When the Yi family joins a local church service in rural Arkansas, nobody knows what to say or do.
Sitting among the congregation of farming families — all dressed in their Sunday best — the family receives a frown from a boy in the pew in front of them. The pastor asks them to stand, calling out: “What a beautiful family. We’re so glad you’re here!” The congregation looks on, wide-eyed and curious.
The encounter, neither welcoming nor hostile, marks the Yi family’s first experience meeting a community of churchgoers in the film “Minari,” about a Korean American family who start a new life in northwestern Arkansas in the 1980s.
For “Minari,” writer and director Lee Isaac Chung drew on his memories of religion growing up in the south. As a child of Korean immigrants, his family moved to Arkansas when he was about 2 years old.
Chung said his experience with religion was two-fold. He attended a Baptist church in Lincoln, Arkansas, to make friends and learn English. And a few years later, his parents started a church of their own to foster a community with the few Koreans in northwest Arkansas. Churches have been central for Korean immigrants as a place to get together, he said.
“I felt like I was growing up with two different churches, in a sense,” Chung told the PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown. “And that’s always stayed with me — not just the religion of it — but the day-to-day understanding that these beliefs, that faith itself, is something that I need as something to sustain me.”