged to take creative writing and journalism classes, which led her to further explore this passion. She started working for the longest-running cable news video magazine in Manhattan cable history “What’s On, Live.” And, eventually interned abroad at The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), diving head first into the world of storytelling.

Filming in Cheyenne, Wyoming // Photo courtesy of Samantha Cheng

After college, Cheng entered the commercial industry, communicating concise messages in 30 seconds, but she wanted to tell longer stories. So, she pivoted to the news, sharing four-minute-long features. Those four minutes still weren’t long enough for Cheng, and she eventually began a career in long-form journalism.

“When I had the opportunity as a veteran journalist, I was able to take the time to create stories that were longer than 30 seconds or four minutes,” Cheng said.

Now, Cheng focuses most of energy on documentaries that highlight the impact of Asian Americans and Asian American women on American history. However, Cheng did not always know that those were the stories she wanted to tell.

“I just sort of fell into it,” she said.

A product of New York City public schools, Cheng did not learn about the Japanese incarceration camps until post college.

“We were not taught that the United States jailed 120,000 Japanese Americans at the onset of World War II,” Cheng said. “And, that was due to hysteria and just poor government, or governing.”

Learning about this unspoken piece of history inspired Cheng to share the many other lesser known Asian American contributions with the world.

“When I was finally able to have my own production company in the 90s,” Cheng said. “I said to my husband ‘I want to do some stories on Asian Americans and their contribution to U.S. history.”

This came about when she worked on one of her first documentaries.

Cheng said, “After I did that piece, I realized I can use my skill set for good and create stories.”

Photo courtesy of Samantha Cheng

Meanwhile, many people at the time were mixing the Japanese American U.S. politician, Norman Mineta with his colleague Leon Panetta. To clear the confusion, the Smithsonian Asian American Center searched for someone to create a bio on Mineta’s life.

Cheng responded, “I’ll do it.”

After establishing her own multi-media company, Television Production Service (TPS), Cheng began trailblazing in the long form journalism industry. And, in 2010 “Norman Y. Mineta: A Boy from San Jose” was made telling the story of the former mayor and former House of Representatives member.

Since then, Cheng has continued to create documentaries on significant Asian Americans, like her most recent one on Dora Fugh Lee.

“The story of Dora is such a compelling one,” Cheng said. “And no one knows her.”

Lee was born in Beijing, China in 1929 and moved to America in 1957. All her life, she told stories through painting.

When Cheng first saw Lee’s work she could not look away.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Cheng

“It was fascinating. And you can see the transition of her art from what she did in China, what she did as a youth, and you can see her style changing when she came to the United States,” Cheng said.

“Dora Fugh Lee: A Life in Art” explores the artist’s vibrant “no bones” Chinese style paintings and the impact that she has left on the community. It has since been picked up by the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association (WETA) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) of Washington D.C.

Compared to past documentaries, Cheng shared that Lee’s has more emotion.

“Dora has a lot of emotion in the piece,” she said. “And the other pieces I’ve done have emotion, but they’re much more factual.”

Her other documentaries include “Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese” and “Dalip Singh Sound: His Life, His Legacy.” Stylistically, these pieces are more “newsy.”

“I do that intentionally because I want my audience to make their own decisions,” Cheng said.

But, when it came to the documentary on Lee, Cheng chose to still include lots of facts, while making it a “softer” more artistic piece.

Cheng said, “I wanted the audience to feel a very similar feeling to what I felt when I first learned of Dora and her work.”

While, “Dora Fugh Lee: A Life in Art” targets a general audience many of her other pieces are intended for the classroom. As co-founder of Heritage Series, LLC, which produces educational material on ethnic minorities, Cheng has worked towards teaching all people about historic Asian Americans.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Cheng

Cheng and her broadcast and media production encompasses over 40 years. Alongside her documentaries, TPS, and Heritage Series, LLC, Cheng has worked for World News Tonight, ABC and Weekend News, ABC amongst many other credits. And, Cheng hopes to continue her work sharing more and more stories. Throughout these 40 years, Cheng has not only advocated through her documentaries, but she has also led and advanced other initiatives. This includes the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project, which aimed to honor the Chinese American veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forced during WWII. But, Cheng is far from done.

“If I find something that sparks my interest, I will assess it and see if I can make something of it,” she said.

For this strong commitment to tell to the untold stories of Asian Americans to all people, WIFV recognized her this year. Houghton voiced her gratitude for Cheng and her work expressing the need for documentaries like hers.

She said, “I don’t think it’s just important for the next generation to know the story. I think it’s important for my generation to know the story, and probably for the generation that came before me.”

When asked why Cheng continues to create these documentaries, she replied “I create these things, so people are kinder to other human beings. Because they understand where they came from.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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