Other Reviews Reviews

Documentary Review: The Race Epidemic (2021) by Tony Shyu

The Race Epidemic by Tony Shyu
The Race Epidemic by Tony Shyu © CAAMFest 2021
A inspired by the newly experienced hostility again Asian-Americans in the US

The program of the CAAMFest included also the documentary „“ by . His film is inspired by the newly experienced hostility again Asian-Americans in the US. Shyu created a film that gives a lot of background on Asian immigration in the USA. It also tries to understand why, with the outbreak of the Corona virus, the opinion on Asian-Americans shifted. Why did the society use them as scapegoats for their frustration.

Shyu gives a lot of answers to these questions. None of them, though, are very satisfying. With Corona came up verbal and physical attacks against members of the Asian-American community. One of the trigger is most probably the rhetoric used by former president Trump himself. By referring to Corona as the Chinese virus, he explicitly manipulated the public opinion.

It's hard to watch the pictures in which some white folks insult and beat others. They scream to Asian looking ones “get back to your country”. These are pictures that we know from social media or the news. Director Shyu arranges them between extensive interviews with politicians. He talks to several mayors and members of parliament with Asian origins. They tell him how hard their campaigns have been. Some of them share racist experiences they had. What they can report is very impressive.

The documentary makes clear that this hostility is nothing new. Not new, since the society regularly finds a minority that it can use as scapegoats. After the attacks on the Twin Towers the Arabic community was the target. During World War II it was the Japanese. Back then, it was an institutionalized persecution. The Japanese were forced into camps and punished for the conflict between the US and Japan.

It's this kind of disproportion and irrationality that is often at the origin of xenophobia. Shyu's researches led back to the 19th century. When Chinese people came to the US to work on the railway, they had a difficult stand. The archives show that in pictures and words they were referred to as parasites. They are shown as animals that are dirty and eat other dirty animals. The parallels to the vocabulary someone like Trump and his followers are striking. Even the pictures correspond to the contemporary videos that circulate online. It is the case of a young Asian girl shown biting into a bat.

The film gives a voice to people that very rarely appear on screen. On a formal level, the documentary lacks on a certain maturity. Some of the interviews are visibly recorded remotely. They have an aesthetic we nowadays know well from our zoom meetings. Moreover, the interventions with the interviewees are too long. Some pictures that are used to illustrate some citations seem arbitrary, as if they were mere placeholders.

But altogether the pictures in “The Race Epidemic” are very strong. It shows how easy any group of people can become the target of unjust hostility. Shyu created an important and very relevant work that will resonate for a long time.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter