Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 7:30pm
Christine Choy's From Spikes to Spindles

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

From Spikes to Spindles, Christine Choy, 1976, digital projection, 50 mins

In the spring of 1975, thousands of Asian-American demonstrators marched on New York’s City Hall to protest the assault of Peter Yew, a 27-year old man from Brooklyn who had been brutally beaten by the NYPD in Chinatown. And though police violence may have been the catalyst for the march, the activists’ demands went far beyond redressing this one incident. Demonstrators called for an end to racial profiling of Asians by cops, the harassment of undocumented immigrants, and discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other services. According to neighborhood leaders at the time, it was the largest such action ever staged by Chinatown’s residents in the community’s 100-year history.

Filmmaker Christine Choy likewise uses the Yew demonstrations as the starting point for her documentary From Spikes to Spindles, but then expands the film’s purview considerably. She investigates the political history of Chinese immigrants in America, from their first arrival en masse to help build the nation’s railroad system in the 19th century, to the founding of New York’s Chinatown after the Civil War, to later waves of immigration from Hong Kong and the mainland. Choy interviews community activists, garment workers, local teenagers, and government bureaucrats to fashion a complex portrait of Chinese-American life in New York, offering a vital context for the rage that exploded on the streets of lower Manhattan in 1975. “Chinatown: an image tossed into the melting pot,” the narration asserts, ”while underneath, the kettle boils.”

From Spikes to Spindles remains one of the more striking examples of the movement ethos that informed the political documentary of its era, articulated here through archival materials and talking heads as well as observational footage capturing the rhythms of daily existence. Herself an immigrant to the US, Choy had fallen in with the radical film collective Newsreel after working with the Black Panther Party in New Jersey, and went on to form Third World Newsreel with other filmmakers of color. From Spikes to Spindles was one of the earliest projects Choy produced at TWN (as well as the outfit’s first on color 16mm); later, she would note that Spikes also served as “the first film ever done on the experience of Chinese-American women.”

Tonight’s screening, which will be followed by a conversation with Choy, is co-presented by Art Against Displacement, a coalition of artists, gallerists, and other art workers committed to mobilizing resources and connections to amplify the demands of those whose lives and livelihoods are placed most at risk by predatory development and resettlement, and to working in solidarity with grassroots community organizations. Just as Choy’s film broadened its original audience’s perspective on the case of Peter Yew, it’s our hope that this event will offer a historical counterpoint to contemporary activism. We welcome the contributions of audience members to a post-screening discussion about the immediate and long-term future of artist and community organizing across New York City.

Tickets - Pay-what-you-wish ($8 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.

Above image courtesy Corky Lee.