Karen Siu is a PhD candidate in English at Rice University, working in Asian American studies, blue humanities, critical refugee studies, ecocriticism, and Vietnamese American cultural studies. Her dissertation project examines how water has come to give linguistic and cultural shape to the histories, experiences, and differences voiced and unvoiced in Vietnamese Anglophone cultural production. She has presented at conferences for organizations such as the Association for Asian American Studies, American Literature Association, and ASLE as well as the virtual ASLE-ASEAN conference.


Into the Nước: Submergence and Resurgence in Vietnamese Environmental Film

Abstract: Nước (Vietnamese, pronounced nyúk or \nü-äk\) is a noun defined as water that can be generally used to refer to a liquid or fluid. Metaphorically, the word means homeland, country, and nation. Nước refers to freshwater needed for rice cultivation which is central to Việt Nam. Climate change, however, threatens this understanding of nước. Nguyễn-Võ Nghiêm-Minh’s environmental film 2030 (original title: Nước), imagines a near future where Việt Nam, especially the south’s low-lying coastal and river delta regions, suffers from rising sea levels. The film asks: what does nước become in an environmental future where saltwater is overabundant and freshwater is scarce? This presentation shows how the film complicates nước as a concept while scrutinizing capitalist enterprises that seek to exploit and commodify nature and water. It argues that 2030 feminizes nước by depicting a woman intimately connected with water who becomes the basis of survival, not technological progress or capitalistic pursuits. It claims that Nguyễn-Võ’s film expands definitions of nước, refashioning the original mythological founding of Việt Nam in which a man, not a woman, is connected to and in control of nước. The presentation contends that 2030 produces a new ecofeminist creation myth of Việt Nam where water is not considered separate, an environment over there, or something alien as it has been in Western environmentalism. Ultimately, the film centers itself on a strong, rebellious, and subversive woman’s connection to water to promote ecofeminist empowerment and resist the exploitation and commodification of nature.
Keywords: Vietnamese film, blue humanities, ecocriticism, water, ecofeminism