LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Back in the early 1990s, Nick Schenk was working the night shift at a factory in Bloomington, Minn., packaging VHS tapes. It seemed like a lousy job at the time, but it would lead him to the biggest break of his career.
Many of his co-workers were Hmong, an Asian people from the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia and China who fled to the U.S. in the wake of the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. "We had a lot of time to talk," Schenk recalls. "They'd ask us stuff like, 'Why do you guys eat so much?' And we'd ask them things like, 'Why do you have the same first name as last name?'"
Schenk also learned deeper things about the Hmong, such as how they had sided with the U.S. in the Vietnam War, only to wind up in refugee camps, at the mercy of communist forces, when American troops pulled out. And he learned about how they came to the U.S. thinking they'd be seen as heroes, only to find nobody knew they existed. But that was as far as it went. When the job ended, the plight of the Hmong slipped to the back of his mind.