By Laura Casey
PIEDMONT — The Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee’s first free film showing of the season, “And Then They Came for Us,” on Sept. 27 is a heartbreaking portrayal of the Japanese-American internment in camps 75 years ago and a call for action.
“I hope that Americans can see what can happen and not repeat it,” said Dianne Fukami, the moderator of a panel that will follow the film. She calls the parallels to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, their upheaval and forced entry into camps secured by armed guards and barbed wire, to the Muslim nation travel ban, a Muslim registry and the reversal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “very frightening.”
The Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee selected “And Then They Came for Us” for its relevance to what is happening under President Donald Trump’s administration. The film highlights the plight of Japanese-American internment through the photos of Dorothea Lange and others that are housed in the National Archives.
“It’s an experience of a time in our history that is rather shameful that people either aren’t aware of or are ashamed of,” said the diversity committee’s Janet Nexon. “There’s an obvious parallel to what’s going on now.”
Filmmaker Abby Ginzberg, who made the documentary with Ken Schneider, said she was called to make the film because of Trump’s recent actions against immigrants and Muslim-American citizens. Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, the authors of the book, “Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II,” wanted to collaborate with a filmmaker to tell the story of the internees through the lenses of photographers who were asked to document Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt Feb. 19, 1942.
The order called for the internment of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States, including about 70,000 Japanese Americans, for national security. They were given a month or two before being relocated with only what they could carry. Many lost their homes and businesses in the aftermath.
“It became clear to me that I had to do this film after the Trump administration talked about the Japanese internment while justifying the Muslim registry,” Ginzberg said. “Nobody should do what we did to the Japanese in World War II.”
Ginzberg said she and the authors of “Un-American” have done a service to the annals of history by highlighting Lange’s and others’ photos of the action, photos that the public rarely sees. They show average Japanese-American families, some dressed in their finery, reporting to resettlement centers like the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno which was a racetrack-turned-living quarters for nearly 8,000 Bay Area residents of Japanese descent. Some of the former inmates, including Fukami’s family, lived in the whitewashed horse stalls which still smelled of urine and manure.
“Dorothea made it possible for us to see this,” Ginzberg said. “Let us understand what’s at stake before we do it again.”
Following the film in Piedmont, Fukami will moderate a panel featuring Piedmont resident and civil rights attorney Donald Tamaki. Another potential speaker is formerly incarcerated Japanese-American Yae Wada, who is in her 90s.
Tamaki, board president of the San Francisco Japantown Foundation, served on the pro bono legal team that reopened the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Fred Korematsu. The legal team was successful in overturning Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to be incarcerated based on his racial ancestry. Tamaki will speak about the civil rights violations of the wartime internment and discuss what’s happening in the country today.
Wada, who was incarcerated in the internment camp at Topaz, Utah, was also at the Topaz Museum opening in Delta, Utah. She will bring her personal perspective of being a mother in her 20s at Topaz.
The film, which features interviews with actor George Takei among others who were incarcerated, will play at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Ellen Driscoll Playhouse, 325 Highland Ave., Piedmont. The panel discussion will follow the film.
The film will also showing at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 in The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland. Both showings are free.
Upcoming films included “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap,” a film about the male-dominated tech world, and “The House We Live In” and “Arc of Justice,” two films that explore the family wealth gap between white and black Americans.
IF YOU GO
What: Showing of film “And Then They Came for Us”
When/Where: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Ellen Driscoll Playhouse, 325 Highland Ave. in Piedmont; 3 p.m. Oct. 1 in The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St. in Oakland.
Cost: Free for both showings