Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Khaalidah Sidney


ASAM 115: ASAM & Media/Arts


In the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? by Christane Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena through the death of auto industry worker, Vincent Chin it discusses the topic of the Yellow Peril. Although this has been a reoccurring problem for Asian Americans historically, Chinese American’s Vincent Chin’s death highlights an important moment for Asian Americans and the Asian American movement. The documentary interviews friends and family of the Victim and perpetrators, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz to investigate the racially motivated homicide. In 1982 in the city of the Detroit, where the event occurs which also happens to be home of the American automobile industry a decline in interest of the industry hurt thousands of workers. Workers such as Mr.Ebens and Mr.Nitz and others blamed the decline on the rising interest in Japanese Automobile overseas (Who Killed Vincent Chin?, 1987). Here you see the Yellow Peril theory working its way into the American working class in the 1980s. For some reason, a growing fear of the rise of Asian and Asian Americans is seen as a threat to status quo that enforces white dominance and American economy. And everyone knows a great economy plays a role in American hegemony.

In a short montage in the documentary about Japanese car importation phrases such as “From across the seas” and “There is no stopping them” were said in regards to the rise of foreign cars in America(Who Killed Vincent Chin?, 1987). Hurtful phrases like this are often apart of underlooked and overlooked racism, although easily missed, helps construct a racial rhetoric of Asians and Asian Americans as a threat to the American working class and field. I personally still see these things today, back home the only encounters I had with Asian and Asian Americans, and are the few who own small businesses in urbanized areas. Such as laundry mats, liquor stores and beauty stores. I see many people constantly blame the Asian American and Asian shop owners for reasons why it is so hard to open their own shops in their own ethnic community.

One thing I like about the documentary and so does author Bill Nichols of the article “Historical Consciousness and the Viewer: Who Killed Vincent Chin?” are the artistic choice to not really establish an stance on the homicide but to establish one yourself and the visual aid and choices made. Bill Nichols says, “There is no voice over commentary to orient us, scenes exhibit that ‘peculiar dispersal’ of documentary…without the guiding hands of a narrator” while highlighting the greatest aspect of the documentary (Nichols, pg 5). I believe Nichols is trying to say that because it does not instruct us or bombard us with ideas to lead us to a certain position makes it a great documentary in comparison to JFK. JFK, a documentary that discusses the death of the U.S. president John F. Kennedy but also, that uses imaginary agents to establish a position to make one lean towards a certain direction regarding his assignation. But the symbolic processes, and artistic discussions of the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin?, “challenges us to intuit, sense, or inferentially grasp, and thereby understand, the frame or perspective that gives this act of ‘random’ violence a meaning” making it not only a superior documentary but a much more interesting one too(Nichols, pg 5). For me, the visual elements challenged my position on the case, racism and the working class. It played the largest role in my understanding and possibly all of our interpretation of the case.


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