Lulu Wang rose to prominence with her award-winning autobiographical film The Farewell in 2019. But it took some convincing from Nicole Kidman to get her to take on their new Prime Video limited series, Expats, which stars Kidman as an American woman living in Hong Kong.
Based on Janice Y.K. Lee’s 2016 novel The Expatriates, the six episode series follows the personal and professional lives of a tight-knit group of women, converging on the disappearance of Margaret’s young son.
Lulu Wang on Making Expats
“Ultimately, I ended up saying yes because I met with Nicole and she told me that she really wanted me to bring a vision and do something different,” Wang, a Chinese-born American director, tells MovieMaker.
Wang wanted to use Expats not only to spotlight Hong Kong — a place where her identity wasn’t always questioned — but to also delve into themes close to her heart, like grief, motherhood, female friendships, community, and loss. Kidman, an executive producer on the series, optioned the book in 2017.
“She was excited by the fact that we were making episode five, in which she wasn’t the center of it. In many ways, we need [to see] Margaret through the eyes of these other characters. And so, because she was so supportive of these out of the box ideas, I had to do it,” Wang says.
Episode five of Expats screened at TIFF in September 2023.
“We all have our biases — how we enter a story is going to color how we see the rest of that world,” Wang adds. “It’s the same when you meet somebody. If you meet them when they’re very poor and they’re struggling, then you see one side of them. If you meet that same person, and you didn’t know them before when they were poor, you only know them in their success and in their wealth and privilege and you have a different judgment of them. But the reality is, people, the world and situations — there’s always multiple sides [to them].”
With Expats, Wang wanted to add to the conversations around privilege that have been raised so poignantly by projects like John M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, Jesse Armstrong’s Succession, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.
“There’s something fascinating about watching people who have a lot of money,” she says.
But she also wanted Expats to tell a story much bigger than identities like class, race, and gender — she wanted to show the human side of all the different people that make up the fabric of society.
“It is important to critique privilege when you see that it’s not just evil; when it’s actually very nuanced and it’s not so extreme. It’s all around us. I think that was why I took the approach that I did — so that we can, as the audience, sympathize with the characters,” she says.
She finds the idea that storytellers should only write about their own experiences “way too limiting.”
Unlike The Farewell, which was based on her own experience,s Expats is based on Wang’s own life. Instead, she drew on the diverse perspectives of the women in her all-female writers’ room.
“I had a shorthand with the writers – we never had to explain [anything] to each other. As a woman, this is how I would see things, so it was really natural having an all-female writers’ room,” she says.
“I think we need more stories for women, about women, by women, because there are just countless experiences. There’s no one way to do it. And I think that that range is what is exciting — that we get to be all of these different things and tell all of these different types of stories about women.”
She adds: “I really see filmmaking as a kind of spiritual personal growth. Every film that I make, I go on a journey with it. It teaches me so many things. So I’m just figuring out what that next opportunity for growth is.”
Expats is now streaming on Prime Video.
Main Image: Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee in Expats courtesy of Prime Video.