If You're Going to Make a Star-Studded, Semi-Fictional Podcast About a Real Man's Murder, Maybe Contact His Family First

If You're Going to Make a Star-Studded, Semi-Fictional Podcast About a Real Man's Murder, Maybe Contact His Family First
Photo:Richard Sheinwald (AP)

The podcast Hold Still, Vincent, a dramatization of the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, has been pulled after criticism from Chin’s family as well as journalist Helen Zia, whose activist work following Chin’s racially motivated murder helped bring federal civil rights charges against Chin’s assailants. NBC News reports that neither the Chin family nor Zia were “consulted about the project.”

From NBC News:

The six episodes of “Hold Still, Vincent” were originally released May 26. A day later, journalist and activist Helen Zia, a central figure in the civil-rights movement sparked by Chin’s murder, posted on social media that neither she nor his estate were contacted about the podcast.
Annie Tan, a cousin of Vincent Chin, confirmed in a Twitter thread May 27 that no one connected with “Hold Still, Vincent” had been in touch with the family (while producers on other projects have).
“I tried listening to the ‘Hold Still, Vincent’ Chin podcast (honestly the title is triggering to me as a cousin), and the disclaimer in the beginning that events were fictionalized for dramatic effects made me stop playing,” Tan wrote in part. “And it’s hard for me to say this because I want people to know my cousin Vincent Chin’s story. But I just don’t get it.”

The lawlessness of the true-crime genre—whether in podcast or docuseries formisn’t new, but there’s something particularly galling about not just the fictionalized nature of the podcast but the involvement of A-Major Media, a production company dedicated to elevating Asian-American storytelling. The company has issued an apology, making sure to note that the celebrity cast and collaborators of Hold Still, Vincent—including Remy Hii, John Cho, Kelly Marie Tran, and Gemma Chan, who served as the podcast’s producer—aren’t to blame for this misstep.

“Our only motivation was to share Vincent’s story with the world,” read A-Major Media’s statement.

Vincent Chin’s story is worth sharing with the world. In June 1982, Chin was severely beaten in a Detroit suburb by two white autoworkers who were resentful of Japan’s increasingly popular auto industry. Auto plant layoffs ran rampant, and morale was low; Chin, who is Chinese-American, was just one of many Asians who became a scapegoat amidst economic uncertainty. The fact that Chin wasn’t Japanese was irrelevant: In the eyes of his assailants, Chin represented the American auto industry’s downfall and creeping Asian dominance, and he had to pay for it. Chin was taken to a local hospital where he died four days later, just days before his wedding.

Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, were initially charged with second-degree murder, but negotiated down to manslaughter instead. The two paid a $3,000 fine and were sentenced to three years of probation. Such a light sentence prompted outrage from Asian Americans across the country, and federal civil rights charges and civil suits followed, with varying levels of success. The crime occurred before the creation of hate crime legislation in the U.S., but is widely regarded as one.

So, yes, Chin’s story deserves to be mainstreamed, especially amid growing incidents of Anti-Asian violence in the covid-19 era. But why attempt telling this horrific story without informing Chin’s estate or the major players who helped turn this tragedy into a movement? Perhaps those involved in the creation of “Hold Still, Vincent” thought it would be easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but that rule should be thrown out the window when the party you’re asking forgiveness from is a grieving family.

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