Lee Isaac Chung, nominated for an Oscar in the directing category for "Minari," drew from personal experience as the son of first-generation immigrants from Korea to create the critically acclaimed family drama.
Chung, 42, had made three movies before, including the Rwanda-set "Munyurangabo."
Previously a film professor, he nearly gave up filmmaking to teach full-time before the semi-autobiographical "Minari."
He told the Associated Press he took a different approach to write "Minari," starting off by listing memories of his childhood in Arkansas.
"I took a lot from my own life because I wanted to be as personal as possible with the film," he said.
'Minari' tells personal story of family going for their American dream
He competed in the best director category against Thomas Vinterberg ("Another Round"), David Fincher ("Mank"), Chloe Zhao ("Nomadland") and Emerald Fennell ("Promising Young Woman").
In the 1980s-era family drama, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) has moved his family to a wide-open Arkansas plot to farm the land and, hopefully, release him and his wife from years of toil at poultry plants.
He tills it not for the area's typical crops but for vegetables common to Korean cooking that he believes will feed other Korean immigrants like himself. His mother-in-law (Youn Yuh-Jung) also finds a gentle creek bed to grow minari, the leafy vegetable popular in Korea.
"I want this film to be about human beings," Chung in a red carpet interview before the Academy Awards ceremony. "And Asian Americans -- we're human beings -- and so are you. That's what it's all about -- our stories."
"Minari" is nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Lee Isaac Chung); Steven Yeun (Best Actor); Best Supporting Actress (Yuh-Jung Youn); Writing (Best Original Screenplay) and Music (Original Score).
"Those actors, to me, are heroes -- they're incredible and I'm so glad everyone's taking notice of just how good they are," Chung said of Youn and Yeun, in a red carpet interview before the Academy Awards ceremony.
The film won a Golden Globe this year in the best foreign-language film category, despite its deeply American subject matter. Chung told CNN he doesn't feel like competing in the best foreign-language film category dishonored his work, but he understands the anger many have expressed.
"I just want to say that 'Minari' is about a family," Chung said, accepting the award with his daughter's arms around his neck. "It's a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own. it goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It's a language of the heart. And I'm trying to learn it myself and pass it on. And I hope we'll all learn how to speak this language of love to each other, especially this year."