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Vincent Chin TV Series In The Works With The Cooperation Of His Estate

The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, which galvanized a nationwide movement of Asian American activism that remains relevant today and continues to grow, will be dramatized in a TV limited series with the cooperation of his estate.

Participant Media, which has been behind social-justice-oriented movies and TV series like “Spotlight” and “When They See Us,” will develop and produce the series, the company announced Thursday.

And for the first time, the series has the blessing and involvement of Chin’s estate, managed by Helen Zia, the pioneering Asian American journalist and activist who led efforts to seek justice for Chin following his murder. Before her death in 2002, Chin’s mother, Lily, appointed Zia, whom she considered a daughter, the executor of the estate.

In June of 1982, Chin, then 27, was celebrating his upcoming wedding in Detroit when he was brutally beaten by two white autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz. Angry about the decline of the U.S. auto industry and the rise of Japanese car manufacturers, outsourcing and economic deregulation, the two men mistook Chin, who was Chinese American, as Japanese.

Days later, Chin died from his injuries. Ebens and Nitz then received lenient sentences for their crimes.

In June of 1982, Vincent Chin was murdered by two white autoworkers who assumed he was Japanese. 

Chin’s murder and its aftermath marked a turning point in Asian American history and activism. It was one chapter in a long history of anti-Asian racism and violence in America — another of which is currently ongoing as Asian Americans face an alarming surge in racist attacks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1987, Chin’s murder and the rise of Asian American activism were chronicled in an Oscar-nominated documentary by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña. Aside from that and a handful of other documentaries and books, the topic is rarely covered in general history classes or portrayed in pop culture.

But given its renewed relevance today, there have been more recent attempts to tell Chin’s story, some of which have landed themselves in controversy.

Earlier this week, the creators of a new podcast about Chin’s murder, “Hold Still, Vincent,” pulled the project from podcast feeds. The team behind the podcast, which had been promoted by actor Gemma Chan and featured a table read by a number of notable Asian actors, had not contacted Zia and Chin’s estate.

“Creators — please at least check in with community people who lived these experiences, including the estate of Lily and Vincent Chin,” Zia wrote on Instagram. “The AAPI community and its activists deserve that respect. I’m not dead yet and it’s weird hearing/seeing myself fictionalized by people who have never tried to connect with me or the Estate.”

Journalist and activist Helen Zia. 

Journalist and activist Helen Zia. 

The new TV series is billing itself as “the only authorized telling of the landmark civil rights case.” 

“With exclusive access from this pivotal moment in Asian American history, the series will reveal the definitive account of a civil rights movement that matters today more than ever, when a community discovered its voice,” Participant Media said in a statement.

Zia will serve on the series’ creative team, along with producers Vicangelo Bulluck, Paula Madison and Donald Young, the director of programs at the Center for Asian American Media.

In a joint statement, they said that “we understand the responsibility in making sure that this story is culturally and historically accurate, and respects Vincent Chin’s legacy.”

“Vincent Chin’s brutal slaying, at a time of intense anti-Asian hate across the country, galvanized Asian Americans to rally together, unite with many diverse communities, and create a new movement for racial justice that impacted all Americans,” Zia said in a statement.

“With today’s current tsunami of anti-Asian hate sweeping the globe, the full story of Vincent Chin and the powerful community response must be told, and I’m thrilled that Participant will be leading this effort.”

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