In April, when Gemma Chan announced the “Hold Still, Vincent” podcast based on a screenplay by Johnny Ngo, Helen Zia and I waited patiently for an email or call about the story of Vincent Chin, my cousin, and Lily Chin, Vincent’s mother and my great-auntie. My family has been contacted by almost a dozen projects wanting to make Vincent Chin’s story and Asian American history known, and I have been happy to share all that I can. However, I did not expect this podcast to drop in full Wed. 5/26 without any such contact. To my knowledge, no one in my family was contacted about the podcast or film project, and Helen shared Thurs. 5/27 she was never contacted even though she is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran in the podcast. After public outcry and backlash, I was contacted by the podcast producer Mary Lee Sat. night 5/29 right before A Major Media announced they would disable the podcast temporarily; Gemma Chan reached out yesterday 6/1 as well. After listening to the podcast, I spoke with both Gemma and Mary today 6/2, and shared what I would have said if I had been reached out to prior to production.
I shared with Gemma and Mary, and hope to share with screenwriter Johnny Ngo and directors Aaron and Winston Tao, the impact of Vincent’s murder on my family. I don’t speak for my family, but many members of my family have said they do not want to be involved in Vincent Chin projects because they do not want to be retraumatized. Journalists over many decades have hounded my family for more sob stories, specifically from Lily Chin, my great-auntie, may she rest in power, who already gave so much of her labor, gave press photographs that have still not been returned to my family, was constantly reminded by the cameras of her dead son Vincent, and, after our family lost the last trial, moved to China. How do you trust others to tell Vincent’s story after all that? I said my family doesn’t speak of Vincent’s murder because it hurts us all too much (and, as I’ve shared publicly, I found out my family history through a PBS documentary of all places because it’s so much). However, many times, even against my family’s wishes, I have spoken publicly about Vincent.
I wanted to give the podcast “Hold Still, Vincent” a chance, but I and many of my friends and family members were immediately triggered by the title, “Hold Still, Vincent,” completely traumatizing given that my cousin Vincent Chin was literally held down by Michael Nitz while beaten by Ronald Ebens. I listened to the first episode to fictionalized accounts of how my cousin Vincent may have sounded with his then-fiancé Vikki and my great-auntie Lily. Then I listened to a scene with a lion dance, which never happened, that overlayed the beating of drums with my cousin simultaneously beaten to death by a baseball bat. Perhaps these fictionalized events may not have appeared in the screenplay or podcast if my family or Helen were reached out to; I will never know. I have spoken to a number of my family members who’ve shared similar objections, although, again, I do not represent my whole family. I also do not represent the Chin estate: Helen Zia, who my great-auntie Lily regarded as a daughter, does.
It is not my role or my family’s role to block other’s storytelling: I want my cousin Vincent Chin’s name and story known. Gemma and Mary both made clear this was a project solely to tell the story of Vincent Chin and Asian American history, not meant to profit, and that any proceeds would go back to Asian American communities, which I trust will happen. However, due diligence should have been paid, which would have been the respectful and bare-minimum steps to reach out to Vincent and Lily Chin’s family, to Vikki’s family, and to Helen Zia who are alive and can speak for themselves. As a storyteller, I know seeking truth is hard and takes time and labor. But if we’re to tell the stories that matter with integrity, we have to do the work, and that means reaching out to those most impacted. As South African disability rights activists said, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” I implore the producers and writers of the podcast to apologize with the truth of what happened and make amends with integrity. I hope Hollywood and storytellers everywhere take this lesson on what diversity, representation, and stories should and should not look like.