Journalist Helen Zia speaks at a protest seeking justice for Vincent Chin in the 1980's. (Photo credit: Corky Lee)
This post was updated on 5/29/21 to include new developments in this story, including comments from A-Major Media. This post was updated on 6/3/21 to include new comments by Annie Tan and Rosalind Chao.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Gemma Chan would be partnering with A-Major Media and M88 to produce a new star-studded podcast centered around the 1982 racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin that sparked a nationwide protest galvanizing the Asian American community. That podcast — Hold Still, Vincent — involves a table read of a screenplay by the same name written by Johnny Ngo, and it features a star-studded cast of Asian American actors including Remy Hii as Vincent Chin, Rosalind Chao as Vincent’s mother Lily Chin, and Kelly Marie Tran as both Liza Chan and Helen Zia. Benedict Wong, Ki Hong Lee, Stephanie Hsu and Tzi Ma also make appearances. The podcast also features an interview with Asian American artists and activists moderated by John Cho. Hold Still, Vincent released all five episodes on May 27, and is also expected to be developed into a feature film.
Both podcast and film have excited the Asian American community because they are expected to introduce a pivotal moment in Asian American movement history to a wider audience. Many were disappointed therefore when Helen Zia — the journalist who played a central role in organizing the demands for justice for Chin and his family — revealed that neither she nor the Vincent Chin Estate have ever been contacted by the makers of Hold Still, Vincent.
Let me be clear: I do not mean to dismiss the achievement of this year’s pro-Liang protests. It is never easy to organize a nationwide demonstration, never mind one that is able to attract 15,000 in a single city and thousands more nationwide. I may not agree (like, at all) with Liang’s supporters, but no one can or should scoff at the community organizing work it took to make these protests materialize. And, quite clearly, these protests, letter writing campaigns, and online petitions had an impact: after DA Ken Thompson said he would not seek prison time for Liang, Judge Danny Chun today reduced Liang’s conviction to a lesser charge before sentencing him to 5 years probation and 800 hours community service for his killing of Akai Gurley.
Liang’s supporters will be celebrating today. But, in the interest of an accurate representation of AAPI history, those celebrations must be presented alongside an honest contextualization of AAPI’s long history of vociferous protest movements.
Chin had been in a coma for four days after being attacked by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. The two Chrysler factory workers reportedly said to Chin, “it’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work” — a reference to competition between American and Japanese auto workers, although Chin was Chinese American — moments before the father-and-son team fatally bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat.
Justice was never found in the hate crime murder of Vincent Chin. Ebens and Nitz paid a $3000 fine for killing Chin. Neither man ever served a day in jail. (To learn more about Vincent Chin’s murder, check out Who Killed Vincent Chin?)