RKS Film: “Who Killed Vincent Chin” : 40th Anniversary

After an altercation at a Detroit strip club Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat by Ronald Ebens and his adopted son Michael Nitz (both white) on June 19, 1982. According to multiple witnesses Ebens insulted Chin by calling him a moutherfucker whose people were stealing American jobs.  Chin knocked down Ebens and Nitz who raced after Chin with a baseball bat. Nitz held Chin and Ebens bashed his brains out with the baseball bat in front of a McDonalds.

The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award in 1987 and has been restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

There is no narration of this documentary. Instead friends, relatives, topless dancers, lawyers, journalists, politicians and activist groups give their take of events.

Early on the documentary we learn Ebens and Nitz were convicted of manslaughter by a Michigan state court so why are both sitting comfortably at home chatting in front of the camera and not in prison? Originally both were charged with second-degree murder and plea bargained for guilty pleas to manslaughter and received a sentence of a $3,000 fine and 3 years probation. The sentence sparked outrage and led to a national protest. As you can’t be tried twice for the same crime the protests led to a federal trial based on a violation of Chin’s civil rights. Ebens receives a 25-year sentence but the verdict is overturned on appeal. You as a white man beat a Chinese man to death with a baseball bat while he is being held down and you walk free. So we know who killed Vincent Chin but the documentary begs the question if American society killed Chin by permitting characters like Ebens to walk free. A damning indictment on the American justice system.

Ebens portrays himself as a hothead insisting he was not a racist. According to him the civil rights response simply served their own selfish agenda which was blown out of proportion by the media. Ebens’ claim the American Citizens for Justice’s concern for the “alleged plight of Asians” was a crock as after all he thought Asians were “nice people”. As Ebens’ wife remarks her poor husband went through a nightmare but in the end the justice system worked as it should have!

This is a beautifully crafted documentary that lets both sides have their say so you are free to make your own conclusions but eyewitnesses had me believing Ebens was a liar with a selective memory. What is particularly disturbing is Ebens’ lack of remorse and attempt to alter the storyline so that he was the victim. POV will be presenting the special encore of this documentary on June 20, 2022. Produced by American Documentary, POV is the longest-running independent documentary showcase on American television. Since 1988, POV has presented films on PBS that capture the full spectrum of the human experience, with a long commitment to centering women and people of color in front of, and behind, the camera. The series is known for introducing generations of viewers to groundbreaking works like Tongues UntiedAmerican Promise and Minding The Gap and innovative filmmakers including Jonathan Demme, Laura Poitras and Nanfu Wang. In 2018, POV Shorts launched as one of the first PBS series dedicated to bold and timely short-form documentaries. All POV programs are available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website. 

As we have witnessed in Canada and the United States Asian racism lives with Trump’s rants on the “Chinese Virus” and attacks on Chinese populations in both countries blaming them for COVID-19. We know all too well Asian racism in North America has been present many years prior to the cold-blooded killing of Vincent Chin. As far as America goes it is broken and paralyzed by a divisive political system, mass shootings and murder of blacks by white police forces only seems to be a harbinger of a tide of increasing racism. If the United Sates has not learnt from the Chin fiasco, will it ever learn? What progress against racism can be made in a broken country?

You know how deep hatred is when a peaceful guy like me working at a golf course last year while researching a book is told by some black golfers to stick my white face up my fucking white ass that hatred knows no end. My first racist harangue and it was shocking.

RKS Film Rating 94/100.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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