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Independent Lens: The Donut King

Premieres Monday, May 24 at 10 p.m.

Independent Lens

Trailer | The Donut King

Meet the Donut King, the Cambodian refugee who built a multi-million-dollar empire baking

An immigrant story unlike any other, Alice Gu’s The Donut King follows the twisty, unexpected journey of Cambodia refugee Ted Ngoy, who arrived in California in the 1970s and, through a mixture of diligence and luck, built a multi-million dollar donut empire up and down the west coast. A co-presentation by ITVS and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), The Donut King makes its broadcast premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens on May 24, 2021 at 10:00 p.m. and will also be available to stream on the PBS Video app.  

In 1975, Ted Ngoy escaped the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, arriving in America via Camp Pendleton, California. Starting his new life in America as a church custodian, he parlayed opportunity and hard work into the purchase of his first donut shop, in Orange County, California – which quickly led to another donut shop, and another. Christy’s Donuts continued to expand and opened new locations, giving Ngoy the ability to lend a helping hand to his former countrymen and women. Over the next decade, Ngoy sponsored hundreds of visas for incoming Cambodian refugees offering them steady employment in his shops.  

By the mid-1980s, Ngoy was living his version of the American Dream: owner of multiple homes, driving expensive cars, taking lavish vacations, and becoming an American citizen. But great rise often comes with a great fall, and Ngoy saw a reversal of fortune ultimately losing everything he built.  

Through interviews with Ngoy and his family, and archival footage from Cambodia and California, The Donut King peels back the complexed layers on a story about immigration, assimilation, prejudice, who gets access to the American Dream–and what happens when it is achieved. The award-winning film also explores how The Dream gets handed down and evolves from one generation to the next, taking a look at the current generation of Cambodian donut shop owners and the ways they have been inspired by and diverged from their parents and grandparents before them. 

“Ted’s story instantly fascinated me, but I never could have anticipated the complex and beautiful layers that would unfold as we filmed,” said Gu. “The film offers both a history lesson and a relatable emotional journey of someone pursuing the American Dream. So often refugee stories are told through the lens of tragedy and suffering, we hear only the narratives focused on their tragic plight and suffering, but rarely do we hear the stories about someone being given a chance and what can happen when they are. I’m looking forward to the film’s broadcast on PBS and hope that audiences will be inspired by–and perhaps see themselves in–Ted’s story.”  

The Donut King made its premiere in competition at SXSW 2020, and also played at numerous other festivals including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Asian American International Film Festival, Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, and more. It will also play at this year’s upcoming CAAMFest, the nation’s largest Asian American film festival, in May 2021.