Renee Tajima-Peña

Renee Tajima-Peña


Renee Tajima-Pena


Areas of Expertise:




Office Location:

3336 Rolfe Hall Box 957225 Los Angeles, CA 90095


B.A., Cum Laude in East Asian Studies and Sociology, Harvard-Radcliffe College, 1980

Research Interests:

Documentary film/video and interactive digital production; representation and documentation of Asian American and immigrant communities; gender, reproductive justice, labor activism, media and law; media and social change.


Professor Renee Tajima-Peña is Professor of Asian American Studies, Director of the Center for EthnoCommunications and holder of the Alumni and Friends of Japanese American Ancestry Endowed Chair. She is an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker whose credits include Who Killed Vincent Chin? My America…or Honk if You Love BuddhaCalavera HighwaySkate ManzanarLabor WomenNo Más Bebés, and other films about themes of immigration, race, ethnicity, gender and social justice. Her films have screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, South By Southwest Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and the Whitney Biennial.


Tajima-Peña is the series producer/showrunner of Asian Americans, the 5-hour docuseries on the Asian American experience that aired on PBS in 2020. The first-ever television history of its kind, Asian Americans represents a collaboration of filmmakers, scholars, community, and public media, and encompasses a public engagement initiative, curriculum and website in addition to the television broadcast. Tajima- Peña’s latest production is the May 19 Project which she co-founded/executive produced with Jeff Chang. The May 19 Project is a social media campaign that traces the legacy of Asian American Pacific Islander solidarity with other communities through fourteen short videos and social media content.


Her online media projects explore the history of Japanese American incarceration and resistance. Building History 3.0 is an interactive documentary and video game-based learning project on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. The project is supported by the National Parks Service and the California Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. Tajima-Peña co-founded the Nikkei Democracy Project, a multi-generational multi-media collective that uses the power of the Japanese American imprisonment story to expose current threats to Constitutional rights.

Tajima-Peña has been deeply involved in the Asian American independent film community as an activist, writer and filmmaker. She was the director and first paid staff-person at Asian Cine-Vision in New York and a founding member of the Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA and A-Doc).  As a writer, she was a film critic for The Village Voice, a cultural commentator for National Public Radio and editor of Bridge: Asian American Perspectives.


Selected Books and Publications

  • “35 Years After Vincent Chin’s Murder, How Has America Changed?” Asia Society Blog, July, 2017
  • “#DocsSoWhite: A Personal Reflection,” Documentary Magazine, August, 2016
  • “Toward a Third Wave: Why Media Matters in Asian American Studies,” Journal of Asian American Studies, John Hopkins University Press, 17:1, February 2014.
  • “Yuri Kochiyama and the Politics of Love.” Amerasia Journal 40.3 (2014): 21-27.
  • The Scholar & Feminist Online, “Más Bebés?”: An Investigation of the Sterilization of Mexican-American Women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s, “ Life (Un)Ltd: Feminism, Biosciences, Race, Barnard College, 2013
  • “Chin, Vincent.” Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Mary Yu Danico. Vol. 3 Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014
  • “Yuri Kochiyama,” Encyclopedia of American Studies, The John Hopkins University Press, 2010
  • “Yellow Peril Smackdown: A Night at the Chinese American Museum” exhibition catalogue monograph for the exhibit, “Hollywood Chinese” at the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum , 2009
  • “East Meets Wax: The Cover Art of the Flower Drum Song Album,” essay in catalogue, Chop Suey on Wax: The Flower Drum Song Album, pp. 5-6 exhibition, Chinese Historical Society of America, 2006
  • “Fast Forward to History,” guest editors Henry Yu and Mae M. Ngai, Amerasia Journal: The Politics of Remembering, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 2002.”No Mo Po Mo and Other Tales of the Road,” Darrell Hamamoto and Sandra Liu, editors, Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism, Temple University Press, 2001
  • “Site-Seeing Through Asian America,” Avery F. Gordon and Christopher Newfield, editors, Mapping Multiculturalism, Minneapolis, The University of Minnesota Press, 1996
  • “Moving the Image,” Russell Leong, editor, Moving the Image: Asian American Independent Cinema, Los Angeles, UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Studies, Southern California Asian American Studies Center, Inc, 1991,
  • “Lotus Blossoms Don’t Bleed: Images of Asian Women,” Making Waves: An Anthology of Writing By and About Asian American Women, Boston, Beacon Press, 1989


