From misfit to moviemaker: Nathan Xia reflects on his journey to helming ‘Adam’s Song’

From misfit to moviemaker: Nathan Xia reflects on his journey to helming ‘Adam’s Song’From misfit to moviemaker: Nathan Xia reflects on his journey to helming ‘Adam’s Song’
via Nathan Xia, Po Wei Su
Nathan Xia was standing by the door to his second grade classroom when he overheard two of his Chinese American peers talking about how their parents warned them to stay away from him because he was a “troublemaker.”
He often felt disconnected from his Asian American peers, struggling to fit into the mold of the obedient, academically driven student. In the first grade, he was sent to the principal’s office after leading his entire class out to recess early when their teacher stepped out of the classroom, causing the instructor to panic upon returning to an empty room.
“I could never sit still. I never liked math and science. I got good at it because my parents pushed me really hard to get good in school, but I never really had a passion for it. It never came naturally to me either,” Xia tells NextShark. “I felt like I never really fit in with a lot of my Asian peers and my white peers. I think from a young age, I felt like I was caught in this weird in-between. It was frustrating. I struggled a lot, trying to find myself and where I fit in the world.”
This sense of alienation, coupled with a passion for creativity and freedom, led Xia to find solace in filmmaking. Immersing himself in the world of YouTube in the early 2000s, he was inspired by Asian American creators like Wong Fu Productions and Ryan Higa.
via Nathan Xia
Like many Asian American children, Xia took piano lessons growing up. He recalls his strict piano teacher requiring his family to purchase a camera so that he could record her lessons. But in the summer of sixth grade, Xia grew frustrated with once again trying to become a perfect student. He deleted all the lessons saved on his flip video camera to clear enough storage to shoot videos instead.
“I realized I really liked making films and just creating and feeling like I was able to actually express myself and find my own voice,” Xia recalls. “To just create was kind of like the antithesis of what piano was to me, which was like watching this video over and over again and replicating that like a robot.”
In filmmaking, Xia found a sense of flow in which time seemed to slip away effortlessly. He discovered a passion that grew more serious during high school, leading him to pursue film and TV production at Loyola Marymount University. 
via Po Wei Su
But the creative field wasn’t exactly what his parents had envisioned for him. As the eldest son of immigrants from Guangzhou, China, Xia experienced a blend of cultural influences and challenges while being raised in San Diego. His parents moved to the U.S. in the ’90s, working hard to establish their family in a new country.
So when they heard of their son’s passion for film, and eventually music, it took years of conversation to prove that the creative field was worth pursuing. Although initial support was not always clearly communicated, his parents did believe in his passion. Xia’s complex experience over the years, including the struggle of understanding the different ways in which his immigrant parents expressed their support, ultimately became the inspiration for his latest short film, “Adam’s Song.”
“My movies are very autobiographical,” says Xia, who believes that the best films are the most personal ones. “These are the things that I know the best, and I know the nuances of those better than anything, so why not tell stories about that? One thing I’ve always been really compelled by is my own Asian American experience. As I’ve matured, I’ve begun to reflect upon my relationship with my parents to further understand how we communicate emotion; often differently from the way your average American family does. Just because your immigrant parents don’t communicate love and emotion the same way as your white American peers do, doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It’s just, you know, that love is communicated in other complex and more nuanced ways.” 
In the 17-minute production, Xia delves into the pressure felt by children of immigrants to prove their worth and repay their parents’ sacrifices. He explores these themes through the character of Adam, a college dropout and aspiring artist desperate for his father’s love. Adam spirals into self-destructive behavior while preparing for the release of his upcoming album. Throughout a tumultuous night filled with encounters with a drunkard, a cougar and an ex-girlfriend, the artist undergoes a transformative journey in his understanding of love. Xia aims to challenge stereotypes by portraying an Asian character who defies expectations, offering a nuanced perspective on familial relationships.
via Nathan Xia
Similar to the film’s characters, ​cultural barriers made it hard for Xia and his father to empathize with and express love to each other, leading to years of misunderstanding that caused pain for both of them. “Adam’s Song,” which also draws from similar relationships between immigrant parents and their children, ultimately became a way for Xia to heal from his second-generation immigrant childhood experience and gain perspective on his relationship with his family.
“I use storytelling as a coping mechanism to explore unresolved pain,” Xia shares. “I don’t have control over my own life, but I have control over the way I tell the story. And now, I can have control over this pain, and I have the power to find the beauty within that pain. I can create and make it a physical, living, breathing entity, and once it’s completed, I feel like I can put that resolved part of my past on the shelf, and I can heal from that.”
Over the years, Xia’s relationship with his father has improved through increased empathy and understanding, especially as he learned more about his father’s life and their family history. With mutual recognition of their journey toward healing and understanding, his father’s support has also grown, acknowledging the short film as part of their shared experience and continued healing process.
Xia hopes that viewers — especially children of immigrants who have gone through similar experiences — will be inspired to become more compassionate and make efforts to understand their family members better. He also emphasizes recognizing that parents are humans who can make mistakes. He underscores the importance of making an effort to bridge the gap of understanding them, noting that the pain of lifelong misunderstanding is much greater than the effort required to build that connection. 
“‘Adam’s Song’ boils down to the communication of love between immigrant parents and their children,” says Xia. “The way you’ve grown up seeing love in America is going to vary from the way that your parents show love. Even though sometimes it doesn’t feel evident, it is always there.”
via Po Wei Su
“Adam’s Song,” presented by NextShark, is currently available globally on Wong Fu Productions’ YouTube channel. It previously played at film festivals such as LA ShortsFest and the San Diego Asian Film Festival. It also won Audience Awards at the Nashville Film Festival and National Film Festival for Talented Youth and was picked up for broadcast television by PBS. Additionally, Xia released a single of the same title, which is now available on all streaming platforms. The director is currently working on a feature-length adaptation of the movie, which he and his team aim to shoot in 2025.
Xia’s filmography, marked by a keen focus on themes of mental health, coming-of-age and the Asian American experience, include “Goodnight America” (2021), “Oh, Mighty Ocean!” (2022) and “Chasing Sundance” (2023), among others, which have garnered distribution on platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon Prime and Omeleto.
The filmmaker acknowledges that while the recognition and accolades his films have received at various festivals are gratifying, what truly motivates him are the conversations that his works spark. He values the discussions that arise after screenings, particularly when people start talking about their own lives and relationships. He finds fulfillment in how his work prompts viewers to reflect on their experiences, fostering a sense of understanding and connection. Xia’s goal is to use his films as a means to encourage others to think about and potentially resolve parts of their own lives.
“I’m not the most profound philosopher in the world,” he points out. “I’m a flawed person who’s just sharing part of my f*cked up experience. And if that can make you feel seen and if you can identify with that, that’s the thing that really motivates me. I just want to share a part of myself with you so you could also feel understood and be inspired to reflect on your own journeys.”
Xia believes in the power of the continuous creation of art. Despite the lack of a clear blueprint to success in the industry, he stresses the value of creating unapologetically and producing content that reflects one’s unique vision and perspective. He remembers that even if success is not guaranteed, the act of creation itself is — and will always be — rewarding and fulfilling.
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