Despite what its title might suggest, the 1987 PBS documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? is not a mystery. Almost immediately, the film details Ronald Ebens’s beating of Chinese American draftsperson Vincent Chin on June 19, 1982, after an altercation in a Detroit bar. Ebens, with the assistance of his stepson Michael Nitz, used a baseball bat to beat Chin, who died four days later of his injuries, just two days before his wedding.
But by asking the question posed in the title of their Academy Award-nominated film, directors Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña move beyond the actions and motivations of a few men and explore the conditions that led to Chin’s murder and the denial of justice for his mother, Lily Chin—conditions that still persist during the documentary’s re-release in 2022, forty years after the killing.