When Netflix’s Thai Cave Rescue was first announced, executive producer Jon M. Chu immediately tweeted that this project belonged to the people who lived it — the Thai people. He was determined to not let the series be whitewashed or center on white saviors.
Showrunners and executive producers Michael Russell Gunn and Dana Ledoux Miller agreed and were set on telling an authentic story that centered on the Wild Boars — the soccer team who spent 18 days in a flooded cave in Northern Thailand.
“[This is something that [meant] a lot to both of us,” Miller tells The Nerds of Color. “It is a story that captured the world’s attention, but there is yet to be a story that really digs into the realities on the ground, what the story means to Thailand, what it means to the families involved, and what it meant to the boys. So the prospect of being able to tell a family drama in the midst of this harrowing rescue was thrilling creatively and not something that we, as writers, get an opportunity to do very often.”
It took a lot of research for the writing duo and their staff to ensure they’re telling the most accurate portrayal of the kids and coach Ekkapol Chantawong. Gunn and Miller interviewed Chantawong, the boys and their families, the divers, rescue workers, and the journalists on the ground.
“The [research] was massive,” Gunn recalls. “We interviewed the [Thai Navy] SEALs through Thai intermediaries, because they’re their identities are still secret. We interviewed Rear Admiral Apakorn [Yuukongkaew], Thai officials, the Australian divers, hydraulic engineers, [and many others].”
The executive producers and showrunners also made sure to include some Thai Americans on and off-screen. Thai American director Kevin Tanchareon directed half of the series, alongside Thai director Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya. Tanchareon followed the cave rescue closely as it was happening in real time and felt connected to the boys and the entire mission. Knowing this, Chu approached Tanchareon for the project and sent him the script to gauge his interest.
“I read the script and I was just so blown away by the way it was written,” Tanchareon tells The Nerds of Color. “This one really tells the point of view from the Thai community. It really tells the point of view of the Thai boys in the cave and what they went through with their coach. It shows just how the families, the community, and the Thai government reacted and how they moved forward, how they were able to accomplish the impossible, and, actually, unite the world together in order to save these kids. That was something that was incredibly powerful for me — something that I immediately wanted to jump onto because it’s just such an incredible story that you can’t believe actually happened.”
Calling Tanchareon his “big brother,” Poonpiriya, who worked on many indie Thai productions, welcomed and leaned on Tanchareon’s perspective and Hollywood experience for this grand scale production.
“This is a Thai story that belongs to the Thai people,” Poonpiriya explains. “I have to credit the showrunners to have myself and Kevin to have us tell this story and to tell it most authentic for Thais. Kevin provided a lot of support for me and helped guide me through this big project.”
Although Tanchareon is part of the Thai diaspora, he wanted to provide others like him to feel a connection to the story. He says that no matter where you were born and raised, the culture is just always with you.
“I [am] grateful to have Baz’s support on this because he brought so much authenticity to the story from a Thai perspective,” Tanchareon explains. “I am trying to approach it from the way the people in America had to view it — and as a Thai person in America, I viewed it very differently because I have a connection to the culture. I have a connection to the characters in many ways, whether it be just the cultural aspects or the emotional aspect or the fact that I have a lot of family in Thailand. But, the weaving of these two authentic point of views together is essentially the core of the story anyways. Multiple international groups of people were able to come together and accomplish one thing.”
The series also features a Thai American character, played by Urassaya “Yaya” Sperbun, who is a water engineer/volunteer for the cave rescue. With her broken Thai and bond with her Thai roots, the character represents many of the Thai diaspora, some of which may not speak the language but still felt a bond to the boys and their safety.
Miller says they were fortunate to have both Thai and Thai Americans — as well as some international crew– involved to provide some authenticity to the story because rescuing the boys was a global effort. Both Poonpiriya and Tanchareon gave their input to Miller and Gunn if they wanted to make some changes to reflect the Thai people and their culture.
“Authenticity is something that Michael and I both feel passionate about, but it means more than just casting a person of color or adding one person of color to your crew,” says Miller. “There is no substitution for bringing in people for whom you’re telling their stories or you’re sharing in the telling of. I think that was what was so special about this project. It required some humility because, as storytellers, we did have a very clear vision of what the story was from the beginning. But, as we were digging into the research and meeting people, we had to sometimes take a step back and realize that our idea of what might have happened wasn’t the reality of it or wasn’t being true to the Thai culture or to the experience on the ground. So we had to constantly adapt. I think listening to your your partners in a project like this is is critical into really landing the authenticity.”
Thai Cave Rescue is available on Netflix now.