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Telling her story

With her debut film, alumna expands Hollywood’s view of Asian Americans

Many international alumni might see some of their lives in the film written and directed by Sujata (DeChoudhury) Day ’01. Definition Please explores the immigrant experience, tricky cultural expectations and the South Asian affinity for spelling bees. It also touches upon subjects deemed sensitive in Day’s cultural community.

The movie premiered in October at the Asian American Film Festival in New York City and is being credited with helping bring a more nuanced portrayal of Asian American life to the screen.

“While Definition Please is a much-needed celebration of South Asian culture and traditions, Day wasn’t afraid to delve into serious issues, tackling the stigma of mental illness and the lasting effects of generational trauma head-on,” Elle magazine told readers in its December issue.

Day, the daughter of Indian immigrants, grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and filmed her movie there. The film follows a spelling bee champion (played by Day) who struggles with self-doubt, an ailing mother and her brother’s mental illness. 

Day said she wanted to present a broader version of the Asian American success story. 

“The Indian-American kids in my community were always pushed to do their best. Get into Ivy League schools, take AP classes, become doctors and law-yers,” she explained to The Hindu, one of the largest English newspapers in India. 

“When we reached 9th or 10th grade, one of our friends ran away from home. We saw the stress and pressure he was under. There were many signs of mental illness in our community that weren’t talked about.” 

While the movie is not autobiographical, Day did win the local spelling bee. She excelled at math and science and came to Case to earn a degree in systems and control engineering. That was to please her parents. She used a consulting job with Accenture to follow her dream to Hollywood and begin auditions. 

Her career as an actress spans a decade now and includes roles in shows like HBO’s Insecure. Definition Please, named for the moment in a spelling bee when a contestant asks for a word to be defined, is her first full-length film.

“For me, Definition Please was an opportunity to show that South Asian-Americans are more than just the perfect smart technical engineers,” she told Elle. “There are other sides of us as well.”

Sujata Day, left, stars in her new film, Definition Please.

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