Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of anti-Asian discrimination have continued to soar around the world—so much so that in New York City, the Commission on Human Rights recently began a $100,000 public education effort to combat it, while brands like Ajinomoto are tackling it head on in their campaigns. Now, staffers at Wieden + Kennedy Portland are addressing such racism and xenophobia in a chilling new film.
Created by Asiancy, W+K's Asian and Asian American affinity group, it features a spoken word poem written and performed by creative Titania Tran. It centers on the idea of how a “word” is not simply “just a word” when it becomes infused with racist sentiment. The film becomes jarring at points when it cites harsh slurs and acts of violence experienced by those of Asian descent during the pandemic.
A word please a word is just a word is just a word is not just a word not once it’s been heard
It becomes a belief a reason for someone’s grief fear confusion causes actions
A sign on a restaurant window "Chinese not welcome here"
A slur on a car door "Fucking chink go home disappear"
A clenched fist meets her back her arms her face
Get out of our United States
Her face her face her face
A face spit on kicked on, painted on, disinfectant sprayed on, acid splashed on
Knife slashed on
The poem is set to equally disturbing images. There’s a sign that appeared on a nail salon window in Vietnam that read, “Sorry we don’t accept Chinese customers for coronavirus. Thanks for understanding!” as well as graffiti on a car stating “F**ck Asians and coronavirus.” There are scenes of assault on the subway and city streets, and countless tweets referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” including one from President Trump.
The film goes on to share fears that those of Asian descent might have as a result of the bigotry—noting that to fully protect themselves, they might have to cover not only their mouths and noses—but also their eyes.
Ultimately, it implores viewers to call the virus by its actual name—COVID-19.
The Asiancy team conceived the film on their own. “There was no brief,” says Executive Creative Director Jason Bagley. “Just a few people who saw a need and used their voice, their talent, and hard work to proactively fill it.”
When asked if there was a moment that inspired the team to make this film, “There were too many moments,” says Tran. “Too many moments hearing what was happening, experiencing it ourselves and waiting for someone to do something. It’s curious—sometimes it feels like the more public something is—the more people bear witness to it—the less likely someone will actually do something. Everyone seems to think someone else will. I think we were guilty of that too in the beginning. And I think that’s the danger of the bystander effect. We couldn’t be bystanders anymore.”