Filmmaker Focuses on Narrative Healing

Dumpling Poster
The poster for Wang’s short film “Dumpling.”

As humans, we tend to dwell on painful experiences. In fact, we often remember experiences in which we were hurt longer than we remember good things that happened. But, all pain needs healing, and Xiaolu Wang has found a way to do that.   

Wang is a Minneapolis-based filmmaker and narrative healer, someone who helps others recover from a painful past through storytelling. She immigrated to the United States from China when she was in high school; however, she does not consider herself a Chinese American. Instead, she uses the term “Chinese transplant” because she was uprooted from all of the things she knew and moved to a strange, new culture.   

Wang has found that narrative healing helped in her journey with identity and wants to share that with others. She used the idea in her 2019 film, “Dumpling,” where she explores her feelings about moving to a new country and reuniting with her mother. It is based on her experience of moving from China to a white, rural American town when she was 14. The name of the film comes from the dumplings that the main character brings to school for lunch, which help her connect with her identity in a time when she feels “othered and isolated in her public school cafeteria.” According to Wang, “‘Dumpling’ blends traditional narrative with magical realism to reflect on the struggle to belong.”

Narrative healing is taking your story and expressing it in a way that helps you. Wang considers narrative healing “a process of reclaiming one’s life experience and using storytelling as a way to expand the possibilities for being seen.” Not all narrative healing is writing. It is telling your story through whatever outlet you feel is best, whether it is through painting, writing, songwriting or something else. Wang used her passion for film to tell her personal story of moving to America in her short film “Dumpling.”   

Wang explained narrative healing by saying, “It’s accessible to everyone, as long as you are open and willing to heal because healing is hard work. It’s difficult and it doesn’t always feel good.”   

Wang talked about how we have different perspectives on healing. “For example, I think me and my mother have a very different understanding of healing. For her it was always barriers.”  

These barriers, like the generational difference between Wang and her mother, or holding onto the way things have always been, shut off the pain from her mother’s life. This just goes to show how healing is not always something we want to do.   

“So, this is also why ‘Dumpling’was healing because it was a story that I wanted to dedicate to my mother,” she said. “We always had a very, very contentious and really struggling relationship.”  

What do you need healing from? Trauma? Abuse? Betrayal? Loss of a loved one? The state of the world? Injustice? Take a moment to look inward and think of how you can heal in your story.