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American Experience: The Massie Affair
American Experience The Massie Affair
Actors: Blair Brown, Siobhan C. Edmondson
Director: Mark Zwonitzer
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 0min

In the early years of the 20th century, at a time when the U.S. Navy dominated Hawaii, Americans thought of the islands as a Pacific Paradise. But in 1931, an explosive incident shook the semblance of tranquility and expos...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Blair Brown, Siobhan C. Edmondson
Director: Mark Zwonitzer
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Biography
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 04/19/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Punching Bag Needed, after Seeing This!
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 06/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I'm not surprised to hear this tragedy called the Massie Affair just like the Dreyfus Affair. Both dealt with prejudice and biased court cases against oppressed men. Here, a divorcing, mentally-unstable white woman accuses five Asian and Polynesian men of raping her. Her relatives kill one of the Native Hawaiian men wrongfully accused. Instead of condemning the killers, the majority of white Americans in HI and on the Mainland supported them. In fact, supposed good-guy Clarence Darrow represented the murderers.

The documentary has a diverse array of experts speaking, including men and women, whites, Native Hawaiians, and multiracial persons. Haunani Kay-Trask, the author of the outstanding "Notes of a Native Daughter" which even author Alice Walker praised, is interviewed her. She looks older than I had expected. It was interesting to see her speak about history, rather than current cultural criticism.

I thank PBS for making this documentary. When they arranged the "American Experience" series, it appears that they wanted to show the awful, as well as the noble, aspects of American history. This documentary shows that non-black men of color have been lynched in this country just as black men have. This series do not just posit slavery and Japanese interment as the only scars in American history; this country has many blemishes.

No fault to the producers, but this documentary was incredibly difficult to watch. Emmett Till's body was recently exhumed for forensic evidence. These two facts point to how many men of color have died at the hands of majority Americans defending notions of "white womanhood." Mrs. Fortescue reminds me of Ruth DeWitt Bukater, the elitist, redheaded mother in the "Titanic" film. The facts here are very much like the 1994 tragedy where a Caucasian woman named Susan Smith drowned her two sons and lied that a Black man had done it.

This was an important work discussing Hawaiian history. My heart goes out to the Native brothers over there. This was powerful, though incredibly disturbing."
Excellent, and important
Mogue | Miami, FL United States | 09/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's important for everyone to understand that our world is situated in history, politics and economy. This film explains, in a heartbreaking way, why some sentiment still exists in Hawaii that is considerd anti-haole.

Viewers are given an overview of Hawaii in the 1930's, as well as before it was annexed and became a U.S. territory. This lays the foundation for the event described, and provides an explanation as to how events played out as they did.

To write further information or detail would be a disservice to the film and to the producers. I would encourage anyone with an interest in history or social sciences to watch this. You will be disturbed, and you will not be the same."
Clarence Darrow's Most Unusual Case
Martin Shackelford | Saginaw, MI USA | 08/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is quite an informative documentary film about what was perhaps the most unusual case ever defended by famed attorney Clarence Darrow, best known for the Scopes and Loeb-Leopold cases. It also offers a unique glimpse at the military's racism in 1930s Hawaii. All in all, it is a fine social document and an important piece of history.

Martin Shackelford"
Timothy P. Scanlon | Hyattsville, MDUSA | 06/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A neighbor of mine who is a sociology professor recommended this documentary, on an event of which I knew nothing before. Of that, I'm ashamed.

It was Hawaii in the early 1930s. White Americans loved the climate, felt superior to the darker Hawaiians many of whom lived on the poor side of town. Thalia Massie, the daughter of would-be socialite Grace Fortescu, was married to a naval officer and their relationship left something to be desired. She left a party and went for a walk during which she claimed to have been raped.

At the same time, a group of five young Hawaiians had gotten in a fight with some other whites. To make a long story short, those five were implicated in the rape--largely because of an admiral in Hawaii who felt that white womanhood was being threatened.

Eventually, one of the five was lynched by Thalia's husband, Tommie, her mother, and some others.

The trial coverage was fascinating. Clarence Darrow defended the accused (because he needed the money! He'd lost all his savings in the crash.) I talked with the sociologist who'd lost any respect for Darrow because of that action. I reminded him that the accused did, despite the racist and classist nature of the crime, have a right to be represented.

The evidence after the trial had been completed showed that it is extremely unlikely that the rape had even taken place, and it was virtually impossible that the accused had done it.

Anyway, I'm afraid of giving away too much more in my description. Suffice it to say that, because of her "adventure," Grace was able to live up to her aspiration as a socialite.

The story is compelling because of the race and class issues. And it's important to note that few Americans even know that such an event took place. It's terribly important that we fit such events into our history so we can understand ourselves--and humanity in general--better.

Get this, watch it, and show it to others. Seeing it has encouraged me to read more on the event."