Missing executive producer Sev Ohanian said it’s great seeing this movie with an audience after I told him this would be my first viewing of the film at the special CAPE and Product of Culture screening. And, it was.
From the creative minds of the 2018 critically-acclaimed film Searching, Missing follows the same technological format as its predecessor, filled with unexpected twists and turns that are amplified with audiences’ gasps.
In this story, Storm Reid plays June, a tech-savvy teenager (like most teenagers of this generation) who goes on the hunt for her mother (Nia Long) after she goes missing after an international trip with her boyfriend (Ken Leung). The audience follows along with June as she investigates her mother’s steps by hacking into emails, tracking databases, and even utilizes Colombia’s version of TaskRabbit as her man on the inside.
Ohanian was initially concerned with creating another film based on a technological standpoint, because they just didn’t want to repeat Searching. He tells The Nerds of Color, “We were very intentional about making sure when we entered this film we would have something new to offer, because we were reluctant to make this movie in the first place. It was only after we realized that we had an opportunity to really flush out the escalation of what can happen when you see a “computer” movie.”
It has been five years since Searching’s debut and technology and the use of social media has changed drastically. With the age of TikTok, Twitter, and the surge of conspiracy theorists, Missing had the opportunity to expand on that. Executive producer Aneesh Chaganty, who directed Searching, said because of the new wave of technological advances and social media, they have a story.
“I think we looked around the world and said, if we made Searching [and then] Missing in 2019 – a year after Searching came out, there’s no new worlds to explore,” Chaganty says. “It felt like we had already commented on the internet at that time. One thing that we realized was every day, every year, every month, and every week, there’s a new app. There’s new social media and technological advancements. Suddenly, you have a new internet to be explored by a totally different demographic, which allows us space to explore.”
Ohanian and Chaganty handed the reins of the film to Searching editors, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, in their directorial debut. Johnson says Ohanian and Chaganty taught them a lot about the industry. Johnson and Merrick sought advice from Chaganty when things became too intense on-set or during editing.
“They’ll probably give you a different answer, but I feel like I just handed [the script to them] and said goodbye,” Chaganty tells The Nerds of Color on the red carpet. “Although I was onsite every day and worked with [them] whenever [they] cut every draft and everything like that. But no director makes a movie that takes place on a computer screen and wants to do it again.”
Chaganty and Ohanian wrote the story that Johnson and Merrick edited for the screenplay. Before casting began, they had their storyline all set up in a straightforward manner. It was only until Reid and Long were cast that Johnson and Merrick had to make some changes to reflect how society would react to a Black family going missing. Johnson said they were really mindful of how the current climate is reflected in the movie and called out the “Missing White Girl Syndrome” that society tends to focus on rather than BIPOC — particularly Black women — who go missing.
“It was a really neat opportunity – because it takes so long to make the movie – because of the nature of the movie, we’re able to inject some of that in there,” Johnson reveals. “You’ll see Twitter tweets calling that out. Onion articles calling that out. That’s definitely something we wanted to put as much into the movie as possible. We were definitely watching the internet in real time.”
Like Searching, Missing did not call for a family of color, but due to casting great actors like Storm Reid, they centered the movie around a Black family. Ohanian explains, “Our approach to inclusion and diversity in our movies is one where we want to normalize representation. This movie did not need to be about a black American family. But, with us, it’s never a question of why. It’s always a question of why not.”
Daniel Henney, who plays FBI agent Elijah Park, hopes this story brings more conversations about the use of technology and the Missings Person system set up for BIPOC. He plays the FBI Colombian liaison attache assisting June in the search for her mother, but he could only do so much.
“I think luckily, in the last couple of years, [there have been] conversations that we’ve been having about Black Americans – and also Asian Americans – [in society],” Henney shares. “I think there’s a system in place that has worked for a long time for a certain group and I think it needs to be modified. It’s really special that our movie kind of looks into that and puts it on this platform. I hope it’s something that starts a conversation.”
As for a possible third film to complete the “[–]ing” trilogy, Chaganty is willing to work on the film, but not as director. “Granted, no director who ever makes a movie on a computer screen ever wants to do it again,” says Chaganty. “So if any of you guys are interested, let me know.”
Missing premieres on January 19 in theaters everywhere.