Saturday, March 31, 2007

Celebrating cultural diversity--just not a diversity of views, please

I'm visiting friends at Yale. The March 30 Yale Daily News features a story on themes now familiar to my Madison colleagues. Here are excerpts:
Locals protest Vietnamese film, by Judy Wang, Staff Reporter

A Vietnamese Students Association film screening Wednesday evening was quickly disrupted by an angry protest led by local residents who opposed the film’s alleged pro-Communist tone.

Immediately after the screening of “Living in Fear,” more than a dozen audience members wearing U.S. military hats began waving South Vietnamese flags and verbally attacking the film’s director, Bui Thac Chuyen, for what they saw as a positive portrayal of Communism. The Yale Police Department was called to the scene... as a precautionary measure... Members of ViSA said the demonstration was an overreaction to the film.

The screening... was a part of CommUNITY Week, a student-led week of events designed to celebrate cultural diversity. “Living in Fear” takes place in 1975 and chronicles the life of a South Vietnamese man who served on side of the United States during the Vietnam War.

...Some of the protestors verbally attacked a Yale student when she tried to mitigate the tensions, Nguyen said.

ViSA President Cecilia Ong ’09 said the event organizers were sent an e-mail by the Harvard Vietnamese Association warning them about the controversial nature of the film, which received heavy criticism when it was screened at Harvard University a week ago. Ong said ViSA decided to show the film because organizers thought it would foster discussion of Vietnamese culture.

“I definitely understand how people might get really riled up about it, and they certainly have a right to be,” she said. “But the concerns and opinions they were trying to vocalize may have come off a bit more strongly than we would have liked.”

Vietnamese language and literature professor Quang Van, who teaches in the Southeast Asia Studies program that co-sponsored the event with ViSA, said he can understand the protestors’ “hard feelings and resentment” because he himself escaped Vietnam with his parents in 1975. Van said the group believed the director was spreading Communist propaganda because all media in Vietnam is controlled by the government.

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