Thuc Nguyen, a Los Angeles based screenwriter combined her passion for film with her fascination of German-American relations to create her latest project, a German-American story called The Haymarket Affair. As an Angeleno working in Berlin, Nguyen reflects on the two cities and shares why they inspire her.
I'm surprised Berlin is affordable and quieter, because in terms of personality and impact it looks larger and more expansive. It's warmer and cozier. I imagined it to be full of people wearing black and hiding in dark clubs - probably from my ideas of the German expressionism in film history. ;) Berlin is more diverse than I thought, too. In America, we're brought up on the idea of the melting pot. Berlin melds different worlds well, whereas Los Angeles could learn something from that - being able to mix subcultures better.
I love that Berlin is such a seat of history and innovation at the same time. So much stems from there that then moves on to London, then New York, and then makes it to Los Angeles music- and style-wise. Berlin has seasons weather-wise. I miss that in L.A. Los Angeles I love because it is so new relative to the American East Coast and Europe, and also holds so much promise for the future of worldwide culture. It's ripe for people from other places to come and bring their influences. The notion of westward expansion and inclusion are endless. I'm not much of a summer person, but as they say - the light in Los Angeles sets the tone and the mood for spectacular image making. I also do love that I can drive not so far away and be in the mountains or breathe some ocean air.
I love to learn of film projects stemming from Berlin - the aesthetics and ability to draw from historical perspectives and sources - perspectives that we do not/can not get in the US. Los Angeles is its own microcosm that can afford to look around more to see what other creators are doing. Hollywood has room for more voices. Los Angeles affects me in that it's easy for me to sit down and have coffee or a meal with the new guard of Hollywood who give me hope - they are feminist and they are progressive - a good segment of women and men working in entertainment have organized and decided to change the old ways. I am excited to see this every day- with more racially and gender inclusive projects to combat things like whitewashing and discriminatory stereotypes. I wish there were two of me - so I could have face-to-face time with a greater number of executives and fellow writers/producers in both cities. I'm excited for the possibilities of the film industries in both locations and co-productions to bring the worlds and skills of each together.
I took German lessons as a child - I chose to rebel against having to take French lessons. Being born in Vietnam, the previous two generations in my family spoke French (because of political domination/imperialism). From being a student of the language, I was exposed to more of the culture because my school had a German sister city program. Also in childhood, I was aware that many tales popular in the US are from Germany - the Brothers Grimm, etc. From that background, I continued to delve more into modern day German writers – such as Patrick Süskind – who wrote one of my favorite books turned into a motion picture: Perfume. German stories are also universal stories and morality tales.
Absolutely. I feel that this story is imperative now with the tides turning in America and the world. The word "Nazi" has come back into use to refer to American white nationalists and racists. Many people harken back to "Nazi bashing" and furthering an antiquated German stereotype. At the same time many are giving credit to Germany for reparations and trying to make things right after atrocious historical events. Per the Haymarket story - American Albert Parsons was a former Confederate from the South who changed his ways to advocate for the black people of his time. He formed a family with a mixed black woman. For this couple to work with progressive and open-minded German men and women to further the rights of all is such a unifier- that is exactly what we all need now. It happened once, and it can happen again - people coming together that way for the common good.
What's crazy is how people around the world – in South America and Asia – know more about this story than Americans and Germans do. It's time to change that. German people have had such an effect on American soil in grand ways that still affect how we work and live today - more people need to know. The bonds between these characters didn't happen because of any treaties, government intervention, friendship associations or programs. And they didn't have the Internet to find each other! The fact that these people got out of their houses and onto the streets and met over common humanitarian causes and decided to stick together through thick and thin – some giving their lives for one another (when they didn't have to) – says so much about what needs to happen in the world now for everything to move forward, together. Their brave advocacy work was to help not just their own ethnic and regional communities, but those of others as well. They were threatened, beaten, slandered and killed together. American and German blood spilled together so we can have more regulations and better labor practices, i.e. less exploitation today. The Germans and Americans of the Haymarket Affair traveled to so many locales to speak with and to aid others, and their sacrifices paved the way for revolutionary acts that are happening now. They made human understanding their business. I would hope my project brings forth more stories of cooperation like this that we don't know about now.
Thuc Nguyen was a German language scholar earlier in life and has kept an interest in German stories and culture. She lived in London and New York City before coming to Los Angeles, where she is now based. She works alongside producer friend Jay Thames on a current slate of feature films that show important hidden history.
Thuc's passion project, The Haymarket Affair, centers on the friendships between interracial American couple Lucy and Albert Parsons and their German activist counterparts August Spies, Louis Lingg, Adolph Fischer and others— some of whom gave their lives for the common good of working men and women and to help end child labor. In this true life story, the ties of German and American friendship and love shine through, especially in the case of August Spies (German writer and builder) and Nina Van Zandt (Chicago society woman who gave up her status for the cause). Thuc's screenplay of the story is supported by Villa Aurora.