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Film Notes: An Overlooked Chapter in U.S. History

  • An early scene from the musical Allegiance shows Japanese-Americans arriving at a World War II-era internment camp.

  • From left, Lea Salonga, Tully Leung, George Takei and Christopheren Nomura appear in a scene from Allegiance, a Broadway musical about the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2017

More than 65,000 people filled 700 movie theaters around the United States on Dec. 13 to see the high-definition recording of the Broadway musical Allegiance.

That response, less than a week after the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, exceeded the wildest dreams of the creative team behind Allegiance, which dramatizes the World War II internment of tens of thousands of West Coast Japanese-Americans in camps in the interior of the United States.

“We were astonished,” Jay Kuo, composer and co-writer of the play co-starring Star Trek icon and internment camp survivor George Takei, recalled during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Because it did so well, we wanted to bring it back for an encore on Remembrance Day.”

The annual Day of Remembrance of the internment camps is held on Feb. 19, which this year marks the 75th anniversary of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of executive order 9066. The day lives in its own form of infamy, both for survivors among the 120,000 ethnic Japanese whom the government uprooted and relocated on the grounds of national security, and for their descendants. In the Upper Valley, Dartmouth College’s Asian and Pacific-Islander Caucus (APIC) will screen the movie at 3 on Sunday afternoon and 7 that evening at Loew Auditorium in the college’s Black Family Visual Arts Center.

Da-Shih Hu, a psychiatrist who teaches at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, started campaigning to bring the movie here as soon as he heard about the December screening.

“Asians are relatively underrepresented in the performing arts, other than in classical music, relative to their percentage of the population,” Hu said on Wednesday. “That fact that this was a project put together, performed and produced largely by Asian-Americans made it appealing, and the content itself highlights an important and overlooked part of our history and American history.”

The camps are overlooked to such an extent that they are at risk of becoming a forgotten chapter of the nation’s history.

“A lot of times, it’s not really covered in compulsory education in grades K to 12,” Yvonne Kwan, a postdoctoral fellow in her second year teaching sociology and Asian-American studies at Dartmouth, said this week. “It might be covered in passing, as part of an overview of World War II, but the how and the why are often not covered. This kind of material makes it into critical ethnic studies classes at the college level, but funding for those kinds of programs has been receding until recently.”

In the course of her research on the cultural trauma endured by refugees who survived the Cambodian genocide that followed the Vietnam War in the 1970s, Kwan learned that Japanese-Americans who emerged from the U.S. camps, as well as their children and grandchildren, continue to deal with a range of issues, particularly reluctance to talk about the experience.

“One of the trickier questions for many of them was whether some of the military-age men should serve in the armed forces, in the units set up for them,” Kwan said. “There was a loyalty oath that read, ‘Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attacks by foreign or domestic forces?’ And ‘Will you forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government?’ If you answered the latter question with ‘yes,’ it meant you had a former allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor. It was a double-edged sword. Many who went on to serve did say yes and yes to each question as a way to show their allegiance, but others said no and no. John Okada wrote a novel about it, No-No Boy. That whole allegiance question created a rift in that community that you can see play out over years and years in the Broadway show.”

Hu noted that while then-President George H.W. Bush apologized in the early 1990s for the internments of Japanese-Americans, the Supreme Court cases upholding the internments in 1944 were never overturned.

“Prominent supporters of Donald Trump brought up the internment camps as precedent for actions such as a Muslim registry, and Trump’s office did not repudiate the statements,” Hu said. “There’s a parallel there, too.”

It’s a parallel that the team behind Allegiance couldn’t help noticing, particularly Takei, who based the story around his family’s experience.

“You can imagine the look on George’s face when he heard that Trump’s people were saying that the internment was a precedent for what they wanted to do,” Kuo said this week. “We never thought the play would have the currency and the resonance it has now.

“It is terrifying, but it also gives us a lot of resolve.”

Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center screens an HD recording of the Broadway production ofAllegiancein the college’s Loew Auditorium on Sunday afternoon at 3 and Sunday evening at 7. For tickets ($13 to $23) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Coming Attractions

The Upper Valley Jewish Community wraps its winter film series on Wednesday night at 7 with screenings of the Marx Brothers’ comedies The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. The movies will be shown in room 13 of Dartmouth College’s Carpenter Hall in Hanover. Admission is free.

The Aging with Grace film series at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Library resumes next Friday afternoon with a subtitled screening of Amarcord, Federico Fellini’s satirical portrait of provincial Italy during his youth in the Fascist era. The lights go down at 3. Admission is free.

In the next installment of the Woodstock Vermont Film Series on Feb. 25, Billings Farm and Museum screens The Band’s Visit. This delightful and insightful Israeli feature from 2007 follows an ensemble of musicians from an Egyptian police force who land in the wrong town in Israel, on the way to play at the inauguration of an Arab arts center. To reserve tickets ($6 for museum members, $11 for others) for afternoon shows at 3 and 5, call 802-457-2355.

Flashbacks

The “Cine Salon at 20” celebration resumes at Hanover’s Howe Library on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., with curator Bruce Posner sharing clips from about a dozen film noir classics shot between 1948 and 1959. To learn more about the series, visit thehowe.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction

Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center screens an HD recording of the Broadway production of Allegiance in the college’s Loew Auditorium on Sunday afternoon at 3 and Sunday evening at 7. For tickets ($13 to $23) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422. An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect phone number for ordering tickets.