Filmmakers in attendance.
Echoing Christine Choy & Renee Tajima-Pena’s seminal AAPI social justice classic, WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? (1989), director Tim Tsai’s timely documentary feature debut excavates the facts and the drama behind the fateful 1979 killing of a white crabber, Billy Joe Aplin at the hands of a Vietnamese competitor, Sau Van Nguyen.
This Slamdance official selection highlights the criminal investigation and the community response to this unique study of reverse racial violence. With a population of under 1500, Seadrift, TX, this sleepy fishing hamlet and its residents subside on the whims of the daily catch, then and now. While predominantly white in composition, by 1979, a burgeoning Vietnamese diasporic community had coalesced as groups of political refugees in the post-Vietnam War era began planting roots in the American heartland. Bringing over portable skills and seeking work in the familiar trade of fishery, these Vietnamese refugees quickly made substantial gains and threatened local livelihoods. How does a small, tight-knit Texan town overcome a history of racial strife when the seeds of distrust and miscommunication had been firmly planted in the annals of this killing of a popular native son by a perceived foreigner? What were the exact circumstances behind this act of violence?
While that earlier work examined a blatant act of racial profiling and race-based violence, Tsai’s project focuses on how cultural miscommunication and mistrust fueled this tragic encounter. In this instance, Nguyen’s innocence verdict (ironically, dealt by an all-white jury) led to an increased KKK presence in the community and a threat to the general way of life. Equal parts investigative documentary and legal courtroom drama, rich archival footage including local news broadcast reportage, newspaper clippings, and key witnesses to these men’s lives paired with strong, contemporary interviews by Aplin’s daughter, Beth, Sau Van’s Vietnamese colleagues and contemporaries, Aplin’s white colleagues and community folks bring heft to this reconciliatory work. Looking back in hindsight, those who lived through this community tragedy reflect on the significance of this killing and how this “historical” event may not be fully behind them. —Lindy Leong
Co-presented with Community Partners: Asian Americans Advancing Justice| Los Angeles, Firelight Media, Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA)
Director, Producer, Editor: Tim Tsai
Co-Producer: Andrew Lee
Director of Photography: Colin Harrington
Editor: Angela K. Pires
Music Composer: Alex Lu