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Controversy over the film

Yes, there was a controversy. It was Frank Chin because at that time, you know, if you look back politically, there was this…this was when our fists were raised. This is where we were becoming, “Hey, we’re going to speak out” you know, and…especially for young men. Because I think Asian men really had really a rough time. They really did. They wanted to show their masculinity and that they weren’t going to take it laying down and all this kind of thing.

And what Frank Chin objected to, I think basically, was that he would like to have directed the film. One of the reasons that…and he thought that the film was not vocally strident enough. In other words, he wanted to say, “Why didn’t you beat up…why didn’t you show them beating up the Japanese outside the theater?” – that scene. I said, “Hey, do you want to have a bunch of Japanese people beat up? Because that’s what happens when you show those images. People reproduce them.” I mean whenever you have violence on television it’s going to be reproduced and what does that serve? You know that it was terrible. He said, “This was too wimpy” for him. And it probably is for him because he writes a very…he’s a great writer. Unfortunately, he just can’t give anybody else credit for how they want to write or how they want to show their creativity.

So he did a really dirty trick. What he did is he wrote to the New York Times and he wrote a letter saying that he thought this film was racist and that he didn’t want his name – he was an extra – he didn’t want his name connected with this film at all. And he wrote that and they printed it because they thought that he wrote the screenplay because they saw him as Frank Chin, the writer. And so that hurt. That really hurt John a lot. I mean in terms of not only emotionally. Here, he was bending – he thought – bending over backwards to be sensitive. But it was just a political thing and at that time, Edison Uno, who was so wonderful and he was our consultant – he said, “Look, they’re going to use this as a political football because any…they can get on top of it…”

My feeling is now that…I mean I feel sad because he liked the book because it was a strong Asian male. He liked that and that’s why he never badmouthed the book. But the film – I don’t know what it was. They were in it. Just didn’t like that Corty did it, I think.

Date: December 27, 2005

Location: California, US

Interviewer: John Esaki

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, co-author of the acclaimed Farewell to Manzanar, was born in 1934 in Inglewood, California. The youngest of ten children, she spent her early childhood in Southern California until 1942 when she and her family were incarcerated at the World War II concentration camp at Manzanar, California.

In 1945, the family returned to Southern California where they lived until 1952 when they moved to San Jose, California. Houston was the first in her family to earn a college degree. She met James D. Houston while attending San Jose State University. They married in 1957 and have three children.

In 1971, a nephew who had been born at Manzanar asked Houston to tell him about what the camp had been like because his parents refused to talk about it. She broke down as she began to tell him, so she decided instead to write about the experience for him and their family. Together with her husband, Houston wrote Farewell to Manzanar. Published in 1972, the book is based on what her family went through before, during, and after the war. It has become a part of many school curricula to teach students about the Japanese American experience during WWII. It was made into a made-for-television movie in 1976 that won a Humanitas Prize and was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Writing in a Drama.

Since Farewell to Manzanar, Houston has continued to write both with her husband and on her own. In 2003, her first novel, The Legend of Fire Horse Woman was published. She also provides lectures in both university and community settings. In 2006, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston received the Award of Excellence for her contributions to society from the Japanese American National Museum. (November 25, 2006)


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(b. 1932) Nisei American stage, film, and TV actress