Gran Torino (2008) is an American movie produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. In addition to film-making and producing, Eastwood is a prominent actor who also starred in the film himself. Gran Torino, set in Detroit, became the first mainstream movie to include a cast of Hmong Americans. The film is centered around Walter Kowalski, the retired auto worker and Korean War veteran who is forced to confront his prejudices against the many minorities now living in his neighborhood. Although Walter’s exterior is strong, his heart is gradually softened as unexpected friendships are formed with his next-door Hmong neighbors.
- How do we see oppression of the Hmong people in this film? What has the film taught you about the Hmong people in the US?
- What are some of the challenges and pressures Thao and Sue have to deal with as second-generation immigrants?
Gran Torino has taught me quite a lot about Hmong people in the US. Firstly, I learned that Hmong people are mountain people native to Asian countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand. Continuously I learned that the Hmong people stood by the US in the Korean war, which sounded as something misconceived by many by the tone of Sue’s voice.
Qualities I learned about was the massive gratefulness and kindness the Hmong people display. After the main character (Walter) saves Sue from a Hmong gang, he gains immense respect from her family and the Hmong community. In one scene we see the Hmong people gathering up outside Walter’s house to offer him their gratitude in form of food and presents. He angrily decline their offers, and makes it clear that he wants them off his property.
Embarrassingly enough, Walter learns through his mistakes, one being affectionately petting a small child on the head. Touching any Hmong on the head is a big mistake, as Hmong’s believe the soul of a person is located in their head. Both the audience and Walter learns about the Hmong people and culture through Sue’s educational talk as the he reason why. Sue responds with telling him that eye contact is a sign of respect and recognition, both something he clearly lacks.
- At the end scenes we also get glimpses of the Hmong’s traditional clothing. The pictures are not from the movie, but are reminiscent to those worn in the end scenes by Thao and Sue.
As second-generation immigrants, Thao and Sue has to adapt themselves in both the Hmong culture and the American culture. Thao and Sue deal with the expected template for each of the genders; girls indulge in studies and gain good educations, while boys are expected to join the gangs. Being forcefully commanded to carry out acts, vulgar language, harassment and invasion of privacy are just some of the challenges the two siblings has to endure.
I did some reading after watching the movie, and found out that strong prejudice against the Hmong people is still significant in the US. Most Hmong people are hesitant to form relations outside their own culture. These two points made the movie even stronger for me, as we see the main character overcoming the stereotypes and prejudices he had to form friendships within the Hmong culture.