It costs one hundred to rent and several hundred to buy, but watched Who Killed Vincent Chin? last night, courtesy of the University of Nebraska’s Love Library and Rice University’s Fondren Library. Vincent Chin was an engineer who killed in 1982 with the baseball bat by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler worker.
The documentary was positively reviewd in the New York Times and nominated for an Academy Award. It revolves around interviews with the killer, Ron Ebens, his wife, Juanita Ebens, and the victim’s mother, Lily. Ronald pled guilty to manslaughter (for which he was charged a $3,000 fine) and acquited on a federal civil rights charge. A civil suit was filed after the documentary premiered, and is not covered in the presentation.
In the film, no one comes across worse than County Circuit judge Charles Kaufman (1920-2004). By the end of the film, it’s hard to sustain anger against Ron Ebens or even believe the federal prosecuture’s allegation of a racially-motivated killing: Ron seems to be a working-class thug, and a functioning justice system would process him accordingly. Judge Kaufman apparently did not agree to be interviewed, so his side of the story is told only by an embarrassing clip from an interview, with the judge complaining about being overworked.
Who Killed Vincent Chin is a deep documentary, one that provides a meta-narrative to coverage a scandal I have no memory of, and oen that could be extended an extra half-hour with all that has happened since its debut twenty years ago.