Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat 39 years ago, a galvanizing incident for the modern Asian American civil rights movement but an event that has been lost to history for most outside the community.
No longer. As the nation finally awakens to the violence that Asians continue to face in this country, Chin‘s story — his killers never served jail time for the slaying — is receiving fresh attention and soon can be experienced in narrative form via Hold Still, Vincent, a feature screenplay penned by Johnny Ngo.
Gemma Chan, A-Major Media and M88 are coming together to produce a table read of the screenplay, a topical companion podcast about Asian American civil rights and the eventual Hold Still, Vincent feature film that they hope to sell.
The murder of Vincent Chin is not unfamiliar to any of the parties involved on the project. Ngo began writing his script in 2017, and A-Major Media‘s Mary Lee got involved shortly before she launched her company in February 2020. Now, in a year that has seen a 149 percent spike in anti-Asian discrimination and assaults nationwide, the team hopes that Chin‘s case can reach a receptive audience.
“This horrifying moment in time reinforces how important it is to dispel the harmful stereotypes that have been perpetuated throughout history,” said Lee, who started A-Major Media in order to provide a platform for Asian American voices. “Vincent Chin’s story is one we’ve always wanted to tell, but now the world needs to hear it.”
Chin was celebrating at his own bachelor party when he was killed in the summer of 1982 in Detroit. According to a witness in the trial after his death, one of his assailants told him, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” referring to competition between the Japanese and American auto industries. Vincent Chin was Chinese American. His two assailants pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the state of Michigan’s criminal case and received three years of probation and a $3,000 fine. Although Chin‘s family later won larger civil suits, the outcome of the criminal proceedings sparked a community appeal to try the case on the federal level, marking the first time the Civil Rights Act was applied in court to an Asian American. (Although one of Chin‘s killers was initially found guilty and sentenced to 25 years, it was overturned upon retrial and both ultimately were cleared of federal charges.)
The Hold Still, Vincent table read, which Carmen Cuba is casting now, will be recorded over Zoom and will take place during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. An audio version of the table read will also be available as part of the companion podcast, which will include interviews with the cast and other AAPI artists and activists exploring subjects germane to activism and civil rights within the community. Podcast studio QCODE will release the podcast, which will be produced by Chan, Lee, M88 managing partner Phillip Sun with Automatik‘s Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Fred Berger, QCODE‘s Rob Herting and Sandra Lee Ying and Writ Large‘s Bash Naran, who along with CAA represents Ngo.
“The death of Vincent Chin occurred during a dark time in America’s history with unsettling parallels to what we have seen happen over the past year with the stoking of hatred towards Asians and the scapegoating of Asians for COVID-19,” Chan said in a statement. “However, it also brought Asian Americans together to form multi-ethnic and multi-racial alliances in the pursuit of justice and to advocate for change. It feels more urgent than ever to bring Vincent‘s story to a wider audience.”
Twin brothers Aaron and Winston Tao, who are repped by CAA and 3 Arts, are attached to direct the feature film based on Ngo‘s screenplay. “Vincent Chin‘s story is more than a podcast or film to us. It’s a cultural landmark in our nation’s history, turning the tide for Asian American civil rights,” they said in a joint statement. “This is a story to remind our community of how we gained the confidence to collectively say, ‘We’re here. We’re proud of who we are. And we’re not going anywhere.'”
Details are still being worked out, but the entire endeavor is also working with nonprofit Gold House to strategize community as well as philanthropic outreach, with plans to use proceeds from the project to benefit various nonprofits and initiatives working to support victims of anti-Asian hate. To date, the nonprofit has raised more than $5.3 million toward vetted organizations and causes related to Stop Asian Hate.
“Vincent‘s story really hit home for me as a member of the AAPI community,” said Sun (no relation to the writer), who co-founded M88 last August and represents Chan alongside WME and the U.K.’s Independent Talent Group. “I’m proud to stand side by side with Gemma, Gold House and all our partners to share this urgently needed story and unite in our collective mission to stand up against injustice.”