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 who has chronicled the Asian American experience through films such as Who Killed Vincent Chin? and My America…or Honk if You Love BuddhaAsian Americans, the first-ever 5-hour docuseries on the Asian American experience that aired on PBS in 2020.

Her other films on themes of immigration, race, ethnicity, gender and social justice include The Best Hotel on Skid Row, Calavera HighwaySkate ManzanarLabor Women, and No Más Bebés. Tajima-Peña’s latest production is the May 19 Project which she co-founded/executive produced with Jeff Chang in collaboration with independent filmmakers across the US. 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 and is supported by the National Parks Service and the California Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. Tajima-Peña is co-founder and co-producer of 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’s work has screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and the Whitney Biennial, and has been broadcast throughout the US and abroad. She has been honored with two Peabody Awards, the Alpert Award in the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the United States Artists Broad Fellowship, and a Dupont-Columbia University Award.

Tajima-Peña has been deeply involved in the Asian American independent film community as an activist, writer and filmmaker. She was the director of Asian Cine-Vision in New York , and active in the founding of the Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA) and A-Doc/Asian American Documentary Network. During he time as a regular contributor to The Village Voice, she was the only Asian American woman film critic writing for a national publication. She was also 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 Chop Suey on Wax: The Flower Drum Song Album, 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


University Film & Video Association George Stoney Award for Outstanding Documentary Work
National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education, 2022 Suzan Shown Harjo Activist
for Systemic Social Justice Award
Vigilant Love, Khayal-Kokoro Activist Artist Award 2022
Peabody Award 1989, 2021
2021 Who Killed Vincent Chin? inducted to Library of Congress National Film Registry,
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

Additional Resources


  • Co-Founder/Co-Executive Producer, the May 19 Project  series on the legacy of AAPI solidarity comprised of fourteen short videos, social media content and translations in multiple Asian languages.
  • Series Producer and showrunner, 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, a multi-media collective that produces video, art, and social media
  • Director/Co-Producer, No Más Bebés. National broadcast PBS “Independent Lens Series” 2016
  • 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.  Created for artist Roger Shimomura’s multi-media performance piece, “Amnesia” 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 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? 2021 restoration by the Academy o Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. National broadcast: PBS’s “P.O.V.” series in 1989 and encore broadcast in 2022, Tokyo Broadcasting System, 1988.
  • Co-Producer, Haitian Corner, feature film directed by Raoul Peck