Saturday, December 1, 2007

Commentary | "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" (1987)

It is hard to watch Who Killed Vincent Chin? without feeling hateful, angry, and powerless. As each minute went on I felt myself getting more frustrated, not only because his murder case was treated so unjustly, but also because I felt ashamed that I had never heard of his story before. What probably bothered me even more was that so many people were coherent about what happened to Vincent Chin, including witnesses who heard Ronald Ebens use racial slurs and saw him re-instigate the fight in the parking lot and continue it again at McDonald’s, until he beat Vincent Chin to death there with a baseball bat.

I definitely agree that there was sensationalism on both sides in the media, but regardless of whether there was or wasn’t racial motivation behind this killing, Ebens committed brutal manslaughter and should have been punished accordingly. But to take a step back, one of the reasons this film made me so emotional was because it went further than simply convincing its audience of the injustice in Vincent Chin’s murder and Eben’s trial. That much is pretty clear on its own. By creating a mosaic of tensions and conflict surrounding Chin’s murder, the filmmakers ask the viewer to try and answer the title question beyond its obvious answer. It’s a case where knowing what you don’t know is more important than knowing what you do know. Instead of examining who Ebens is as an individual, the film helps us come to understand what he unconsciously represents—an entire system which gave him the power to commit murder, and ultimately protected him from its consequences.

So it seems it is certainly not enough for the viewer to make the simple connection between white racism, racial conflict, and the murder of Vincent Chin; as historically conscious viewers we have to believe in the value of Vincent Chin’s life and his death. As activist Helen Zia noted, no civil rights trials occur unless there is pressure. In this film, directors Choy and Tajima take the right approach to inspiring activism. They tell their audience something, show them something, and then ask them to do something for themselves—challenging us all to ascribe meaning to Vincent Chin’s story by responding to it in the present in the hopes for a more just future.

Company Credits (via
Production Company / Independent (Dir. Renee Tajima-Peña & Christine Choy)
Distributors / Filmmakers Library

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