Iris K. Shim and Fivel Stewart Discuss Bringing Asian American Horror Stories in ‘Umma’

The new horror film Umma releases in theaters today. The film, which stars Sandra Oh and Fivel Stewart, as a mother (Amanda) and daughter (Chrissy) living off the grid in rural America.

Things are going well for the duo — they have a successful honey business, are the best of friends, and live a peaceful life with no problems. Everything changes when Amanda’s uncle visits from Korea, bringing along Amanda’s mother’s ashes. We learn that Amanda left her abusive mother and now her mother’s spirit is angry and would like a proper burial. Still traumatized from her childhood, Amanda avoids talking about her past to Chrissy, who begins seeing sinister changes to her mother. It’s deep and dark stuff.

According to director and writer Iris K. Shim, the entire concept was based on her own upbringing on generational guilt that is passed down from family as well as the idea of being an outsider in your own home/country.

“The visual of East Asian faces in a very Americana backdrop was a metaphor of the Asian American experience and our place in this country,” said Shim to The Nerds of Color. “I was tapping into that a lot into identity — what it means to be Korean, what it means to be American.”

Actress Fivel Stewart, who is of mixed Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and European descent, says the film really did connected her to her identity as an Asian American. She asked her mother what it was like growing up as an Asian woman in America. “Back in the day, it was harder,” said Stewart. “So to hear her experience and to see her as a woman now, how powerful she is — her experiences definitely affected her, but she’s still so beautiful and lives life so beautifully. It made me realize I am so lucky to have this person in my life to put who I am in front of my face.”

Check out the full interview below: