Monday, May 29, 2023

True Crime Documentary Premieres at Guild Cinema

Filmmaker Charlie Minn Examines Albuquerque Hate Crime


Thirty years ago Charlie Minn landed his first big job in broadcast media straight out of college. It was here in Albuquerque. He became the weekend sports anchor for KRQE (KGGM at the time) and was known for his overenthusiastic bluster. "I almost don't even know who that person was anymore," says a somewhat amused Minn, who now spends his time in El Paso and New York working as a documentary filmmaker. "Those are memories that will be with me forever, and Albuquerque will always be a piece of my heart."

Minn returns to the Duke City on April 26 to premiere his newest true crime documentary, I Hate Asians. The film explores the Jan. 24, 2022 murder of Sihui Fang, the 45-year-old owner of a Northeast Albuquerque spa and massage parlor who was shot to death during a robbery. Minn uses the case to expound on the wave of Asian hate crimes that swept America in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the election of President Donald Trump.

"The film revolves around an extreme local crime that I think most people don't really know about," says Minn. "Sihui Fang, to me, is a hero. A female Asian going up against two male criminals with guns? ... Tell me that's not balls."

Minn sees Sihui Fang as "a perfect example of someone pursuing the American dream. She came to this country dirt poor, didn't know the language. During her massage breaks she was literally studying English. This is how much this lady loved the United States of America. And for her to be cut down in such a violent manner really gives Albuquerque a black eye."

Fang's death speaks not only to our city's unfortunate rise in violent crime, but to a nationwide increase in crimes aimed at Asian-Americans. "The big picture on this one is that Asians are being attacked," says Minn. "Ever since Donald Trump called COVID-19 'Kung-Flu' and 'the Chinese Virus,' hate crimes toward Asians have skyrocketed." According to statistics quoted in Minn's film, Asian hate crimes have jumped 300 percent in the last five years.

"Asians need to fight back. We need more activism. We need more awareness. Obviously, me being Asian, this is a personal thing for me," admits Minn. "It's unfortunate that the so-called leader of our country has to ignite violence rather than quell violence."

Within a week of Fang's murder, Jorge Rivera-Ramirez and Juan Carlos Hernandez, both 18 at the time, were arrested and charged on an Open Count of Murder, Kidnapping, Armed Robbery (Deadly Weapon), Tampering with Evidence and Conspiracy. Both have pled "not guilty." Using surveillance footage from several Albuquerque businesses, though, I Hate Asians shows how Rivera-Ramirez and Hernandez targeted a string of Asian massage parlors around Albuquerque leading up to the deadly confrontation with Fang. "They had done it in the past. They worked as a pair. One of them even admitted to it," says Minn.

Sadly, it's a pattern seen all across America recently. "Before Sihui Fang's murder, Atlanta went though that horrible day when three massage parlors were stuck up and there were a bunch of Asians that were killed," points out Minn, referencing the notorious 2021 Atlanta spa shootings which led to the deaths of eight people—six of whom were of Asian decent. "I felt as if that thing got a lot of attention. And deservedly so. Which is great, because the awareness is the most important thing. Because that leads to justice, hopefully."

But when Albuquerque's massage parlor killing followed less than a year after Atlanta's, Minn saw media attention die down. "I was, like, wait a minute, how come Albuquerque didn't get the type of attention that Atlanta did? So I said to myself, well, my job is to inform, to educate, to raise awareness. I can hear those words in my sleep: inform, educate, raise awareness for change. That's why I make my documentaries. I said to myself, here's a great chance to spread awareness to something that I thought was overlooked. It didn't close get close to the attention Atlanta got. And," says Minn, "it was a chance to come home in a way. I had never done a movie in Albuquerque before."

After parting ways with KRQE, Minn heard about the Las Cruces bowling alley massacre—a harrowing 1990 crime case in which seven people were shot, four fatally. He ended up moving down to the El Paso area to make the 2011 documentary Nightmare in Las Cruces. The case remains unsolved to this day. To mark the crime's recent 30th anniversary, Minn held screenings around New Mexico. While making the film, El Paso became Minn's "adopted city." He went on to make a number of documentary features about the border region, including 8 Murders a Day, The New Juarez and Bullets at the Border. Today, he's got nearly 40 documentary features under his belt, most all of them concentrated on real-life crimes.

Minn's hope is that I Hate Asians will see justice meted out to Sihui Fang's killers. "If this film helps prosecutors put both of them away for good, then that's a good thing. That said, one of them, I understand, is going to have a plea bargain [hearing] on the 25th of this month, which is a day before the movie comes out, coincidentally."

I Hate Asians premieres Wednesday, April 26 at Guild Cinema (3405 Central Ave. NE) at 4, 6 and 8pm. The film has been subtitled in Mandarin. Minn will be on hand for a post-film Q&A.


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