Peabody Award
Tenement Museum, 2020 Gala Honoree
Visual Communications 2018 Past/Forward Award
Chinese Historical Society of Southern California 2018 Golden Spike Award
American Historical Association 2017 John E. O’Connor Film Award
Organization of American Historians 2017 Erik Barnouw Award
Chancellors Achievement Award for Diversity, UC Santa Cruz
Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship
Yvonne B. Burke Courage Award, 2016 John Anson Ford Human Relations Award, County of Los Angeles
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice “Justice Award”
Guggenheim Fellowship, Creative Arts – Film and Video
United States Artists Broad Fellowship in Media
Gaea Foundation Sea Change Residency
Alpert Award in the Arts, Film/Video
Rockefeller Foundation Intercultural Film/Video Fellowship
New York Foundation on the Arts Fellow in Film
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Award
International Documentary Association Distinguished Achievement Award
Dupont-Columbia University Award
Cine Golden Eagle
Retrospective, Virginia Film Festival
Featured Artist, Flaherty International Film Seminar

Additional Resources


  • Co-Founder/Co-Executive Producer, the May 19 Project centers the legacy of AAPI solidarity with other communities. The series consists of fourteen short videos, social media content and translations in multiple Asian languages.
  • Series Producer, Asian Americans, 5-part documentary series and public media initiative. PBS broadcast 2020.
  • Creator and Project Director, Building History 3.0, interactive documentary and video game-based learning project on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans,
  • Co-Producer, Nikkei Democracy Project: The American Concentration Camp You May Not Know; Happy Birthday Yuri Kochiyama; This is Who the FBI Came For After Pearl Harbor; A Vigilant Love; Leah’s Story, 2017
  • Director/Co-Producer, No Más Bebés. National broadcast PBS “Independent Lens Series.”
  • Co-Producer/Director/Videographer, Gabriel’s Heart Mountain, 2013
  • Co-Producer, God Willing, PBS, 2010.
  • Co-Executive Producer, Whatever It Takes.  National broadcast: PBS “Independent Lens Series,” 2009.
  • Producer/director/co-writer, Calavera Highway. National broadcast: PBS’s “P.O.V.” series, 2008.
  • Director, Mexico Story of The New Americans series. National broadcast: PBS’s “Independent Lens,” BBC4, SBS Australia, VPRO Netherlands, DR Denmark, NOGA Israel, CBC Canada. 2004.
  • Senior Producer/Segment Director, My Journey Home. National broadcast: presented by WETA on PBS, 2004.
  • Producer/director, Labor Women. Broadcast on selected PBS stations, 2002.
  • Producer/director, Skate Manzanar.  Roger Shimomura’s for the multi-media performance piece, “Amnesia,” premiered at the Bellevue Art Museum, Seattle, 2001.
  • Producer/director/writer, The Last Beat Movie. National broadcast: Sundance Channel, 1998.
  • Producer/director/writer, My America… or Honk if You Love Buddha. National broadcast: PBS, Oxygen TV Network, cablecast France and Europe, 1997.
  • Audio artist, 1-800-Desire, created audio installation piece performed by Jessica Hagedorn and Robbie McCauley for Those Fluttering Objects of Desire collective project conceived by Shu Lea Cheang, premiered at the 1993 Whitney Biennial.
  • Senior Producer, Declarations: All Men Are Created Equal? and Segment Director, The Ballad of Demetrio Rodriguez.  National broadcast: PBS, 1993.
  • Director/writer, Jennifer’s in Jail.  National broadcast: Lifetime Television, 1992.
  • Co-director/writer, The Best Hotel on Skid Row. National Broadcast: Home Box Office, 1990.
  • Producer/director/writer, What the Americans Really Think of the Japanese.  National broadcast: Fujisankei, 1990.
  • Executive producer/co-director, Yellow Tale Blues, 1990.
  • Producer/co-director, Who Killed Vincent Chin?  Named as one of the ND/NF Classics: Ten Documentaries from Twenty Years of New Directors/New Films, Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center 20th Anniversary Retrospective. National broadcast: PBS’s “P.O.V.” series, Tokyo Broadcasting System, 1988.