On Wednesday April 8, in Rocky 200, Vincent Who? will be screened. The film starts at 7:00 and its producer, Curtis Chin, will be in attendance. Vincent Who? is a 40-minute documentary released in 2008 about the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin (unrelated to the film’s producer). Chin was beaten to death with a baseball by two Detroit autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. The two men mistakenly believed Chin to be Japanese and blamed him for job loss in the U.S. auto industry. “It’s because of you mother** that we’re out of work,” they allegedly shouted.
The conflict started at The Fancy Pants Club, where Chin, who was supposed to be married in two days, was celebrating his bachelor party. Ebens reportedly made a comment about one of the dancers in Chin’s group, which led to an argument and subsequent altercation. Once both groups left the club, Chin challenged Ebens and his stepson Nitz to a fight. The two men retrieved a baseball bat from their car and chased Chin. They spent around 30 minutes looking for him, even offering someone $20 for help locating him. When they found him, they beat Chin with the bat so brutally he fell into a coma and died four days later.
Ebens and Nitz were initially charged with second-degree murder but pled guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. They were sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $3,000. “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” said Judge Charles Kaufman of the lenient sentencing. The judge has since stood by his verdict, while Ebens has expressed regret. In more recent interviews, he discusses the event that he calls “the only wrong thing I ever done in my life.”
But that fateful night in 1982 triggered a wave of activism within the Asian-American community. Then just 1.5% of the population, this minority group had been the subject of both social and legal discrimination for years. The case galvanized support for the community.
That being said, much of this activism was limited in scope to the Asian-American community. One important motivation for Vincent Who? was the lack of coverage and knowledge of the case. Producers interviewed nearly 80 college students, all of whom had never heard of the case.
The documentary features coverage of the case as well as interviews with prominent activists and scholars from the Asian-American community. Journalist Lisa Ling, civil rights attorney Dale Minami, and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center Steward Kwoh are among those featured in the film. In the piece, they discuss the past, present, and future of activism within this community.
Vincent Who? received The National Association for Multicultural Education’s 2009 Multicultural Media Award. Curtis Chin, the film’s producer who will appear at Vassar, has written for channels including ABC, NBC, Fox, and the Disney Channel. He served on Obama’s Asian American Leadership Council and co-founded the Asian American Writers Workshop and Asian Pacific Americas for Progress. He has been featured on several news outlets and received many awards for his work.
Vassar’s Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA) is responsible for bringing the film and Chin to campus. Kevin Lee, the group’s media / publicity chair said “ASA seeks to bring a diverse set of outside speakers to this campus. We’ve had spoken word artists, comedians, blogging activists, etc., and so we wanted to bring an Asian American perspective from the film industry next.” Vincent Who? stuck out to the group not only because of the crime itself but its vast implications. Lee explained, “the film deals with the senseless murder of an individual, and then pans out to how that one act affected Asian-American activism for years to come.”
Co-President of ASA Michelle Zhao notes the importance of communicating the news and current events. “At Vassar, even though it’s such a small school, there’s a lack of knowledge about what’s going on around campus and most people don’t hear about things that they should know about,” she explained. This theme is true of the greater public as well. She elaborated, “news like Vincent Chin’s murder should have been exposed just like any other news out there to let everyone know that things like this are still happening in the 21st century and things like this could still happen on our own campus if we don’t watch out and learn from previous mistakes.”
The resonance of this heinous crime still holds more than 30 years since it took place. The film’s themes are relevant to many other minority groups as well. Vincent Who? has been screened at over 300 colleges, libraries, companies, and events. “The documentary deals with a lot of issues such as racism in the justice system as well stereotype and bias in everyday life. We felt it was important that people see this film, and we decided to bring it to Vassar,” elaborated Lee.