Alumna's documentary snags Oscar nomination

Monday, January 27, 2020
Poh Si Teng ('07). Photo courtesy of Teng

By Camila Ramirez Diaz (`19)

Alumna Poh Si Teng can't wait for this year's Oscars. The documentary she produced, "St. Louis Superman," is one of five nominees in the short documentary category.

The documentary has won multiple awards at film festivals, including a Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and an Audience Award at the AFI DOCS Awards.

The documentary follows a year in the life of Bruce Franks Jr., a Ferguson activist and battle rapper, as he works toward a gun violence-regulated future in Missouri.

After the project was pitched by directors Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan, Teng, a commissioning editor and senior producer for Witness, Al Jazeera English’s documentary strand, decided to fund the film because of its character-driven plot.

“We were following Bruce’s story and watching it unfold,” said Teng. “It makes you ask, if, in reality, Black lives matter or not.”

Teng said that the most important thing in working on documentary films is the opportunity to meet and listen to the sources.

“You get to learn every day from these people,” said Teng. “Our only job is to listen.”

Teng majored in journalism because she wanted a job where she could experience life through different people and different perspectives.

The most rewarding part about this project, Teng said, is a chance for the world to catch a glimpse of Bruce’s life and his everyday reality.

Teng's recent success in the acquisition of the documentary by Sheila Nevins, an Emmy-winning producer and former president of HBO Documentary Films, is just one of her accomplishments since graduating.

Teng said that with MTV's acquisition, the film has the possibility to go anywhere.

She said she hopes that people get a chance to see "St. Louis Superman" and realize that not everyone faces the same realities.

Venise Wagner, one of Teng’s journalism professors, described Teng as a firebrand.

“Not only does she demand excellence, but she demands equity,” Professor Wagner said.

Since graduating in 2007, Teng has worked as a producer for VICE on HBO and as a video journalist producer for The New York Times.