I wish Sai-I-Gu had been a multi-phase project in which the filmmakers continued to follow these women and at regular intervals released short updates. This could have served two purposes, First, a regular release of additional short films—say at 6 months, 1, 5, and 10 years—would have been a way to call attention to the ongoing impact of the LA riots on these women and a way of helping to assert this history against the tides of American social amnesia. All the segments could then have been packaged together. Second, by following these women over a longer period of time, the filmmakers could have given us a sense of how the meaning-making processes continued for these women as they sought to grapple with the event and its aftermath. Of course, funding and other constraints would make it difficult to pursue a project of this sort. And, certainly, many of the women appeared to be struggling with some degree of PTSD and such a sustained engagement may or may not have been in their best interests as individuals.
OK, on to the film that exists vs. this wished-for one that doesn’t!
At several points in the film I thought about Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 1995). One of the pitfalls of history-telling that Trouillot ponders is the selective valorization of a single date or event. This serves, he argues, to silence the longer-lived, complex processes in which the supposed originating or culminating moment is embedded. In this regard, Sai-i-gu successfully punctures the notion that April 29 is contained within a 24-hour boundary. But it is much better at showing the “event” as an unfinished process than it is at giving us a sense of specific conditions leading up to the destruction of Korean businesses amidst the rioting.
One of the women expressed disbelief that some were referring to the riots simply as “unrest.” Trouillot also touches on how “names set up a field of power.” One of his examples deals with Columbus and what it means to describe the explorer’s relationship with the Americas as the discovery vs. the conquest vs. an encounter. The issue of the media’s role in “naming” this as a struggle between blacks and Koreans and the ways in which that obscures the complicity of others, be they whites in power or Hispanics, is one I wish had been covered in greater detail.