“The Apology” Director Tiffany Hsiung Urges People to Learn About and Learn From the History of Comfort Women [Exclusive]
One thing Tiffany Hsiung’s documentary does so well is educate. So many people throughout the world do not know the story of the comfort women. Young women in former Japanese colonies still don’t know the story of the comfort women. After meeting Grandma Gil, Grandma Cao and Grandma Adela from “The Apology,” and learning about what they had to endure, how they feared telling their stories because of the shame and stigma and how decades later they might finally be able to have some peace of mind, is satisfying in a way. Although these women haven’t received justice yet, being able to tell their stories and be believed in incredibly powerful and healing.
Now that you’ve had some time to digest this dark chapter in Japanese history, read my exclusive interview with director Tiffany Hsiung on why she decided to make this film, what we can learn from these grandmothers, how it’s important for women to be able to tell these stories — both in front of and behind the screen and more.
TV GOODNESS: I feel hesitant to call this a labor of love for you, but I can feel the care you took in telling your stories.Â
Tiffany Hsiung: “You know what, there’s duty, there’s honor, there’s responsibility I think more so than anything else. It’s a responsibility after hearing these stories and being with the grandmothers on that initial visit that it’s up to us. It’s really up to us collectively as a community how we share these stories, how we ensure that what they experienced doesn’t just go and die in vain, that it does make change and it does educate the world. Because things like this happen over again, history does repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. Their ongoing fight isn’t just for them to receive a formal apology and justice, it’s actually for all of us today, so it makes it a very contemporary story.
So labor of love, absolutely. My love for them and meeting them definitely propelled me and had me there filming for years upon years. But I think itâ€™s a collective responsibility. Everyone who worked on the film also felt that as well. Every filmmaker would know a film definitely takes a village, this one definitely took a village to make. I had an incredible team, a majority of all the key roles were by women and that also makes a huge impact as well. To have so many pioneer female filmmakers also be part of this project. And everyone had a personal investment to it and how it related to them.”
TV GOODNESS: In addition to these incredibly powerful and personal stories, I do appreciate that you included the Japanese politicians’ inappropriate comments about how comfort women were necessary. And there are some people who are yelling at these women and attacking them when they’re just trying to tell their story. How important was it for you to include that in the film?
Hsiung: “It was really important to include that just to allow people to see what these grandmothers were up against. But it’s also really important to include the Japanese university students, these young women who didn’t know this history and really connected with these grandmothers, [telling] the stories because at the end of the day it isn’t us versus them. I don’t think that gets us anywhere. It was really important to showcase that yes, these grandmothers, like many survivors, are always up against adversity whether it’s government, whether it’s right-wing protesters or politicians or just even regular everyday trolls on the internet. There is so much of that that still exists today here in North America [and] all around the world when a survivor comes out. That’s the universal story, so to show what the grandmothers had been facing over these years, when they do try to go and testify and share their stories.
It’s not to say all justice is like this. This is a very specific group that denies this aspect of history. You see many people who might be against certain testimonies that go against their political party. It’s that. At the end of the day, unfortunately, many survivors and many victims of sexual violence have to be re-traumatized, re-victimized. And I hope that is conveyed through the film. This still goes on today with different survivors that testify.Â That was why we wanted to include that.”
TV GOODNESS: I appreciate that you did. Other than just educating people on what happened to these women, what do you want people to get out of the film?
Hsiung: “Ultimately, I think on a personal level with the grandmothers, I wanted to share their resilience, their human spirit that can inspire us all. [It’s] really rare to see grandmothers being showcased as heroes, as a pillar of the strength for the next generation. Global society lost that with learning from my elders and learning from our past. I hope that we can start focusing on that before our elders pass away. Encouraging those to see the roles we all play in perpetuating the stigma and the silence and the shame of probably not talking about it, by not listening to these stories, by not sharing more because a lot of what we share with the grandmothers stories, with their family, with their community, maybe with themselves, there’s a story about the complexities of wanting to come out, wanting to speak out.
It’s not so simple, especially when we’re talking and sharing with your loved ones, what that means. So I think when audience members see the weight that is carried on the survivor, that weight around the fear of what loved ones might feel and do after they speak out. I think we, as a community, can change that so that it can make it easier for survivors and it is very much relevant with everything that is going on with the #MeToo campaign, Time’s Up. I always reflect back and think about how and what the grandmothers have done for decades now and how proud they would be if some them were here today to see what is going on right now. But there’s still a lot of change that needs to happen as well. ”
TV GOODNESS: Is there anything you want to talk about that I haven’t asked you?
Hsiung: “I think in terms of how this film was made, it’s just shining light on a really strong female supportive presence in making this movie. The last few films that were made on this subject matter are all predominately directed by men and a male crew. We are moving into a time where there is more push for equality both in front of the screen and behind the screen.
I’m really proud to say our film that was produced by National Film Board of Canada, produced by Anita Lee, edited by Mary Stephen, composed by Lesley Barber, a crew of incredible female power behind making the story come to life. I think that that’s why it resonates with such a universal audience the way that it does because it’s important to understand those nuances to capture it and not to just sideline them. It can be lost sometimes when the perspective isn’t driven by women. That’s really important, especially when talking about a story like this.”
TV GOODNESS: I hope people will learn a lot from this and also take an action that can help support these women specifically, or another woman who has been affected by sexual violence.Â
Hsiung: “Exactly. 100%. I also want to add, after people watch the film they should definitely experience our interactive documentary, which was inspired by the film and the stories of the grandmothers. Itâ€™s called The Space We Hold. It’s really shifting the perspective on how we witness stories of sexual violence and if you go on the website you can see what I am talking about. It actually just won a Peabody Award for the Futures of Media. It’s a great way for people, if they want to learn more about it and experience another perspective on these stories. Go online and check it out: spacewehold.nfb.ca.”
Edited for space and content.
The Apology is now streaming on pbs.org.
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