Eastwood, Gran Torino and Hmong America

October 6, 2008

Not since Anne Fadiman’s bestselling 1997 book "The Spirit Catches
You and You Fall Down" have Hmong Americans had the chance to be so visible in
mainstream pop culture: Director Clint Eastwood’s next film "Gran Torino," shot in
Detroit in August, will feature an almost all-Hmong leading cast.

holding open casting calls attended by hundreds of Hmong in the communities of
Saint Paul, Fresno and Detroit, Eastwood settled on 10 Hmong leads and
supporting players, all but one of whom are first-time actors. Hmong crew,
cultural consultants and dozens of extras were also hired.

The screenplay
by Nick Schenck, a white Minnesotan, features Walt, a cantankerous Polish
American man, played by Eastwood, who has just lost his wife and is estranged
from his children and grandchildren. Disgruntled that his urban neighborhood is
being populated by more and more Hmong arrivals, he keeps a cautious distance
until the nerdy teenage boy next door, Tao, tries to steal his vintage Gran
Torino car to prove himself to a Hmong gang. Walt extracts work from Tao as
payback, and in the process, becomes friendly with Tao and his family. He is
tutored in Hmong culture, and his racist stance gradually chips

On one hand I think it's fine to tell a
story from a white POV and writer in the sense of education and learning, because everyone goes through that; there has to be an evolution (no one comes
out of the womb enlightened).

But at the same time I think there's cause for concern
when you hear statements like this (from eastwoodmovie-hmong.com):

Credit goes to the Eastwood people for putting in the extra effort
to find Hmong actors and taking a leap of faith to cast them for the roles. This
is good news, but we are still disappointed by the careless cultural mistakes
and use of stereotypes for the Hmong characters in the script. Until we see
something better, our thumbs are still down.

And this (from
the original AsianWeek

Even though a real Hmong shaman was cast to play a ritualist, his
expertise was overridden by the screenplay and the filming, which distorted the
ceremonial scenes by making them inaccurately exotic

I still have hope for the film though even with the above, and even though Eastwood and the writer aren't Hmong, it doesn't mean they don't have something important to say, or that we can't all still learn from it, or that it's just going to be bad. And to be honest, from what I've seen, Hmong Americans who play the majority of
roles in this film are cast as every single different type of character, and
that's a great thing to see.

But I'll still have to see the final. I'll have to
see if there's a line that's crossed between exoticizing Hmong American culture and playing into stereotypes (based on the final cut), or helping to represent it as a part of the American story. I'll have to see if the characters that are Hmong American aren't taking a back
seat in the script and in the ending (will it just be a white character who
comes in and saves the day, will it be with the help of his new-found friends,
or does it matter in the context of the story?) -- and then I'll also be thinking
through the sheer number of Hmong Americans who are helping behind the scenes making
sure aspects of the movie are culturally accurate in the end (versus getting overridden).

I guess I'll just be waiting to see, learning more, and crossing my fingers that Eastwood
and everyone involved gets this right.




Hmong people are not nomadic people. By definition of "nomad"--a group of people moving from one place to another with herds of animal. Hmong people move from one country to another due to being FORCED either by war, in justices, discrimation etc... for the purpose of survival.
While watching this film the storyline and plot could have been stronger, could have used a more dramatic scene about the Hmongs instead of a disgruntle old man and a troubled young teen. However, you have to remember that these were are your first time actors from the Hmongs in an all Hmong feature film. Parts of the film about the Hmongs were not true, but what's done is done. I'm so glad that finally, finally the Hmongs are being noticed besides Brenda Song. Overall, the film was okay for the beginning for the Hmongs.
Well, for all the good and bad comments..there is no right or wrong with this movie. It's being done how it's suppose to be done. Any suggestion should be held to themselves. I, as a Hmong, think that this movie is really great. It shows many obstacles that we, Hmongs face during our lives. This movie has a great meaning of how, if the white guy doesn't die, then the crime will continue to come back, but fortunately the old man sacrifice his life for the Hmong guy so this can end by arresting the bad guys. So I think this is a great movie for our Hmong and Americans to concentrate more than just to argue of the good or the bad.Thank you,T. Lee
I know that some things in this movie was off about the Hmong culture but remember that the whole cast was Hmong. They were not other types of Asian pretending to be Hmong and we should be thankful for Clint Eastwood for choosing to have a cast that was Hmong.
Well my sister is the actress of this movie. I'm not giving it a thumbs up just because of that. I don't know why any hmong person would put thumbs down to this movie, and if you do, you must really dont remember where you come from or who you really are. Clint gave an opportunity for the hmong people, that no celebrity has yet. Even though somethings are off, and not exact, who cares. It's a movie, what else do you think they do in movies? So thumbs up all the way. If hmong people can vote for our new general, CLINT is on the list. Obama says "we need change."
I actually just watched this movie and I've noticed a lot of people complaining that there wasn't completely acurate things about the Hmongs culture. Though I didn't really pay attention because I'm American and that wasn't the point to the film in my opinion. There could have been any group of people who aren't "American" put in the place of the Hmong people that were in this film. Clint Eastwood is an amazing actor and director and I think he's trying to show that not everything can or should be answered with murder. Also this movie was showing how many older American's still are holding on to their prejudice against foreigners. I think that this was a very great movie and I don't know why people are looking at such a small aspect of the movie. If you don't like it perhaps if you write a letter to the company or just let them know that you think they could have done it better in being more accurate. When many people say the same thing it causes others to act into doing more research for the movies that they want to do for the future. Hey you never know maybe they would even find the Hmong culture so interesting they'll make that the center point of their movie. :)
hmong people have penetrated further than any other asian race besides the chinese, japanese and vietnames that's it's hard to be negative about such a film. i think all hmong should be proud of how far we've come...especially for a nomadic group of people w/ no real country...well besides the usa.