Ryan and Vishavjit have teamed up on this project to bring more Sikh representation and experiences into today’s media landscape and to challenge perceptions of what an American (and a superhero) can look like. This story highlights the need for more inclusive narratives this AAPI Heritage Month.
Vishavjit Singh is publicly known for his Captain America persona — a Sikh man equipped with his turban and beard — fighting against bigotry, intolerance and perceptions of what an American should look like. But Singh, the only member of his family born in the U.S., didn’t always feel he could embrace his identity this way.
AMERICAN SIKH will receive its world premiere at the OSCAR-qualifying Tribeca Film Festival this June. The film was created in partnership with Singh as the producer and Los Angeles-based director Ryan Westra. It was animated by Studio Showoff, a Melbourne-based production house founded by Ivan Dixon and Sean Zwan that has produced work for Childish Gambino, HBO and Cartoon Network.
The true and unlikely story of an American born, turban-wearing Sikh man, Vishavjit Singh, who after a lifetime of facing prejudice, self-doubt and violence, finally finds acceptance in a superhero costume.
Director Ryan Westra has been fortunate to capture many powerful and important stories. He’s traveled rural Punjab capturing undocumented stories of a Sikh genocide, documented the struggle of indigenous peoples against oil companies in Montana, followed the HIV/AIDS outreach work of an NGO in Mozambique, edited an HBO feature documentary on reproductive rights, filmed the intensity of para-athletes pushing their limits, shot content for Headspace around a monastery in the Himalayas about mindfulness, shot a documentary about re-housing the most at-risk homeless in Los Angeles, and has had minor roles on Netflix and HBO series that deal with wrongful conviction and bringing cult leaders to justice.
Director/Producer Vishavjit Singh is a New York City based illustrator, writer, performance artist, diversity speaker and creator of Sikhtoons.com. He got his spark for cartooning in the post 9/11 tragedy when Americans with turbaned and bearded countenance became targets of hate/bias crimes. For the past few years Vishavjit has been traveling across the U.S. with his Sikh Captain America persona armed with a turban, beard and humor to tackle fear, anxiety, bigotry and intolerance. He uses storytelling as a tool to create a space for challenging conversations around identity, race, bias, vulnerability and how to be agents for change. Vishavjit hosts talks & keynotes in schools, universities, government agencies and companies including Google, Apple, NASA & Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. His message and work has been covered by a number of news outlets, including the New York Times, NPR, BBC, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, The Guardian and Time Magazine.
AMERICAN SIKH can be seen at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday June 10th at 5:15pm, Sunday June 11th at 2:15pm and Saturday June 17th at 12:15pm.