Hidden Letters

Hidden Letters is a story about the power of female talent, the bonds of sisterhood, and the parallels between generations of struggles drawn together by a once secret language.

Two women speaking
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
March 27, 2023
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Diversity Development Fund
Open Call
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2022 Cinema Eye Honors-Spotlight Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2022 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival-International Documentary Grand Jury Prize
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2022 Heartland International Film Festival-Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Feature
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2022 Bergen International Film Festival-Best Norwegian Documentary
  • Headshot of Violet D Feng

    Violet Du Feng

    Violet Du Feng is a documentary filmmaker and a 2018 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow. She produced Confucian Dream, Maineland, and Please Remember Me, which have won numerous awards including Doc Impact Hi5, and special jury awards at SXSW and the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Hidden Letters is her directorial debut. 

    Headshot of Zhao Qing

    Zhao Qing

    Zhao Qing is the director of the award-winning Please Remember Me. She started her career at Shanghai Media Group in 1991, where she directed and produced many television documentaries affiliated to the Documentary Channel of SMG. She directed and hosted several popular TV documentary programs such as “The Bund” and “Documentary Editing Room.”

    Headshot of Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas

    Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas

    Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas is an Emmy-nominated producer and editor. She produced No Word for Worry and Nowhere to Hide which won the first prize at IDFA, and was nominated for two Emmys. Her recent co-productions have won numerous international awards including Best Documentary at Berlinale for Myanmar Diaries.

    Headshot of Jean Tsien

    Jean Tsien

    Jean Tsien is a documentary editor, producer, and consultant. She received two Peabody Awards in 2021: for executive producing the PBS series Asian Americans; and for producing 76 Days, winner of a 2021 Primetime Emmy®️. She has received Sundance Institute’s 2018 Art of Editing Mentorship Award and DOC NYC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Other ITVS Films
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    filmmaker Su Kim

    Su Kim

    Su Kim is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy®️ and Peabody Award-winning producer. Her films in release include Bitterbrush; the OSCAR®️ and Primetime Emmy®️-nominated Hale County This Morning, This Evening; and Midnight Traveler.

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    The Film

    For centuries leading up to the 1949 Communist Revolution, Chinese women succumbed to the oppression of patriarchy. Yet persistent struggle led to resistance, and when the written language of Nushu emerged in a remote village in Central China, one of the most extraordinary forms of feminist protest was born, created by and for women to commune in secrecy.

    For several hundred years thereafter, Nushu was written in calligraphy as poems or songs on folded fans and handkerchiefs, hidden letters passed down from generation to generation as a way for women to share their stories, express hope and solidarity, and affirm one’s dignity. This outlet saved lives during an era when women’s feet were bound, movement was confined, and many were denied the privilege of literacy.

    In a more modern era, 30-year-old Hu Xin grew up being told her purpose was to take care of her family. She found solace in the songs of her mentor and last living Nushu master, He Yanxin. When Hu Xin began working as a guide at the local Nushu museum, her life took a dramatic turn. She met her husband, who later forced her into an abortion for carrying a girl. Soon after, Hu Xin divorced him – a taboo within her rural community. She has longed for a new family ever since. Her identity as a modern woman is complex and contradictory, hoping to fulfill the societal role of becoming a mother while striving for independence. A world away from Nushu’s rural home, in the metropolis of Shanghai, 32-year-old Wu Simu learns Nushu from Hu Xin. Simu checks the boxes of a “respectable young Chinese lady.” But underneath her soft-spoken exterior, there is a stubborn independent spirit. Simu’s fiancé adores how her Nushu practice exemplifies her sophistication at first. However, it isn’t long before he sets his expectations of her role as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother-to-be.  

    Hidden Letters is a story about the power of female talent, the bonds of sisterhood, and the parallels between generations of women’s struggles drawn together by a once secret language. Confronting a revived patriarchy, Nushu pushes both Hu Xin and Simu to re-examine their understandings of gender in the modern world, and to discover the connections between traditional Chinese womanhood and contemporary feminism.