If I had to pick one film that I thought all Asian Americans should be required to see, it would be Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena’s powerful 1987 documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin?
The Oscar-nominated doc tells the story of the Chinese American Chin’s 1982 murder at the hands of two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who blamed the Japanese for the loss of their auto industry jobs and took their frustrations out on Chin after an altercation at a strip club. Ebens and Nitz were eventually cleared of all charges against them leading to outrage in the Asian American community.
The film works as a fascinating visual record of the historical event and the massive pan-Asian American/multicultural movement that was birthed from the community’s outrage, but what really elevates the documentary is its more intimate human moments—specifically the in-depth and emotional interviews with Ebens and Nitz as well as Chin’s mother Lily Chin. Choy and Tajima-Pena manage to get their subjects to open up in a way that’s amazing in its rawness and honesty. What Ebens and Nitz admit to on camera is pretty shocking and Lily Chin’s testimony is by turns heart-breaking and inspiring as she transforms from immigrant to activist through the double tragedy of losing her only child and then seeing the American justice system fail her.
And as our occasional Guest Offender Curtis Chin showed in the opening of his 2009 doc Vincent Who?, there’s a whole generation of young Asian Americans who have no idea who Vincent Chin was (and yes, I make a brief appearance in this clip, but watch it anyway):
So on the 30th anniversary of Chin’s death, it seems like an appropriate time to (re)discover this important part of our history through this groundbreaking film. And thanks to the magic of the internet, it’s just a click away. In fact, here’s the opening segment of Who Killed Vincent Chin?:
RIP Vincent Chin
May 18, 1955-June 23, 1982