Finding Ma

Thanh Tran is a mixed race, Vietnamese and Black, documentary filmmaker and organizer from Sacramento, California.

Artist Bio

We meet Thanh Tran, an incarcerated filmmaker inside San Quentin State Prison as he is preparing for release. As his incarceration comes to an end, he is left to enter the free world and reconnect with his family after ten years in prison. We see his excitement and joy but also his trepidation. He doesn’t know what he will find or how he will be received after all of these years incarcerated. At the Buddhist temple where he was raised, Thanh makes a formal apology to his two elderly foster moms who live and work there as Buddhist nuns. With their forgiveness, he gains the confidence to set out on a journey to reunite the rest of his family.

Thanh and his six siblings were placed into foster care in early childhood after CPS intervention. Their birth mother, Hue Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant, struggled with addiction and houselessness for their entire lives. People see Hue as a nuisance on the side of the road, but to Thanh and his family, she is Ma – the Vietnamese term for mom. Her makeshift homes on various streets of Little Saigon has especially troubled Thanh’s sister Thu, who has made a tradition out of visiting her mother on her birthday which is on Christmas. When Thanh comes home and learns about this tradition, he sees it as an opportunity to bring everyone back together.

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You see a brown man, with a hair bun, smiling, wearing a white shirt and blue jacket.

Thanh Tran

Haywood, CA

Thanh Tran received the Creative Capital Award in 2024. Thanh Tran is a mixed race, Vietnamese and Black documentary filmmaker and organizer from Sacramento, California. He is the co-founder and co-host of the podcast “Uncuffed” which he started while incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison. While in San Quentin, he also co-founded the incarcerated film production team “ForwardThis Productions.” ForwardThis Productions teaches incarcerated folks how to create films and utilize them as tools for advocacy. Currently he works as a Policy Associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights where he organizes and leads coalitions for statewide and local policy campaigns centering around criminal justice reform.