Narratives that pit the Asian American community against the Black community are fraught with inaccuracies and often neglect the larger social context in which these crimes are occurring — media produced in the name of propagating white supremacy. As Asian Americans, we should grapple with our complicity in anti-Blackness; we should remember that, historically, there are times when Asian Americans have wavered on committing to fighting against racism that harms our fellow BIPOC brothers and sisters.
At first glance, “A Shot Through The Wall” seems like just another one of those inflammatory narratives where Asian Americans are used as a tool to further white supremacy, and in this case, the police. But the film brings a nuanced perspective and breaks through binary conversations about racism without centering Asian American oppression. Written and directed by Aimee Long, the fictional drama follows Chinese American police officer Mike Tan (portrayed by Kenny Leu) after he accidentally shoots and kills an innocent Black man in Brooklyn. Wading through his guilt, Mike’s reckoning is a process that is dragged through the media, which dramatically alters his family, his relationships, and even perhaps his sense of self.
As a director, Long was drawn to the idea of giving a voice to those who are not typically included in the conversation. Asian Americans have had active roles in violent police-related murders of Black individuals: For example, Officer Peter Liang fired his gun into an unlit stairwell and killed Akai Gurley in 2014, and Officer Tou Thao silently stood by as George Floyd was suffocated in 2020. Yet the Asian American community has struggled to parse out whether these implicated individuals are simply acting on behalf of the oppressive police institution or if Asian Americans as a whole need to reflect on our complicity in racism, rather than seeing ourselves as only a victim of racism.
“I wanted to explore where Asian Americans stand in the spectrum of racism in America today,” Long says. “Asian Americans are not treated with the same type of racism as Black people, but as we can see with recent events and the rise of Asian hate, it’s also evident that Asian Americans are not treated like white people either. I wanted a film that explores this complicated relationship and shows all of those shades of gray.”
Enter Mike Tan. Mike lives with his parents and is dating a Black woman who is the daughter of another more senior police officer. Like other Chinese Americans, Mike’s parents worry about him, love him, and have misconceptions about his job. His mother says to him when he comes home late, “When you patrol those bad neighborhoods, we never know if you are alive or dead.”
One day, he and his partner approach a group of kids on a street corner and begin pursuing a Black teenager who runs away. In pursuit, Mike pulls his gun and accidentally misfires through the wall of a Brooklyn apartment, killing the Black man who lives there. There’s an investigation, but the union representative promises that this case won’t go to trial: “No cop has been indicted for 12 years.” Next thing you know, Mike is on trial.
What happens next is a vortex of decisions, some that are out of Mike’s hands and others that Mike is directly responsible for. While the central matter at hand is whether Mike is guilty or not for the “shot through the wall,” the film demonstrates that there is a whirlpool of context guiding that decision beyond justice and fairness. Mike’s defense attorney says to him at one point, “I am not going to lie to you: This case is about race. Do you think this would have happened if Mike were white?”
At the same time, the film neither lingers on nor overemphasizes anti-Asian oppression or the personal details of Mike’s life in order to elicit compassion for his situation. In fact, Mike makes bad decisions — in one instance, he capitalizes on the defense that since he is dating a Black woman, he can’t be racist. What the viewer is left with is a more thorough picture of what constitutes accountability in a society and system in which people cannot be separated from their racial identities.
“The presiding goal of the film is really to remind us that when something like this happens, a real tragedy, everyone related to the event or commenting on the event has an opinion and sees it through their own personal lens,” Long notes. “At the heart of these tragedies, there are real people with real losses. We don’t want to oversimplify a systemic and very complicated problem, but we need to hold people accountable.”
As a result, Long’s first feature film “A Shot Through The Wall” is a telling and complicated snapshot of racism in present-day America. While the film does not dive as deep into the politics of policing, the film does provide a starting point for deeper conversations about what it means to be accountable and shades in the nuance lost in typical narratives of strife between Asian and Black communities in our nation.
“A Shot Through the Wall” is slated for a theatrical release on Jan. 21, 2022. The film has a predominantly Asian American cast including Kenny Leu (“Midway”), Tzi Ma (“Mulan”), Lynn Chen (“Saving Face”), Fiona Fu (“Away”), and Ciara Renee (“The Flash”), alongside Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”), Kelly AuCoin (“Billions”), and Clifton Davis (“Madame Secretary”).
Award-winning director Aimee Long was raised in Paris, Beijing, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She worked on the HBO documentary project “Addiction” and her own sci-fi short film “Distance,” which was a finalist at the USA Film Festival and showcased in dozens of film festivals around the world. In 2014, Long co-founded Kings Road Pictures with Daniel Langa to develop and produce feature-length films with a socially conscious message, reflecting the realities of today with the dream of our future possibilities.
Photo credits: Photography by Cara Howe
Last modified: January 17, 2022