This article cross-reads the 2005 trial of Chai Soua Vang, a Hmong American man who was convicted of murdering six Caucasian hunters in Wisconsin, with the 2008 film Gran Torino, a story of a Korean War veteran who mentors a Hmong American teenager. An examination of the trial transcript and journalistic coverage of the Vang case illustrates a need to establish a history of racial violence in order to explain the altercation in the woods. This need assumes that a history of racism must be identified in order for a word to be considered racist and that acts of violence can be explained only through that corresponding history. This article uses speech act theory to problematize that assumption, arguing instead that the power of hate speech rests in its ability to displace history rather than affirm it. Coverage of the case demonstrates this displacement, as Vang is positioned via multiple and contradicting contextual frames. In turn, Gran Torino, which this article reads as a response to the Vang case, illustrates how codes of conduct shift depending on who is in the position to dictate them, and how words that historically signify a racial threat can also erase the very histories that give those words meaning. Thus, the film offers an explanation for why Vang’s claim to racial victimization could not hold.

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