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Seadrift (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Tim Tsai's new documentary chronicles the racist backlash Vietnamese refugees faced in a Texas fishing town. Info

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The sea is a harsh place, and even more cruel when you add mass displacement and a constant threat of racist violence to the mix. Director Tim Tsai's new documentary Seadrift, and Tsai will be visiting in person to present the film at the UW Cinematheque as part of the UW-Madison Asian-American Studies Program's Asian American Media Spotlight. Seadrift follows its titular town in the years following the Vietnam war, when an enclave of Vietnamese refugees resettled in the area and began fishing for shrimp and crab. After rising tensions between the white and Vietnamese fishermen led to a fatal shooting, the KKK stepped up its agitation in the area, sparking a battle for the soul of the community.

Seadrift's framing of this conflict intentionally avoids villainizing either side. While its prologue uses archival footage to highlight the racist anti-Vietnamese sentiment of the post-Vietnam years, the film paints Seadrift as a town seemingly ready to burst at any interruption of its labor equilibrium. The film intercuts enough of its interviews with images of crabs clawing over each other in buckets and fish on deck struggling to survive to make its message clear: There are no winners in competition for limited work. Seadrift's account of anti-Vietnamese racism shows its subject as a microcosm of a typical historical pattern, where people of color displaced and oppressed by U.S. policies are then scapegoated by the American white working class for trying to make a living. The message is timely in an almost blunt way, but the film does a great service by illustrating this pattern through a case study that in its specifics provides both a harrowing story and a useful historical document. —Maxwell Courtright

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