No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger. 1968. USA. Directed by David L. Weiss. 86 min.
This 1968 documentary follows protesters in Harlem as they march to the UN to decry the United States’ continued involvement in Vietnam. Highlighting primarily black figures and interspersed with interviews of young soldiers who served in the war, No Vietnamese seeks to make sense of a critical moment in US history. The film captures wary organizers mobilizing their communities while being skeptical of the white film crew, in a succinct encapsulation of the larger issue of fraught racial tension across the nation. Community members in Harlem first exhibit distrust of the filmmakers before articulating their reasons for marching in protest or sharing stories of their children being sent off to frontlines and not returning home. Interspersed with this on-the-ground footage, several young GIs discuss how the military disproportionally sent young black men on dangerous missions, knowing full well that when they came home they would face abject poverty rather than a hero’s welcome. An unflinching look at the state of one pocket of the country, No Vietnamese gives voice to a community standing up to a nation that failed them. The documentarians’ own biases come to the forefront as well, especially when they engage with community members on the street. This marked difference between their tone and conversations with smart, articulate young black soldiers versus their leading questions to Harlemites adds an unintended layer to the film that makes it worth a revisit. Screened at Club 57 in 1981 as a part of an Anti-Draft program, this film represents an intriguing moment for a place where fun and themed parties often took center stage. This double bill evening showcases how varied Club members’ interests were and how everyone had a chance to program what was important to them.