Nowadays, when bipartisanship on Capitol Hill is a rarity, filmmaker Janice Tanaka tells the story of a bygone era of human connection inside the Beltwayan unprecedented American moment in the US Congress that the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University called an achievement against all odds. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, almost forty-five years in the making, acknowledged the fundamental injustice of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II in American Concentration Camps and paid each surviving internee $20,000 along with a government apology. Not many outside the Japanese American community know this story. Right of Passage recounts the journey of a small disenfranchised people who for thirty years buried their shame and indignation but then found the courage and strength to seek justice, which then snowballed into a lesson of the power of American democracy.
The documentary draws upon newly declassified documents, never-before-seen archival films and interviews with players speaking for the first time. Featured are Presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; Senators Daniel Inouye, Spark Matsunaga and Alan Simpson; Congressmen Barney Frank, Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui; Ken Duberstein, former Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan; and the men and women from the community who played a significant role in this Herculean effort.
Running time: 98 minutes.
The film will be followed by a panel discussion with director Janice Tanaka, John Tateishi, and others.
Every human rights campaign starts with a goal to right a fundamental wrong. It was clear that racial prejudice was the sole reason the U.S. Government imprisoned 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry behind barbed wire in desolate locations around the country. In their quest for justice, Japanese Americans needed not only the three cornerstones of our government the US Congress, Supreme Court and Presidentto admit a grievous 40-year old mistake, but to overcome internal community divisions ... and they did, when President Reagan signed The Civil Liberties Act in 1988 that awarded each former surviving internee an apology and $20,000. When the Nitto Tire USA approached me with the idea of creating a documentary film on this subject, my immediate thought was, This is a complicated story to tell. My producing partner, Nancy Araki, a former inmate herself, and I started by identifying all the groups involved, then we created ground rules for this journey.
First, the battle for redress was divisive; so we knew every participant firmly believed in his/her version of how it was won. We adopted Akira Kurosawas Rashomon approachasking each person to tell the story from his/her perspectivewhich took us from San Francisco to Seattle, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, New Jersey and Worland and Cody, Wyoming.
Second, we decided we would include only those statements in the film that could be substantiated with a paper trail or came from a source with firsthand knowledge, like Ken Duberstein, Reagans White House Chief of Staff, Senator Alan Simpson and Rep. Norman Mineta. We examined recently declassified documents from the vast collection of papers in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California; the Mike Masaoka Collection, University of Utah; news items from 1939-1988; never-before-seen films from the Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford Presidential Libraries; DENSHO archive of interviews of redress players no longer with us; and scores of personal collections.
Third, we framed the films structure within the 8-year window of President Reagans presidency because he was the not only a common thread to span the entire 40-year journey but had unique, unexplored intersections to it, plus I wanted the name recognition to attract an audience beyond the Japanese American community.
Fourth, for a narrator we wanted an icon who was not just immediately recognizable but knew about the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Brooke Shields, a Princeton graduate, was not only aware of the story but felt passionately that it needed to be told.
Fifth, we wanted to use this film to correct the lexiconthat Japanese Americans were not evacuated, they were forcibly removed; these were not relocation camps but concentrations camps.
My own emotional connection to the story comes from the fact that my mother and grandparents were incarcerated. When, as a film student at USC, I was encouraged to make documentary films about the people and world around me, my parents refused to talk about their camp experience. We lived in South Central Los Angeles, predominantly African American, and I discovered it was one of few areas that Japanese Americans were allowed to resettle after the war. Growing up, my parents warned me never to make wavesa mantra our entire community around me lived by. Many of my generation resorted to gangs, drugs and suicide. My previous film, When Youre Smiling: The Deadly Legacy of Internment, tells this story.
In 1981, there was a buzz about Japanese American redress when President Carter signed a bill to appoint a commission to study this embarrassing chapter. I volunteered to film the public hearings in Los Angelesa shocking and moving experience. It was the first time I heard former internees speak of their experience and many just broke down in tears. In 1988 when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act I really did not have any idea of what it took to get that bill passed.
In making this film I wanted to present a neutral but comprehensive and honest picture of the when and where the movement began, the forgotten players and factions and fractures within a community labeled the model minority. I also wanted to capture a time in politics when positions were not as intractable as they are today, a time when there was bipartisanship. While winning redress was an achievement for Japanese Americans, it could not have happened without Democrats and Republicans coming togetherthis created a unique and unprecedented American moment at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, one we are likely never to see again in view of todays political climate.
JANICE D. TANAKA (Director/Producer)
Right of Passage marks Janice D. Tanakas debut as a feature documentary director. A producer, educator and television executive with 30 years of experience in producing film, cable, corporate media and educational videos for non-profit organizations in the Asian American community, Tanaka provides an unique inside perspective. Her mother was incarcerated at the Amache Concentration Camp and a recipient of the $20,000 monetary reparation and apology from the Civil Liberties Act.
From 2006 to 2011, Tanaka served as Manager, Diversity Development, at Fox where she worked on initiatives to employ writers, actors and directors of color. She specialized in outreach programs to make the studio system more accessible to minority youth. Prior to Fox, Tanaka executive produced over 100 episodes of multiple television shows that presented positive images of Asian Americans for International Channel and AZN Television. Shows included Cooleyville, an animated sitcom featuring a Chinese American family, XBYTES, a hip tech show and Popcorn Zen, a film shorts show.
As an educator for more than a decade teaching video production at Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Florida, Tanaka instilled in her students the power of communicating and creating their own stories. Prior to teaching, Tanaka was an award winning marketing and public relations video producer at major corporations such as Transamerica, City National Bank and Hughes Aircraft Company. In addition, Tanaka has written and produced several acclaimed documentaries including When Youre Smiling: The Deadly Legacy of Internment, the very first documentary to connect suicides in the Japanese American community in the 70s to their incarceration experience.
Her current work includes biographies on Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, a Japanese American civil rights advocate whose critical discovery made redress possible, and Reverend Emery Andrews, a Baptist minister who dedicated his life to helping Japanese Americans during the war. She is also working on a documentary about Japanese Americans in the Midwest immediately after World War II. Tanaka continues to be involved with broadcast TV as a script evaluator for ABCs New Talent Development program. She also produces videos for clients such as the Japanese American National Museum, Keiro Senior Healthcare, Advancing Justice-LA, the USC Alumni Association and others.
JOHN TATEISHI (Former JACL National Redress Director, Author)
John Tateishi gained national prominence in 1978 when he launched a campaign to seek redress for Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II as the National Redress Director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). His work on the legislative and public affairs strategies of this campaign ultimately culminated in the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted a formal apology from the President and the Congress, as well as reparations, to the survivors of this incarceration.
He is the author of And Justice for All, one of the first compilations of oral history interviews about the wartime experiences of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II. He also has been a contributing author to Last Witnesses, a collection of personal essays by children about their incarceration experiences during this time.