SXSW 2021: ‘Parked in America’ Does A Lot In 30-Minutes

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Parked in America

SXSW’s episodic premiere have got to be my favorite section of the festival. And getting to see heartfelt and thoughtful episodic pilots like Parked in America is why. Parked in America‘s pilot episode is directed by Luke Salin and Kayla Yumi Lewis, with Lewis serving as showrunner as well. It also stars Judy Song, Jeff Lawless, Solomon Abell, Ella Baker-Smith, and Judy Han.

Parked in America is a half-hour YA drama following Ji Yeon Park (Judy Song), a Korean teenager, who moves in with her relatives in Illinois after a family tragedy back at home in Seoul.  While it isn’t directly clear in the episode’s opening, it’s clear that what happened back home impacted Ji Yeon, but now, she’s on her own to handle it with her extended family. In just 31-minutes Parked in America is a strong and salient pilot episode. It covers issues of belonging, familial bonds, guilt, racism, and identity.

Ji Yeon is the center of this story. She misses her parents and her sister, and she’s surrounded by people who continually other her. While microaggressions are rampant but not in a way that make them the focus of Ji Yeon’s story, but rather, just a part of life in a way many people of color will see as authentic. Especially being pushed into changing your name to be more appealing for the people around you to fit in. Ji Yeon has two names in this series, her given name, and the American name she takes in order to fit in, which is Jamie (which she’ll be referred to as now, given the credits of the show). The discussions around her name and the tender moments with her Halmoni (grandmother) are not only relatable but powerful.

There is a nuance with which Parked in America confronts the push to assimilate and by showcasing Jamie’s resistance to humor those around her when coupled with finally choosing to change her name. Beyond that though, her cousin Eli (Jeff Lawless) also presents a foil to Jamie’s experience. Truthfully, as much as this episode of Parked in America is about Ji Yeon adapting to her new life in the United States, even if it’s only for three weeks, it’s also about Eli, her cousin confronting his own detachment from his Korean culture.

While Eli gets along with the people who make fun of Jamie because he tries to blend and ultimately is Korean American, there are moments where you realize how much he is bothered by not being as connected to his Korean identity as Jamie is. This happens most strikingly at the dinner table when Jamie speaks to their Halmoni in Korean and Eli is visibly panicked. It’s a moment I understand all too well. When the people around you, the people you are connected to switch into another language, you carry a pressure. You feel like you should know what they’re saying and because you don’t, you internalize the feeling that you’re not a part of them, an imposter in your own community. That scene in particular is quick, but the look on Eli’s face speaks volumes. He understands a small bit of what Jamie felt at school, only now, it’s coming from his family and not strangers.

When it comes to acting, the cast is superb. While there are some moments of dialogue that seem not to land, Song as Jamie and Lawless as Eli are stellar. They each bring emotion to their roles that speak volumes even when they don’t have a dialogue. Because of their strength on screen, and the revelation at the end of the episode, I hope to Parked in America as a full series soon.

My only issue is small set design elements. Seeing the Lady of Guadalupe in the shot of the classroom was weird, given it doesn’t seem to be a school from the Mexican Catholic perspective. In fact, in my nearly all-white Catholic school growing up, the Lady of Guadalupe was nowhere to be found, which makes it out of place in a majority white Illinois Catholic school. That said this is a very minor issue and one I’m sure others won’t notice if they didn’t grow up the way I did.

All that said Parked in America is a standout, not just in the episodic pilot category but for all of the storytelling across all of the screenings I’ve attended during SXSW so far.

Parked in America was screened at the SXSW Film Festival 2021.

 

Parked in America - Pilot Episode
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

All that said Parked in America is a standout, not just in the episodic pilot category but for all of the storytelling across all of the screenings I’ve attended during SXSW so far.