Lisa Ling Tackles Anti-Asian Hate Crimes in Season 8 of CNN’s ‘This Is Life’
Intrepid investigative journalist Lisa Ling isn’t easing up one bit in Season 8 of her CNN series This Is Life With Lisa Ling. In fact, the stories this time around are more relevant than ever with subject matter like anti-Asian hate crimes, conspiracy theories, and the past, present and future of sex work, to name a few.
Though the subjects are as compelling as ever, Ling recently told TV Insider that in Season 8, the approach for digging into stories was a little different than in prior years. “The thread is this look back at moments in American history that didn’t make it into our history books that have impacted how we live today,” she says. Shooting during COVID shaped some of those decisions. “Our show is historically very emotional and sometimes affectionate, we knew we couldn’t do that this season. So we decided to pivot entirely and explore this historical approach.”
And like those of us who are fans of the show and Ling’s body of work (this reporter included), her sentiments about shooting these more historically-based stories will surely be shared by viewers watching as the episodes roll out. “I’ve loved it and learned so much [this season],” she says. “I feel like I am a better person and a better American for knowing about these moments. In actuality, they’re as emotional as anything that we’ve ever done.” Here’s more from our chat.
The first episode on hatred towards Asian Americans is a really powerful episode that hits on what’s happening today and how it mirrors past occurrences, some of which I didn’t even know about.
Lisa Ling: This season we’re grounding every episode in an event in history that tells us, or informs us, or has impacted where we are today. In that first episode, we look into the murder of Vincent Chin, who was a Chinese American man who, in 1982, was accused of being Japanese during an economic downturn in Detroit. He was beaten to death with a baseball bat and his killers never served a day in jail or prison. And even though his family never got justice, that case did become the first civil rights case involving an Asian in Asian American history. This movement rose up around that.
When you look at what we’re experiencing today and how Asians have been scapegoated for bringing COVID to this country and how even our political leaders have used language to incite, I think, attacks and violence toward Asians, and when you look back on what happened to Vincent Chin and even things that have happened to the Asian community before that, for more than a century, you see this pattern of discrimination of Asian-Americans that I don’t think people realize has been going on as long as it has. When you don’t have Asian American history, if you haven’t been exposed at all, you don’t know about the contributions Asian Americans have made and you don’t know about the discrimination Asian Americans have faced in this country. It becomes really easy to overlook or dehumanize a whole population.
It also shows us how things don’t progress as quickly as we’d like them to, since very similar things are still happening today.
Exactly, exactly. And it’s interesting that there’s this fierce debate over history right now. It’s one of the most contentious topics in America. What history should be taught to our kids? For me, that debate is really astounding because it’s only when we recognize the history and the mistakes that we’ve made, but also the victories that we’ve had, that we can figure out a different path and a path to something better, but we have to acknowledge all that has been done or experienced in the past.
The opening of the segment has you talking to the camera and sharing your reaction and asking how you can talk to your young children about what’s happening. Safe to say this story hit you differently than some of the other stories you’ve done?
Yeah, as I said in the episode, I think I’ve gotten pretty decent at telling other people’s stories, but the Asian community, I don’t think, has been really good at telling our own stories because we haven’t really known our stories in so many ways. We know everyone else’s story. Our history is filled with stories about communities outside of the Asian community and so this has been a much more challenging thing to report because it’s happening right now. It’s hard to talk about abuses against people who look like you. There’s a historical precedent for it, but that it’s still continuing in some ways as unabated as before.
You’ve always brought some hope into your stories. Is it hard to find that hopefulness when some of the subject matter is so heavy and not always happy?
Yes, it is sometimes hard to find hope. We always like to end our shows or feature something positive that is happening. We always do it, even though they sometimes are hard to find. This season, while we may be on a downward trajectory in terms of the overall topic, there are reasons to be hopeful in every one of the episodes. In the lavender scare episode (airing Sunday, November 14), there’s a woman in her nineties who was kicked out of the Air Force for being gay when she was in her twenties. She lived with so much shame her whole life. In fact, some of her friends who are also kicked out, never even told their family members or the husbands that they ended up marrying, they were kicked out for being gay, or that they were even in the military at all. At that time, there was so much shame surrounding it. That woman actually received an honorable discharge in her nineties and received recognition from the federal government and an official apology that the lavender scare even happened. To finally feel validated [at that age] just shows how important it is to acknowledge history.
What are some of the other subjects that you hit on in the season?
We explore the roots of conspiracy theories, militias. We explore a moment in American history when legalizing prostitution was being considered. We also have an episode about the Chicago race riot of 1919, and how it has impacted gang violence and what we perceive as black-on-black crime today. I’m always proud of our seasons, but I do consider this season an essential one if we want to do a better job at doing the right thing as Americans.
This Is Life With Lisa Ling, Sundays, 10/9c, CNN